Willa Cather called her Antonia
''just the other side of the rug, the pattern that is supposed not to count in a story.'' Calling it so, she reveals its innovation. There is plot here, no doubt, and adventure. There are unforgettable, even cosmopolitan characters peopling these Nebraska plains, managing their affairs to different degrees of success, getting themselves tangled up in love's web. Here we find young Jim on the train from Virginia, a wide-eyed orphaned sent to live with his grandparents in Nebraska; and on the same train, Antonia, a Bohemian girl ''bright as a new dollar'' with her immigrant family. Both end up in Black Hawk, Nebraska -- a land where ''there seemed nothing to seeanot a country at all, but the material out of which countries are made.'' And that's how Cather flips her rug, tells us a story from the underside of things, from the land's point of view as much as any character's. Yet her characters live of their own accord. Farmhands Otto and Jake, their very roughness and violence making them defenseless with ''no practiced manner behind which they could retreat and hold people at a distance'' are made of the same stuff as the Norwegian beauty Lena or Antonia's father, a brokenhearted artist. Cather's limpid prose even transforms the morbidity of a coffin-making scene into cozy nostalgia without turning it saccharine. Jim may come late to recognize his love for Antonia, but that is of surprisingly little consequence in the novel's scheme. Antonia's own ''rich mine of life'' seems here to be the sufficiency by which all things gain their proper measure and proportion. As it should be.
An Eighth Day View:
"My Antonia," by Willa Cather, is part of the "Barnes & Noble Classics"" "series, which offers quality editions at affordable prices to the student and the general reader, including new scholarship, thoughtful design, and pages of carefully crafted extras. Here are some of the remarkable features of "Barnes & Noble Classics": New introductions commissioned from today's top writers and scholars Biographies of the authors Chronologies of contemporary historical, biographical, and cultural events Footnotes and endnotes Selective discussions of imitations, parodies, poems, books, plays, paintings, operas, statuary, and films inspired by the work Comments by other famous authors Study questions to challenge the reader's viewpoints and expectations Bibliographies for further reading Indices & Glossaries, when appropriateAll editions are beautifully designed and are printed to superior specifications; some include illustrations of historical interest. "Barnes & Noble Classics "pulls together a constellation of influences-biographical, historical, and literary-to enrich each reader's understanding of these enduring works. "No romantic novel ever written in America . . . is one half so beautiful as "My Antonia,"" "-H. L. Mencken"
Widely recognized as Willa Cather's greatest novel, "My Antonia" is a soulful and rich portrait of a pioneer woman's simple yet heroic life. The spirited daughter of Bohemian immigrants, Antonia must adapt to a hard existence on the desolate prairies of the Midwest. Enduring childhood poverty, teenage seduction, and family tragedy, she eventually becomes a wife and mother on a Nebraska farm. A fictional record of how women helped forge the communities that formed anation, "My Antonia" is also a hauntingly eloquent celebration of the strength, courage, and spirit of America's early pioneers.
Gordon Tapper is Assistant Professor of English at DePauw University. He is the author of "The Machine That Sings: Modernism, Hart Crane, and the Culture of the Body," from Routledge.