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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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3,919931,314 (3.88)367
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. 10
    The Tie That Binds by Kent Haruf (shesinplainview)
  2. 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...

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Coming back to read this book for a second time reminded me that when I first read Willa Cather – many years ago – she took me to a time and place I had known nothing about and she made me realise that there were more sides to classic writing than I had realised.

Before I read her books the only American woman author I knew was Louisa May Alcott ….

Enthused by my new discovery I read every single book I could find in a short space of time, not really stopping to think about the arc of her storytelling life or how one book related to another.

Now that I have come back to her work, reading all of her books in chronological order and thinking about them a little more along the way, I can say that though she hadn’t reached the peak of her powers when she wrote this, her second book, it is a wonderful work and a very fine demonstration of what she could do.

Her writing is sparse and yet it says so much so clearly. It speaks profoundly of the consequences of travelling to a new life in America, of the harsh realities of pioneer life, and of particular lives lived.

Alexandra Bergson travelled from Sweden to Nebraska as a child with her parents and siblings. Her father knew little about farming, he was ill-equipped for the new life he had chosen, but was intelligent, he saw so many possibilities, and he was prepared to work hard to make a better future for his family.

Lou and Oscar, his first two sons, had no interest in farm work and could see no potential in the land. Alexandra could, she saw the same things, she had the same love for the land as her father. He appreciated that, and when he died he left her a controlling interest in the family estate. Her brother were appalled when she invested in more and more land as other farmers gave it up to return to the city or to safer, more fertile country.

She had faith in its future.

Her faith was justified.

Twenty years later Alexandra was the mistress of a prosperous and unencumbered empire, and head of her own household. She loved being part of the pioneer community and that community had loved and respected her; she appreciated the old ways, and she was always ready to give her time and to take trouble for her friends and neighbours.

Lou and Oscar were both married and established in new lives, enjoying the fruits of the family success without really appreciating what their sister had done. It was her younger brother, Emil, who was the apple of Alexandra’s eye, her hope for the future, and she was so pleased that she was able to send him to university.

She loved the land, but she understood that the life she had chosen might not be the life that her brother would want.

Alexandra was a strong, practical and intelligent woman who had a wonderful understanding of her world and who cared deeply for the people whose lives touched hers. She loved her life but there were times when she was lonely, when she wished that she had a husband and family of her own, and when she even wondered if the struggles she had made to tame the land that she loved had been worthwhile.

She was still close to Carl Linstrom, the best friend of her childhood, but his family had been one of those that gave up the pioneering life and returned to the city, and that had taken Carl into a very different world. He understood Alexandra better than anyone else though, and was his support Alexandra the courage to face the future after something devastating happened.

It happened because though there was much that was stable and certain in Alexandra’s world, but not everything. Her younger friend, Marie, who was young and bright, who had such hopes and dream, realised that her impulsive marriage had been a mistake and that she would have to live with the consequences. When Emil came home he had changed, and his own hopes and dreams were something that he could never share with his sister.

The telling of this story is utterly so. Willa Cather painted her characters and their world so beautifully and with such depth that it became utterly real. Everything in this book lived and breathed. Every emotion, every nuance was right. I lived this story with Alexandra, Emil, Marie, and their friends and neighbours.

I can’t judge them or evaluate them, because I feel too close to them. I’m still thinking of them not as characters but as people I have come to know well and have many, complex feelings about.

The story is beautifully balanced, with many moments of happiness – and even humour – coming from successes, from the observance of old traditions, and simply from the joy of being alive in the world.

It’s a simple story with a very conventional narrative. In some ways it’s a little simplistic, but it’s very well told.

Willa Cather had still to grow as a writer.

And yet it feels completely right …. ( )
  BeyondEdenRock | May 10, 2016 |
I have read excerpts of this book over the years, and it was wonderful to read the full book at last. It's a short read (my copy was a little over 200 pages) and it reads fast as well--much more so than many other novels of the period. Cather is a master of lyrical reason. For that alone, she should be studied and modeled by writers, but her story construction is likewise fascinating. Cather's characters are well-rounded and evocative and utterly relatable. She does follow some conventions of the time, such as tragic, transformative deaths of major characters, but O Pioneers! is actually more positive than other period books in this regard. This is in keeping with the nature of the book's heroine, Alexandra, who is a strong, assertive woman in a male-dominated world. I was bothered by some of Alexandra's actions at the end, but I'm also aware that her reactions were in keeping with a woman of faith in her time. ( )
  ladycato | Apr 23, 2016 |
Cather was simply brilliant at painting a picture of Nebraska as the country became tamed and the people that tamed it. ( )
  mamashepp | Mar 29, 2016 |
Cather was simply brilliant at painting a picture of Nebraska as the country became tamed and the people that tamed it. ( )
  mamashepp | Mar 29, 2016 |
I loved this book that invokes the pioneer spirit of the American midwest. It has a fantastic lead woman, Alexandra Bergson. In the first section of the book, Alexandra's father dies and he leaves the family farm to his capable daughter instead of his sons. To their credit, they see the reason for this and the strength of Alexandra and follow her lead on how to run the farm with great success. As they succeed in farming the land, though, their personal lives begin to suffer. The book delves in to the family dynamics and also the community. Alexandra also has to decide if her farming success is enough for her to feel she's led a full life.

The best part of this book is how it describes the setting. The Nebraska plains come to life with Cather's beautiful writing. She also describes the various immigrant groups settling the plains with humor and insight. I loved it. ( )
  japaul22 | Mar 28, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 93 (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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:32 -0400)

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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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