Willa Cather – One of My Favorite Fiction Writers of the 20th Century

With this article, I am starting a new feature on those fiction writers in the 20th century who are my personal favorites.  These fiction writers have entertained and intrigued me both at the sentence level as well as at the story or novel level.  Since these are my favorites, I have usually read a number of books by them which is the case with Willa Cather.  However there may be special cases where only one book gets an author in. Although I am starting with a United States writer, I will be including writers from various parts of the world. You may disagree with some of my choices, especially those writers I choose to leave out.

So here goes.

 

Willa Cather

Born: December 7, 1873    Died: April 24, 1947

I am starting with Willa Cather because up until recently Cather had been consistently underrated as a fiction writer with guys like Hemingway and Fitzgerald who couldn’t hold a candle to Cather getting the acclaim.  The English writer A. S. Byatt has gone a long way to ensuring that Willa Cather gets her due in the literary world.

Those of us who appreciate Cather’s work are passionate about it.

Willa Cather spent most of her childhood in Nebraska which is the setting for several of her finest novels.  She spent most of her adult life in New York City although she had a summer house on the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, Canada which was the only house she ever owned.

She never married nor had any children which must have been a boon to her fiction writing career.  She frequently dressed like a man.  That’s fine, I don’t care; it is her fiction that fascinates me.

There is a tendency to view a writer’s work as piling success upon success up until the end of their life.  However, I have found that many a writer’s strongest work happens relatively early in his or her career.  That is certainly the case with Cather with her best works being written between 1913 and 1927.  As with the very best fiction, Cather makes her characters come alive for me, and I am moved by much of her work.

Interesting Fact:  She has a prairie, Cather Prairie, near her childhood home in Red Cloud, Nebraska named after her.

Fiction by Willa Cather that I strongly recommend: The Prairie Trilogy which includes ‘O Pioneers’, ‘The Song of the Lark’, and ‘My Antonia’.  Don’t be afraid to read these three novels out of order since each is a standalone story. Also ‘A Lost Lady’ and ‘The Professor’s House’; also ‘Obscure Destinies’ which is a wonderful collection of three of her very best stories.

Quotes about Willa Cather:  “No American novelist was more purely an artist.”- J. Donald Adams

“No romantic novel ever written in America, by man or woman, is one half so beautiful as My Ántonia.” – H. L. Mencken

“She has been steadily admired by stylists. Alice Munro learned from her; Eudora Welty, Katherine Anne Porter, and Wallace Stevens praised her perceptively. She learned from Virgil, Tolstoy, Flaubert, Henry James. She wrote 12 novels and some remarkable long and short stories.” – A. S. Byatt

A Quote from Willa Cather:The stupid believe that to be truthful is easy; only the artist, the great artist, knows how difficult it is.” 

 

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8 responses to this post.

  1. I certainly wouldn’t argue with this choice, I have heard so much about this author and I know it is a real gap in my reading not to have read her yet.

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  2. I love Willa Cather, great ides for a series of posts.

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  3. I like this post. It’s a very good way to give short pieces of information via a category, rather than overwhelm someone with information. It is the centenary of O Pioneers, I think. I’ll have to check on that, and I’ll get back to you if I’m wrong.

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    • Hi Kat,
      According to Wiki, it is the centenary of ‘My Antonia’, and ‘O Pioneers’ was published in 1913. So one could say it is the centenary of the completion of the Prairie Trilogy.
      I think it is time to decide which writers of especially the last half of the 20th century are going to last, and which ones not, and maybe we people who like fiction should be involved in the decisions.

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  4. I adore Willa Cather, and I’m heartened that I hear (read) more and more bloggers singing her praises. You said it well that her works are intriguing at so many levels.

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    • Hi Rarebird,
      I do believe there is a tendency to confuse Willa Cather with Laura Ingalls Wilder who probably would be considered more of a writer for children than for adults. Cather’s more mature work like ‘The Professor’s House’ and ‘The Lost Lady’ is definitely for adults.

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