‘My Mortal Enemy’ by Willa Cather – A Young Woman’s Disillusionment

 

‘My Mortal Enemy’ by Willa Cather (1926) – 85 pages

‘My Mortal Enemy’ is a short novella about a 15 year old girl Nellie Birdseye who idolizes a woman who grew up in her neighborhood, but who by the time the girl turns 25 has become quite disillusioned with the woman.

The idolized woman, Myra Henshawe, was from one of the most prominent well-to-do families in her town. However Myra as a teenager met a guy named Oswald of whom her father disapproved. Myra eloped with Oswald, and they ran off to New York. When Myra’s father found out, he wrote Myra out of his will and left her nothing.

Willa Cather

The story of Myra and her elopement has now become part of the town’s folklore, and young Nellie is captivated by the story. She is excited when her Aunt Liddy decides to take Nellie along to visit Myra and her husband in New York City. By this time Oswald and Myra are living the high life in New York City. Oswald is a prominent businessman, and the couple are part of the cultural elite of the city. Myra takes Nellie out to concerts and theatrical performances. Nellie is enamored of the couple.

However 10 years later Nellie is struggling to make a living after college, and she moves into a decrepit apartment building and is surprised to find the couple Oswald and Myra living there.

That’s enough about the plot. There is an entirely fascinating article about the real life couple that Willa Cather based this novella on. Willa Cather was an editor for the McClure’s Magazine during her career, and the speculation is that S. S, McClure and his wife Hattie were the models for Oswald and Myra.

SS McClure

Time spent reading any of Willa Cather’s fiction is time well spent, including reading ‘My Mortal Enemy’. However the novella is somewhat sketchy and some of the behavior and reactions are somewhat inexplicable. This could very well be because Cather was trying to protect the identities of the McClures who were still alive when Cather published it.

If you are new to reading Willa Cather, I would definitely recommend reading ‘My Antonia’, ‘A Lost Lady’, ‘The Professor’s House’, or ‘O Pioneers!’ before ‘My Mortal Enemy’.

 

Grade:    B

 

 

7 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by janguerin on January 21, 2021 at 7:24 PM

    I found this review helpful in terms of better understanding a part of Cather’s life and as always her deep insight into the human condition. I will read it. I would recommend “Neighbor Rosicky” as another great Cather read. The story by captures the purpose and meaningfulness of a farm family. The patriarch is a generous and beautiful soul who sees deep into life. His insight into the potential future troubles for his son and daughter-in-law is touching and beautiful.

    On Thu, Jan 21, 2021 at 8:06 AM Tony’s Book World wrote:

    > Anokatony posted: ” ‘My Mortal Enemy’ by Willa Cather (1926) – 85 pages > ‘My Mortal Enemy’ is a short novella about a 15 year old girl Nellie > Birdseye who idolizes a woman who grew up in her neighborhood, but who by > the time the girl turns 25 has become quit” >

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

    • Hi janguerin,
      Thank You, and ‘Neighbor Rosicky’ is one of the three long stories in ‘Obscure Destinies’. Those three long stories are what brought me to become a lifelong fan of Willa Cather in the first place. These stories are magnificent, and ‘Obscure Destinies’ is the Willa Cather fiction I would first recommend to new readers of her work.

      Like

      Reply

  2. I like Willa Cather and this sounds like another interesting story of hers. The sort of ingenue in thrall to an older woman or couple is any old story but ripe for all sorts of exploration.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

  3. I’ve only read The Song of the Lark so far, but I enjoyed that one.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply

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