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My Antonia (Signet Classics) by Willa Cather

My Antonia (Signet Classics) (original 1918; edition 2005)

by Willa Cather, Marilyn Sides (Introduction)

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8,781194344 (3.93)727
Title:My Antonia (Signet Classics)
Authors:Willa Cather
Other authors:Marilyn Sides (Introduction)
Info:Signet Classics (2005), Edition: Reissue, Mass Market Paperback, 288 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:fiction, p/b, borrowed, America

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My Antonia by Willa Cather (1918)


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English (190)  Italian (1)  Piratical (1)  German (1)  All languages (193)
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Supposedly a portrait of the Bohemian immigrant woman, Antonia, the story is told from the perspective of Jim Burden, who moves west to Nebraska on the same day and becomes her friend. This makes the story a little odd because the reader only gets glimpses of Antonia's life on the prairie while also following Jim's life. ( )
  Pferdina | Jun 7, 2015 |
Scrawled across a blank page at the beginning of "My Antonia" is Virgil’s quote in Latin. “Optima dies… prima fugit”, meaning “in the lives of the mortals, the best days are the first to flee”. Childhood memories are what "My Antonia" is all about… beautiful, irreplaceable childhood memories.

"My Antonia" is the quintessential tale of life on the American prairie in the early 1900s.
Told in the first person by Jim Burden, he begins the story with his memory of traveling to Nebraska at the age of 10. Jim goes there to live with his grandparents after tragically losing both his parents.

Coincidentally traveling on the same train to Nebraska is a family of Bohemian immigrants who settle on the neighboring farm. Antonia Shimerda is several years older than Jim and though she does not speak English, they immediately strike up a friendship that has a powerful and everlasting influence on Jim’s life.

Life in the wilds of the heartland was far different from Jim’s home town in Virginia, and even more remote from the Czech Republic where Antonia was born. Together as innocent and curious children, Jim and Antonia embrace their new lives with joy and enthusiasm. It is obvious from the title My Antonia that what they share is a very private personal and exclusive experience- a connection that regardless of the passing of time and distance between them- it will never be broken. Jim will forever love Antonia.

The prairie drew people from all walks of life: Scandinavians, Bohemians, Russians, Norwegians, and Germans as well as American citizens who were weary of life on the east coast. And like one big family through good times and bad, aiding each other through crisis and sharing life’s joys, they changed the cultural climate of the mid-west.

In 1882 when Willa Cather was 9 years old, her family moved to a farm in Nebraska. Her descriptions of the primitive lifestyle and hardships endured are authentic. Everything you have imagined and more.... hard labor which included young children working the farm, dirt floors, one room school houses, children running barefoot in all weather, 4 and 5 siblings sharing bedrooms, long harsh winters of frigid temperatures with howling winds and snow drifts as tall as a man.

But the summers- with the beauty and enjoyment of the natural environment- was divine… a fantasy playground for children. A fertile oasis; meadows, orchards, and acres of productive farm land. “Everywhere as far as the eye could reach, there was nothing but rough, shaggy, red grass... giant grasshoppers, twice as big as any I had ever seen, were doing acrobatic feats among the dead vines... the light air about me told me that the world ended here: only the ground and sun and sky were left...”.

Through her charming coming-of-age tale, Willa Cather reminds us of the value of old friends. the beauty of childhood memories, and the stark reality of how much America has changed in the past 100 years.

"My Antonia" is a wonderful book that is aging like good wine... mellow, rich and full-bodied- a unique and true American classic. ( )
1 vote LadyLo | Apr 18, 2015 |
Good story about an immigrant young woman in the Midwest. ( )
  kslade | Apr 7, 2015 |
The front cover of my book has a quote by Henry Louis "H. L." Mencken: “No romantic novel ever written in America, by man or woman, is one half so beautiful as My Antonia”. Romantic… hmm, perhaps in an older definition sort of way: mutual admiration, fondness for one and other, eternal friendship, and appreciation for each’s qualities. The times are difficult, needless to say: the land is harsh, the weather severe, the individuals are complicated, a suicide, and “country girls” are abused, raped. Even so, Ms. Cather delivered words that sweep gently over my mind, each page generates warmth that embraces the reader with peace, joy, and contentment. Perhaps it is in contrast to a hectic city life that I find such satisfaction in this Nebraska based book of the late 1800’s/early 1900’s.

Jim Burden tells this story of his childhood friends, most notably of Antonia Shimerda, as well as the talented Lena Lingard, and many others in a book divided into 5 books. Book I is the longest that sets the stage of his youth; the harsh beginnings of farm lands are covered here as well as the beauty of idyllic youth. Book II covers his grade school years in Black Hawk. His friends, Antonia and Lena, who are about 4 years older than him, are now “Hired Girls” in the city, working in various capacities. Book III finds Jim in university in Lincoln, where he had a blossoming friendship (and in love) with Lena, who wants to answer to no one, a feminist of her day. :) Book IV takes college grad Jim back to Black Hawk, visiting family and catching up on friends. Here, in chapter IV, we find the warmest of words between Jim and Tony (quote below); the kind of love that lasts forever, regardless of circumstances, wanting only the best for one and other. Book V fast forwards 20 years ahead, and Jim finally returns to visit Antonia again, closing with: “The feelings of that night were so near that I could reach out and touch them with my hand. I had the sense of coming home to myself, and of having found out what a little circle man's experience is. For Antonia and for me, this had been the road of Destiny; had taken us to those early accidents of fortune which predetermined for us all that we can ever be. Now I understood that the same road was to bring us together again. Whatever we had missed, we possessed together the precious, the incommunicable past.”

