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O Pioneers! (Oxford World's Classics) by…

O Pioneers! (Oxford World's Classics) (original 1913; edition 2008)

by Willa Cather, Marilee Lindemann (Editor)

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3,698801,419 (3.88)351
Title:O Pioneers! (Oxford World's Classics)
Authors:Willa Cather
Other authors:Marilee Lindemann (Editor)
Info:Oxford University Press, USA (2008), Paperback, 224 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, historical, classic, Nebraska, farmers, pioneers, 19th C, 999 challenge

Work details

O Pioneers! by Willa Cather (1913)

  1. 21
    The Diary of Mattie Spenser by Sandra Dallas (clif_hiker)
    clif_hiker: pioneer women facing hardship making a home and a life on the prairie...
  2. 10
    The Tie That Binds by Kent Haruf (shesinplainview)
  3. 00
    Metamorphoses by Ovid (cloverofdover)

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Showing 1-5 of 80 (next | show all)
Alexandra Bergson tames the prairie and gets no respect. Her oldest brothers are idiots. She sends the youngest to college and he turns out well, but then he falls in love with their neighbor Marie. Trouble ensues. I'm not sure why Alexandra needed Carl, but she likes him and he likes her. It was nice that they could be together. ( )
  Pferdina | May 17, 2015 |
"O Pioneers!" is the first book of Cather’s "Great Plains Trilogy". Though followed by "The Song of the Lark" and "My Antonia", there is no connection between the characters in the three individual novels. Each book offers a story of someone who came from Nebraska- or in the case of Song of the Lark- had a distant unknown relative in Nebraska. It is a stretch to call them a trilogy.

After recently finishing several books that were centered on sex, lust, and adultery (John Updike’s "Rabbit Series" and Essbaum’s "Haufrau"), I craved some good old-fashioned romance and drama. Unfortunately, O Pioneers! left me cold.

The plot of "O Pioneers!" revolves around the Bergson family- primarily Alexandra and her brother Emil- covering approximately 20 of their years from young adulthood to middle age. Willa Cather writes of the hardships of life on the rural prairie, but it is difficult to become immersed in the story because everything is described from an impersonal distance. The reader is told of the achievements without ever witnessing the hard labor and work. Their dialogue is stilted and sometimes unrealistic.

In addition, Cather goes to a great deal of trouble to tell the reader what the character’s virtues and flaws are, but this is not clearly demonstrated by their actions. The characters lack depth, often seeming distant and one dimensional. As a result, it is difficult to become absorbed in the story. The plot itself is very good, but the tragic events draw a shrug of moderate sympathy and a dispassionate “ho-hum”.

"O Pioneers" was published in 1913. I guess kudos should go out to the author for being one of the few female writers of that era… but many of her contemporaries including D. H. Lawrence, Marcel Proust, and Theodore Dreiser offered steep competition. All three wrote with passion and depth of emotion sorely lacking in "O Pioneers!"

One outstanding feature of Willa Cather’s ability is her beautiful description of the prairie… the farmland pastures, quaint villages, modest primitive homes, flora, and fauna.

I did not find out until after reading all three of the "Great Plains Trilogy" adventures that there was really no connection to the stories or characters. Had I known, I would have gladly skipped "O Pioneers!" ( )
  LadyLo | Apr 18, 2015 |
Willa Cather never disappoints me - this may be my favorite yet! What a strong, woman protagonist, as well as another vivid account of Nebraskan pioneers. I enjoyed the way the story spanned two decades, which showed how both the landscape and characters progressed (or didn't).

I learned from this book that women CAN get married at 40, even if their family finds it peculiar. ( )
  abbeyhar | Apr 2, 2015 |
O Pioneers!, Book One of the Great Plains Trilogy by Willa Cather was written in 1913 and begins some 30 years earlier. It follows the lives of several groups of immigrant farmers in Nebraska, focusing on the Swedish Bergersen family, especially the strong, wise, Alexandra.

From the very first chapter, the simple, clear writing leaps off the page. The prose lovingly describes the Nebraska land and the cycle of highs and lows of the people who live there over the years. It's a simple story simply told and what and how Cather writes is true art. She nostalgically captures the stubbornness and loneliness of these early Plains settlers.

A very moving and worthwhile reading experience. ( )
  Zumbanista | Dec 10, 2014 |
Willa Cather sets a scene like nobody else. How can you not be completely hooked after reading a passage like this:

Although it was only four o'clock, the winter day was fading. The road led southwest, toward the streak of pale, watery light that glimmered in the leaden sky. The light fell upon the two sad young faces that were turned mutely toward it: upon the eyes of the girl, who seemed to be looking with such anguished perplexity into the future; upon the sombre eyes of the boy, who seemed already to be looking into the past. The little town behind them had vanished as if it had never been, had fallen behind the swell of the prairie, and the stern frozen country received them into its bosom. The homesteads were few and far apart; here and there a windmill gaunt against the sky, a sod house crouching in a hollow. But the great fact was the land itself, which seemed to overwhelm the little beginnings of human society that struggled in its sombre wastes. It was from facing this fast hardness that the boy's mouth had become so bitter; because he felt that men were too weak to make any mark here, that the land wanted to be let alone, to preserve its own fierce strength, its peculiar, savage kind of beauty, its uninterrupted mournfulness.

