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My Antonia by Willa Sibert Cather

My Antonia (original 1918; edition 1954)

by Willa Sibert Cather

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Title:My Antonia
Authors:Willa Sibert Cather
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My Antonia by Willa Cather (1918)


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Nebraska pioneer life through the eyes of a young boy Jim. He recalls his boyhood love, Antonia, who becomes the strong pioneer woman rich in family, land, livestock and a sense of peace. ( )
  nanaval | Oct 10, 2014 |
My Antonia, written by Willa Cather, is the final novel in what has been called the Prairie Trilogy. It is story of Antonia Shimerda, told (years later) by one of her friends from childhood, Jim Burden, an orphaned boy from Virginia. Though he leaves the prairie, Jim never forgets the Bohemian girl who profoundly influenced his life (though I believes that he realizes this through the writing of the story). Set mainly in Nebraska, Jim focuses his story on the Shimerdas, an immigrant family whose daughter Antonia becomes one of his most dear childhood friends. Structured into five sections, the novel follows both Antonia and Jim from childhood through adulthood and the events that have shaped their lives. Antonia survives her father’s suicide, hires herself out as household help, is abandoned at the altar, gives birth out of wedlock, but eventually achieves fulfillment in life and in the land. Jim, a successful East-coast lawyer, remains romantic, nostalgic, and but ultimately unfulfilled in life. This novel is everything you would expect from a Cather novel, straightforward prose, beautiful descriptions of the vastness of landscape and life on the plains and complex engaging characters. 4 ½ out of 5 stars. ( )
  marsap | Oct 7, 2014 |
Another great book from Willa Cather. Though I like O Pioneers more, My Antonia was really interesting because of the narrator and the informal way it was written, with a strange approach to the sequence of events because it is simply one man recalling every encounter he had with Antonia. The ending really sealed the book for me, because - due to the disattachment between events - it brought everything together and gave it all a purpose.

The other thing I noticed while reading this book - I realize it's the same in O Pioneers - Cather is really great at creating peripheral characters. It is really lifelike, in that there are people who are our friends and family, and then there are the people we know, and the others we are just acquainted with. Yet each of these peripheral acquaintances is a real character in her narrative - there are no flat characters. It makes it more believable, as everyone is real, and no one is stereotypical. ( )
1 vote GraceZ | Sep 6, 2014 |
One of the greatest impacts in my life was Willa Cather. I grew up near where she lived, and my grandmother not only grew up nearer to her, but in the course of my life with her, she told me what my great-grandmother Ada Hall knew of her. Ada knew her family, and because of this, I loved her dearly. She was, in my world, living and breathing beside me because of that slight association with family. Her style of writing is above and beyond any sort of Victorian embellishment, as you will find in the literature of Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskill. She was just about as direct as one person could be at that time, and I always loved her for it. If given a choice of "classic" authors, I'll take Cather over Austen. As far as the story itself goes, it's clear to see that this was one of her best works. I could identify with all of the characters in some form or another. I was either friends with the characteristics, married to them, or they were part of that side of my family. I think you'll see parts of your life as you read her, too. She told the story of life in Nebraska at the turn of the 20th Century, and she did it well. ( )
  mreed61 | Aug 10, 2014 |
An interesting reflection on the lives of women settling in the American Midwest in the late 1800’s, this is not exactly what I had been expecting. Much like Angle of Repose, this novel gives a detailed look at the hard life of pioneer women trying to establish their lives in a context of frequently ineffectual men. Curiously, both are narrated by men at the periphery of the central woman’s life.
My Ántonia is great in showing Nebraska prairie life, with the natural beauty of the grasslands in every season, and Cather’s poetic descriptions are quite evocative. Never having been there, I can see from her writing how people can find it beautiful. She also effectively contrasts the beauty with the summer heat and the harshness of the extreme winter. Her description of the first years of the immigrants’ life in a sod hut, and the neighbours’ more established wooden cabin, then the move to town life in Black Hawk, give a realistic picture of settler life. The range of characters is interesting, too, from the eccentricities of the farm hands, the prideful obstinacy of the Ántonia’s brother, the broken nostalgia of Ántonia’s father to the generosity and warmth of Jim Burden’s grandparents and neighbours. Even the bit characters, such as the spiteful town couple always fighting each other, show the range of life in a small town.
Most interesting and memorable are the women: Lena, the free-spirited cow herder, who scandalizes the townsfolk by dancing with any men she chooses, and then becomes a stylish and successful dress maker. Tiny, who leaves the farm to make a fortune in the Klondike and settle in San Francisco. And at the centre, Ántonia, the lively and spirited young girl who captivates Jim with her energy and cheerful disposition. She lives a hard life, and it is to Cather’s credit that she does not romanticize it. She works to support her family, falls for a man who abandons her, and finally starts from scratch again to build a family with a man she loves. Her life, even when she finally makes her family farm a success, is relentless work until her children are old enough to take on some of the chores. Yet through it all, she chooses to make her own way in spite of mistakes and setbacks. She is the figure of the resilient, pragmatic, hard-working American that has become the classic type of American legend. So is it merely ironic that she is a female surrounded by flawed men, an immigrant who never loses her accent, a Catholic who becomes an unwed mother? Cather, even writing in 1918, clearly wants to up-end the stereotype and show something of a different reality.
And what of Jim Burden in all this? As the story begins, he has lost his parents to disease and must go to live with his grandparents in Nebraska. He meets Antonia on the train, and is drawn to her, following her life on the neighbouring farm. As young friends, he falls in love with her, but does not seem to consider her a marriage partner, probably because of their different social status – he is to be a lawyer, and she is a farm girl. As a result, he ends up in a loveless marriage but affluent, while she eventually finds a man to love and turns him into a farmer. And Jim never stops thinking of her, even though he avoids contact for 20 years, and finally seems content when he rejoins her life as a sort of distant visiting uncle to her children. So in the end, he is fulfilled only by a connection to Antonia’s life force and the prairie, however tenuous that is as an eastern lawyer. And that, it seems, is to be his burden – he is privileged and civilized, but his life seems irrelevant – he describes it only in occasional references – and empty compared to the richness and beauty of Ántonia and the prairie. ( )
  rab1953 | Jul 11, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (42 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Willa Catherprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Benda, W. T.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Benda, W. T.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Byatt, A.S.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Colacci, DavidNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Norris, KathleenForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Optima dies . . . prima fugit
To Carrie and Irene Miner in memory of affections old and true.
First words
I first heard of Ántonia on what seemed to me an interminable journey across the great midland plain of North America. I was ten years old then; I had lost both my father and mother within a year, and my Virginia relatives were sending me out to my grandparents, who lived in Nebraska. I traveled in the care of a mountain boy, Jake Marpole, one of the “hands” on my father’s old farm under the Blue Ridge, who was now going West to work for my grandfather. Jake’s experience of the world was not much wider than mine. He had never been in a railway train until the morning when we set out together to try our fortunes in a new world.
"When a writer begins to work with his own material," said Willa Cather, in a retrospective preface to her first novel, Alexander's Bridge, "he has less and less choice about the moulding of it. (Preface)
He placed this book in my grandmother's hands, looked at her entreatingly, and said, with an earnestness which I shall never forget, "Te-e-ach, te-e-ach my Ántonia!"
Because he talked so little, his words had a peculiar force; they were not worn dull from constant use.
Lena was Pussy so often that she finally said she wouldn't play any more.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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My Ántonia chronicles the life of Ántonia, a Bohemian immigrant woman, as seen through the eyes of Jim, the man unable to forget her. Jim, now a successful New York lawyer, recollects his upbringing on a Nebraska farm. Even after 20 years, Ántonia continues to live a romantic life in his imagination. When he returns to Nebraska, he finds Ántonia has lived a battered life. Although the man to whom she dedicated her life abandons her, she remains strong and full of courage.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 039575514X, Paperback)