This quote from Virgil "Optima Dies ... prima fugit", or, "The best days are the first to flee" starts the book. It seems too sad. I thought the book ended happily, or at least sentimentally, with comfortable closures on the key characters. Everyone found a life that suited them, even if not with each other. Jim might be the exception – without children and with a wife who doesn’t share his romantic disposition. He is also the one who wasn’t true to himself, having been in love with two vibrant girls and pursued neither. Perhaps he did let his best days flee.

Favorite Character: Lena Lingard – Yes, over Antonia. Lena was very clear about who is she and dismisses what others think of her wrongly. She’s a strong character overall and never forgot her family that needs her, despite what others predicted. Her troubled youth scarred her leading to a choice of childless (and marriage-free) life – to which I can relate.

Least Favorite Character: Mrs. Shimerda – One might think it should be Wicked Cutter, but at least he’s wicked and he knows and shows it. But Mrs. Shimerda is simply wretched, jealous, boastful, underhanded, and leaving one a desire to smack her but you know you can’t.

Some quotes:

On indoor city girls – uh, yikes, me? :
“…Some of the high school girls were jolly and pretty, but they stayed indoors in winter because of the cold, and in summer because of the heat. When one danced with them, their bodies never moved inside their clothes, their muscles seemed to ask but one thing – not to be disturbed. I remember those girls merely as faces in the schoolroom, gay and rosy, or listless and dull, cut off below the shoulders, like cherubs…”

On girls, laughter, and poetry:
"'Come and see me sometimes when you're lonesome. But maybe you have all the friends you want. Have you?' She turned her soft cheek to me. 'Have you?' she whispered teasingly in my ear. In a moment I watched her fade down the dusky stairway. ... Lena had left something warm and friendly in the lamplight. How I loved to hear her laugh again! It was so soft and unexcited and appreciative – gave a favourable interpretation to everything…. It came over me, as it had never done before, the relation between girls like those and the poetry of Virgil. If there were no girls like them in the world, there would be no poetry".

On appreciating the arts – this reminded me of the movie “Pretty Woman”:
“I liked to watch a play with Lena; everything was wonderful to her, and everything was true… She handed her feelings over to the actors with a kind of fatalistic resignation. Accessories of costume and scene meant more to her than to me. She sat entranced through “Robin Hood” and hung upon the lips of the contralto who sang, “Oh, Promise Me!”

On Love, that never should have started, Lena to Jim:
“’I oughtn’t to have begun it, ought I?’ she murmured. ‘I oughtn’t to have gone to see you that first time. But I did want to. I guess I’ve always been a little foolish about you. I don’t know what first put it into my head, unless it was Antonia, always telling me I mustn’t be up to any of my nonsense with you. I let you alone for a long while, though, didn’t I?’
She was a sweet creature to those she loved, that Lena Lingard!”

On dinner – I found this funny, from Jim who had recently returned to the country from the city:
“While I was putting my horse away, I heard a rooster squawking. I looked at my watch and sighed; it was three o’clock, and I knew that I must eat him at six.”

On parting and memories – Antonia and Jim:
"'Of course it means you are going away from us for good,' she said with a sigh.' But that doesn't mean I'll lose you. Look at my papa here; he's been dead all these years, and yet he is more real to me than almost anybody else. He never goes out of my life".

"I felt the old pull of the earth, the solemn magic that comes out of those fields at nightfall. I wished I could be a little boy again, and that my way could end there. We reached the edge of the field, where are ways parted. I took her hands and held them against my breast, feeling once more how strong and warm and good they were... I held them now a long while, over my heart. About us it was growing darker and darker, and I had to look hard to see her face, which I meant always to carry with me; the closest, realest face, under all the shadows of women’s faces, at the very bottom of my memory."

On bonds between two people – Antonia and Jim:
J to A: “…since I’ve been away, I think of you more often than of anyone else in this part of the world. I’d have liked to have you for a sweetheart, or a wife, or my mother or my sister – anything that a woman can be to a man. The idea of you is a part of my mind; you influence my likes and dislikes, all my tastes, hundreds of times when I don’t realize it. You really are a part of me.”
A to J: “…Ain’t it wonderful, Jim, how much people can mean to each other? I’m so glad we had each other when we were little. I can’t wait till my little girls’ old enough to tell her about all the things we used to do.”

On reunion – Antonia and Jim:
“I went down across the fields, and Tony saw me from a long way off. She stood still by her shocks, leaning on her pitchfork, watching me as I came. We met like the people in the old song, in silence, if not in tears.”

"I did not want to find her aged and broken; I really dreaded it. In the course of twenty crowded years one parts with many illusions. I did not wish to lose the early ones. Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again".

"Before I could sit down in the chair she offered me, the miracle happened; one of those quiet moments that clutch the heart, and take more courage than the noisy, excited passages in life. Antonia came in and stood before me... She was there, in the full vigour of her personality, battered but not diminished…"

On the fire of life:
“I know so many women who have kept all the things that she had lost, but whose inner glow has faded. Whatever else was gone, Antonia had not lost the fire of life.” ( )
1 vote varwenea | Feb 3, 2015 |
A most poignant fictional story told as a memoir by Jim Burden of his childhood friend Antonia. At the turn of the century in the late 1800's, Jim is orphaned and moves from Virginia to live with his grandparents on the Nebraska prairie and a life of farming.

The Burdens are a perfect example of neighbors and define the true meaning of community. The closest neighbors are an immigrant Bohemian family the Shemirda's and their eldest daughter is Antonia. Jim and Antonia become fast friends and throughout the book he recalls how each of the experiences they shared together have greatly influenced his life.

Willa Cather paints a breathtaking landscape in this nostalgic and romantic story. I found it beautifully haunting. ( )
  missjomarch | Jan 1, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (36 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Willa Catherprimary authorall 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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:51 -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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