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Lucy Gayheart by Willa Cather

Lucy Gayheart (1935)

by Willa Cather

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    pacocillero: Aunque el estilo es muy distinto las historias convergen en que son las dos mujeres que emigran buscando un cambio en sus vidas.

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Lucy Gayheart grew up on her family's Nebraska farm with her father and much older sister, who cared for Lucy after their mother passed away. At 18, everyone expects Lucy to marry local beau Harry Gordon, but she leaves home to study music in Chicago. Lucy finds a position as accompanist for Sebastian, a famous singer, which changes the course of her life. Sebastian expands Lucy's world view and even though he is much older, they fall in love. It seems as if their story can only get better, but Willa Cather has other plans. Circumstances force Lucy to return home, but she refuses to share details of her life in Chicago, even with her own family. Lucy had hoped to find friendship with Harry, but he has since married and keeps a respectable distance. Her self-imposed isolation begins to take its toll ... and I'll leave it at that.

This was a beautifully written character study with real emotional depth that made me gasp more than once. ( )
  lauralkeet | May 22, 2017 |
Willa Cather's writing is poetry in prose. Tender. Intimate. Understanding. Human. ( )
  Rosareads | Apr 13, 2017 |
What a sad story! ( )
  mahallett | Feb 1, 2017 |
Beautifully written. The story bounces between the joys and sorrows of the protagonist, Lucy. It's a bittersweet story, though it demonstrates something important about human relationships, and perhaps the way Cather wrote it is the best way to show the importance of certain elements of life. ( )
  jantz | Jan 1, 2017 |
This ‘new’ green VMC seems to one of a number of POD VMCs with covers reminiscent of those lovely old original greens. It seems – from a recent discussion on the Librarything Virago group – that a few selected titles have been available for a while. They have a heavier more robust feel to them than the old original greens but for me are greatly to be preferred to some of the modern VMCs with their silly, frothy cover art.

Willa Cather is firmly established as one of my favourite authors, I have been slowly eking out her books, and although I did only read My Mortal Enemy recently I felt suddenly compelled to read this one now. Lucy Gayheart was Cather’s penultimate novel, and in it she returns to themes explored in some of her best loved novels, O Pioneers! and The Song of the Lark. There is an exquisite bittersweet elegiac quality to this novel which makes it unforgettable.

The story takes place in 1901/1902, with an extraordinarily beautiful epilogue taking place twenty-five years later. The novel opens with a retrospective remembrance of Lucy Gayheart, and the reader senses immediately that there will be sadness at the very heart of this story.

“In Haverford on the Platte the townspeople still talk of Lucy Gayheart. They do not talk of her a great deal, to be sure; life goes on and we live in the present. But when they do mention her name it is with a gentle glow in the face or the voice, a confidential glance which says: ‘Yes, you too, remember?’ They still see her as a slight figure always in motion; dancing or skating, or walking swiftly with intense direction, like a bird flying home.”

As she did with The Song of the Lark, here Cather considers the incompatibility of those wanting to dedicate themselves to the arts (in this case music) and the confining nature of small town Nebraskan life. At eighteen Lucy leaves her small town for Chicago to study music. As the novel opens Lucy is home in Haverford for the Christmas holidays, the young people of Haverford enjoy the traditional skating parties on the stretch of ice by Duck Island and Lucy is courted by the most eligible bachelor in town. Harry Gordon is determined to have a wife who other men will envy – and has chosen Lucy despite her family’s relative poverty. Lucy’s father gives music lessons from the room behind his watch repairer’s shop, while Lucy was effectively brought up by her sister Pauline.

“Yesterday’s rain had left a bitter, spring like smell in the air; the vehemence that beat against her in the street and hummed above her had something a little wistful in it tonight, like a plaintive hand-organ tune. All the lovely things in the shop windows, the furs and jewels, roses and orchids, seemed to belong to her as she passed them. Not to have wrapped up and sent home, certainly; where would she put them? But they were hers to live among.”

