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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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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)

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Rating: 3.75* of five

The Publisher Says: Set on the Nebraska prairie where Willa Cather (1873–1947) grew up, this powerful early novel tells the story of the young Alexandra Bergson, whose dying father leaves her in charge of the family and of the lands they have struggled to farm. In Alexandra's long flight to survive and succeed, O Pioneers! relates an important chapter in the history of the American frontier.

Evoking the harsh grandeur of the prairie, this landmark of American fiction unfurls a saga of love, greed, murder, failed dreams, and hard-won triumph. In the fateful interaction of her characters, Willa Cather compares with keen insight the experiences of Swedish, French, and Bohemian immigrants in the United States. And in her absorbing narrative, she displays the virtuoso storytelling skills that have made her one of the most admired masters of the American novel.

My Review: Simple, unadorned prose gets very wearing when it's also missing some basic character-building. In 122pp, it's not possible to do a Proustian job of lovingly explaining why people are who they are. But [The Picture of Dorian Gray], also a shortie, has the most gorgeously subtle character-building; [Mrs. Dalloway] is another example; so one concludes that Cather just wasn't interested in Lou or Oscar or the French neighbors.

As a moment in time, the book is invaluable. A concise slice of the life led by the crazy dreamers who decided the Old Country was no longer enough for them and their kids, packed what they could afford to carry, and vamoosed for the New World.

There is a private society that's trying to get together a colony of people with all the talents necessary to keep themselves alive on Mars. It's a one-way ticket...just like the pioneers of old.

How I wish I was young and healthy. I'd be on that rocket in a heartbeat. ( )
  richardderus | Sep 28, 2015 |
Short, character-based novel about pioneer farmers on the US prairielands, centering on the strong-willed and level-headed Alexandra, who builds her family's farm into prosperity, and doesn't necessarily get a lot of thanks for it. Cather has a real talent for evoking the feeling of this time and place, and of the people and their connection to the land. She's also remarkably good at describing her characters in such a way that you feel like you know them perfectly in just a few sentences.

I did find this less absorbing than My Antonia, though, which is the only other Cather novel I've read so far. I was thinking, for a while, that that might be because the dialog was a bit stilted in a way that bothered me, or that perhaps I wanted a little more story in among the character stuff. But, honestly, I think it had much more to do with the fact that I've been in a bit of a book slump lately, and -- fiction-wise, at least -- nothing seems to satisfy me entirely. Despite which, I still thought this one was good, which probably means it's great. ( )
  bragan | Jun 18, 2015 |
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 |
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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:00:32 -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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