The Chancellor has been at me to read Willa Cather since we’ve been dating (that was six plus years ago). Finally, I opened The Song of the Lark this summer. Silly me, how did I wait this long?
Okay, The Song of the Lark is a Kunstlerroman (that’s coming of age for the artist, in layman’s terms) about a young woman with ambitions and a hugely talented voice languishing away in the fictional town of Moonstone, Colorado. Thea Kronborg is clever and restless, longing for more than just the get-married-and-have-babies track that is waiting for her in Moonstone. With some help, she gets the chance to study in Chicago, and there she finds her voice. But it comes at great cost. How much is Thea willing to pay for her dream?
I loved this book. It captures so eloquently the struggles of an artist with ambition, especially in the “during” phase, when you’re not sure you’re going to make it:
There were hours, too, of great exaltation; when she was at her best and became a part of what she was doing and ceased to exist in any other sense. There were other times when she was so shattered by ideas that she could do nothing worth while; when they trampled over her like an army and she felt as if she were bleeding to death under them.
Cather hits the right balance between eloquence and economy in language; some passages are evocative and rich, while others (especially towards the novel’s end) are spare and uncompromising.
I feel that Cather is an interesting harbinger to American modernism. She lacks the deeply psychological and interior plottings of a Henry James or the sumptuous prose of an Edith Wharton, but neither is she so sparsely modernist that she abandons the story for the sake of art. Yet the story itself is not sentimental or feel-good, and that’s why I liked it.
Apparently, I’ve discovered a new lady crush.