It seems almost sacrilege to infringe upon a book as soulful and rich as Willa Cather's My Ántonia by offering comment. First published in 1918, and set in Nebraska in the late 19th century, this tale of the spirited daughter of a Bohemian immigrant family planning to farm on the untamed land ("not a country at all but the material out of which countries are made") comes to us through the romantic eyes of Jim Burden. He is, at the time of their meeting, newly orphaned and arriving at his grandparents' neighboring farm on the same night her family strikes out to make good in their new country. Jim chooses the opening words of his recollections deliberately: "I first heard of Ántonia on what seemed to be an interminable journey across the great midland plain of North America," and it seems almost certain that readers of Cather's masterpiece will just as easily pinpoint the first time they heard of Ántonia and her world. It seems equally certain that they, too, will remember that moment as one of great light in an otherwise unremarkable trip through the world.

Ántonia, who, even as a grown woman somewhat downtrodden by circumstance and hard work, "had not lost the fire of life," lies at the center of almost every human condition that Cather's novel effortlessly untangles. She represents immigrant struggles with a foreign land and tongue, the restraints on women of the time (with which Cather was very much concerned), the more general desires for love, family, and companionship, and the great capacity for forbearance that marked the earliest settlers on the frontier.

As if all this humanity weren't enough, Cather paints her descriptions of the vastness of nature--the high, red grass, the road that "ran about like a wild thing," the endless wind on the plains--with strokes so vivid as to make us feel in our bones that we've just come in from a walk on that very terrain ourselves. As the story progresses, Jim goes off to the University in Lincoln to study Latin (later moving on to Harvard and eventually staying put on the East Coast in another neat encompassing of a stage in America's development) and learns Virgil's phrase "Optima dies ... prima fugit" that Cather uses as the novel's epigraph. "The best days are the first to flee"--this could be said equally of childhood and the earliest hours of this country in which the open land, much like My Ántonia, was nothing short of a rhapsody in prairie sky blue. --Melanie Rehak

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:46:47 -0400)

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A New York lawyer remembers his boyhood in Nebraska and his friendship with a pioneer Bohemian girl.

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