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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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3,656771,443 (3.88)348
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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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 |
I'm not sure that I care for Cather's work very much, this being the second novel of hers I've read. Something felt lacking here, the characters didn't connect or feel fully developed. The novel suffers from a naivety that likely is representative of the time (and Cather's feminine sentimentality). Several times I was reminded of a watered down (and prude) D. H. Lawrence, another writer I find to be dull despite his mastery of language. Cather has a few poetical moments but not enough to glue the scattered narrative together. I just don't think this novel holds up for contemporary readers. ( )
  dulcinea14 | Sep 18, 2014 |
While I found this to be well written, it seemed a bit simple in terms of plot. The character development was good and there were some great descriptive passages of the land at the turn of the century as pioneers settled the west, and in this case Nebraska. Taken in historical perspective, I can understand the staying power of this writing. ( )
  mldavis2 | Sep 18, 2014 |
Wow. This book... it kind of blew me away. Reading it evoked such strong mental images, it was almost like the book in my hands was a movie in my head. I read "Shadows on the Rock" once, but I don't remember it having this kind of effect.

I also liked the way the characters are reintroduced in each section. Especially the first two sections, the characters are described with indefinite articles, so they appear more at a distance and unfamiliar to us readers. Because of this, the changes in their character are highlighted. We can be pretty sure the character is the protagonist we think it is,but it isn't completely certain until we actually read the name.

So, basically, I thought this book was really, really well written. Also, it re-whetted my appetite for Midwestern American Pioneer history. I'll have to re-read all of the Little House books sometime soon. ( )
  GraceZ | Sep 6, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 77 (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 (24 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Willa Catherprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Cather, WillaAuthormain 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)

» see all 25 descriptions

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