Alexandra Bergson is the strong, independent daughter of Swedish immigrants settled in Nebraska. She is confident and knowledgeable, and despite having two older brothers, quickly assumes leadership of the farm. Alexandra builds it into a successful venture while also raising her youngest brother Emil, ensuring he has a level of education that gives him options as an adult. Alexandra cares for her family and neighbors, but her independent nature means she has few close friends. Her social needs are met through the chatter of young Swedish girls hired for cooking and other domestic services, and visits with Marie Shabata, a young farmer’s wife living nearby.

O Pioneers! paints a vivid picture of prairie life over about two decades in the late 19th century. I became fully vested in the lives of Alexandra, Emil, Marie, and others. The story ambles along gently through the seasons and the years. But don’t be fooled by these easy rhythms: there’s an emotional current underpinning this story, which Cather taps to deliver an emotional punch that I had not anticipated, and which vaulted this book from “just another farming story” to something much more meaningful. ( )
7 vote lauralkeet | Dec 8, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 80 (next | show all)
There isn't a vestige of 'style' as such: for page after page one is dazed at the ineptness of the medium and the triviality of the incidents...

» Add other authors (21 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Willa Catherprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Byatt, A. S.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lindemann, MarileeEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Perrin, NoelAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weakley, MarkIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Prairie Spring

Evening and the flat land,
Rich and sombre and always silent;
The miles of fresh-plowed soil,
Heavy and black, full of strength and harshness;
The growing wheat, the growing weeds,
The toiling horses, the tired men;
The long empty roads,
Sullen fires of sunset, fading,
The eternal, unresponsive sky.
Against all this, Youth,
Flaming like the wild roses,
Singing like the larks over the plowed fields,
Flashing like a star out of the twilight;
Youth with its insupportable sweetness,
Its fierce necessity,
Its sharp desire,
Singing and singing,
Out of the lips of silence,
Out of the earthy dusk.
To the memory of
Sarah Orne Jewett
in whose beautiful and delicate work
there is the perfection
that endures
First words
One January day, thirty years ago, the little town of Hanover, anchored on a windy Nebraska tableland, was trying not to be blown away. A mist of fine snowflakes was curling and eddying about the cluster of low drab buildings huddled on the gray prairie, under a gray sky. The dwelling-houses were set about haphazard on the tough prairie sod; some of them looked as if they had been moved in overnight, and others as if they were straying off by themselves, headed straight for the open plain. None of them had any appearance of permanence, and the howling wind blew under them as well as over them. The main street was a deeply rutted road, now frozen hard, which ran from the squat red railway station and the grain “elevator” at the north end of the town to the lumber yard and the horse pond at the south end. On either side of this road straggled two uneven rows of wooden buildings; the general merchandise stores, the two banks, the drug store, the feed store, the saloon, the post-office. The board sidewalks were gray with trampled snow, but at two o’clock in the afternoon the shopkeepers, having come back from dinner, were keeping well behind their frosty windows. The children were all in school, and there was nobody abroad in the streets but a few rough-looking countrymen in coarse overcoats, with their long caps pulled down to their noses. Some of them had brought their wives to town, and now and then a red or a plaid shawl flashed out of one store into the shelter of another. At the hitch-bars along the street a few heavy work-horses, harnessed to farm wagons, shivered under their blankets. About the station everything was quiet, for there would not be another train in until night.
The history of every country begins in the heart of a man or a woman.
People have to snatch at happiness when they can, in this world. It is always easier to lose than to find.
Those fields, colored by various grain!
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
Alexandra is the eldest child of the Bergsons, a ship-building family from Norway who have come to the American Midwest to wrest their living from another kind of frontier. Alexandra is driven by two great forces:her fierce protective love for her young brother Emil, and her deep love of the land. When her father dies, worn out by disease and debt, it is she who becomes head of the family and begins the long, hard process of taming the country, forcing it to yield wheat and corn where only the grass and wildflowers had grown since time began. Through the life, hopes, successes - and failures - of this magnificent woman we learn the story of all the immigrants who came to carve out new homes for themselves, who struggled against ignorance, drought, storm, poverty and came to love and understand the earth until it rewarded them with richness beyond measure.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679743626, Paperback)

One of America’s greatest women writers, Willa Cather established her talent and her reputation with this extraordinary novel—the first of her books set on the Nebraska frontier. A tale of the prairie land encountered by America’s Swedish, Czech, Bohemian, and French immigrants, as well as a story of how the land challenged them, changed them, and, in some cases, defeated them, Cather’s novel is a uniquely American epic.

Alexandra Bergson, a young Swedish immigrant girl who inherits her father’s farm and must transform it from raw prairie into a prosperous enterprise, is the first of Cather’s great heroines—all of them women of strong will and an even stronger desire to overcome adversity and succeed. But the wild land itself is an equally important character in Cather’s books, and her descriptions of it are so evocative, lush, and moving that they provoked writer Rebecca West to say of her: “The most sensuous of writers, Willa Cather builds her imagined world almost as solidly as our five senses build the universe around us.”

Willa Cather, perhaps more than any other American writer, was able to re-create the real drama of the pioneers, capturing for later generations a time, a place, and a spirit that has become part of our national heritage.

From the Paperback edition.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:19:41 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

Swedish farmer John Bergson's daughter Alexandra encourages the family members to help keep his dream alive after his death.

(summary from another edition)

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