The holidays over – Lucy is back in the city – living independently in her room above a German bakery. Lucy has been studying music under the tutelage of Professor Auerbach who introduces her to his friend Clement Sebastien a renowned baritone singer. Sebastien is married (seemingly estranged from his wife,) middle aged and looking for an accompanist for his practise sessions – his regular accompanist will continue to play for his concerts. Lucy finds herself immediately deeply affected by Sebastien – his voice and the manner of expressing the songs he sings, his kindness and tenderness towards her can have only one result. At Sebastien’s studio Lucy meets Sebastien’s valet Giuseppe of who she becomes very fond of and James Mockford – the regular accompanist who she feels strangely uneasy about. Embarrassed by having her feelings for Sebastien exposed Lucy is relieved and grateful for his kindness and understanding, and although it becomes obvious that he returns her feelings Sebastien won’t take the next step – old enough to be her father he fears her feelings are not real.

While Sebastien is away on tour, Harry pays a visit to Chicago, and he and Lucy visit museums and see several concerts. Harry’s thoughts turn to the future, the one he imagines he will have with Lucy – Lucy tells him quite cruelly that she loves someone else, and further, in a hastily spoken lie – taunts him with the how far their relationship has gone. Broken, Harry returns to Haverford and makes a hasty impulsive, sensible marriage with the kind of woman he had always wanted to not spend his life with. In Chicago Sebastien returns for a few days before he Giuseppe and Mockford head off for a European tour. All Lucy can do is work at her music and wait for his return. However, fate is destined to be unkind to Lucy – but I shall say no more – for here is where part one of three ends and there is a hundred pages to go.

“It was a gift of nature, he supposed, to go wildly happy over trifling things – over nothing! It wasn’t given to him – he wouldn’t have chosen it; but he liked catching it from Lucy for a moment, feeling it flash by his ear. When they stood watching the sun break through, or waiting for the birds to rise, that expectancy beside him made all his nerves tingle, as if his shooting-clothes, and the hard case of the muscle he lived in, were being sprayed by a wild spring shower. His own body grew marvellously free and light, and there was a snapping sparkle in his blood that made him set his teeth.”

That last hundred pages is what turned a solid four star read into a five star read – I can’t adequately express the beauty and poignancy of the writing that Cather produces here. She explores her themes of love, loss and failure eloquently and with perfect understanding.

The sense of place – particularly in Haverford where the novel begins and ends – is extraordinarily strong – something Cather always does well – here she leaves her readers with images that will live long in the mind. ( )
  Heaven-Ali | Jul 3, 2016 |
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In Harverford on the Platte the townspeople still talk of Lucy Gayheart.
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Book description
Lucy Gayheart is a talented pianist, a woman of grace and vitality with "that singular brightness of young beauty". It is 1901 and she is studying music in the magical smoky city of Chicago, returning occasionally to provincial Haverford, the town of her birth. She meets and falls in love with a middle-aged opera singer, a man whose influence will change the course of her life forever. First published in 1935, this resonant novel is much more than a simple love story. For, rejecting the commonplaces of small-town life, Lucy seeks the splendour of an "invisible, inviolable world" glimpsed through her music. In contrasting the possibilities of each, Willa Cather has produced a novel of clarity and quiet distinction.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679728880, Paperback)

"Some people's lives are affected by what happens to their person or their property, but for others fate is what happens to their feelings and their thoughts—that and nothing more." In this haunting 1935 novel, the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of My Ántonia and Death Comes for the Archbishop performs a series of crystalline variations on the themes that preoccupy her greatest fiction: the impermanence of innocence, the opposition between prairie and city, provincial American values and world culture, and the grandeur, elation, and heartache that await a gifted young woman who leaves her small Nebraska town to pursue a life in art.At the age of eighteen, Lucy Gayheart heads for Chicago to study music. She is beautiful and impressionable and ardent, and these qualities attract the attention of Clement Sebastian, an aging but charismatic singer who exercises all the tragic, sinister fascination of a man who has renounced life only to turn back to seize it one last time. Out of their doomed love affair—and Lucy's fatal estrangement from her origins—Willa Cather creates a novel that is as achingly lovely as a Schubert sonata.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:13 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

Fervently pursuing the life of an artist, a young music student leaves behind her small midwestern town existence and comes to know the elation and heartache of a life in the creative world.

Legacy Library: Willa Cather

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