Sunday, April 1, 2012

My Antonia: Book #4 Intro


Cather in Jaffrey, NH, 1917.
THE CHALLENGE
Read all 12 of Willa Cather's novels in chronological order, one each month, throughout 2012. For full details about the challenge click here.

THIS MONTH'S NOVEL
Our fourth novel of the challenge is My Antonia (pronounced Ann-to-nee-ah). Read it over the next three weeks and we'll start our conversation about it on Monday, April 16.

Of Cather's 12 novels, My Antonia probably needs the least introduction. It is by far her most popular novel and the one of which she was the most proud. 
  • Cather started writing the novel after having spent three months in Red Cloud, NE during which time her mother was ill and Cather took on the household work, including cooking for eight.
  • Cather wrote part of this novel in a tent in Jaffrey, New Hamphire. Each day she'd walk down from the inn where she was staying into a meadow where her friends set up a tent for her use. The tent is behind Cather in the picture above.
  • My Antonia was published on September 21, 1918.
  • The first printing was 3,500 copies and they sold for $1.60 each.
  • Sales weren't smashing (there was a war going on, after all), but steadily increased as the years went by.
Vintage Classics Paperback description:

"No romantic novel ever written in America, by man or woman, is one half so beautiful as My Antonia."

In this symphonically powerful and magnificently observed novel, Willa Cather created one of the most winning heroines in American fiction, a woman whose robust high spirits and calm, undemonstrative strength make her emblematic of the virtues Cather most admired in her country. We first meet Antonia Shimerda as the young daughter of a Bohemian immigrant who in time will be driven to suicide by the oceanic loneliness of life on the Nebraska prairie. Through the eyes of Jim Burden, her tutor and disappointed admirer, we follow Antonia from farm to town and through hardships both natural and human, surviving everything from poverty to a failed romance-and not only surviving, but triumphing.

In the end Antonia is exactly what Burden says she is: a woman who "had that something which fires the imagination, [a woman who] could . . . stop one's breath for a moment by a look or gesture that somehow revealed the meaning in common things."
First edition
RESOURCES
  • Available at just about all libraries and bookstores.
  • You can download a free digital edition from Project Gutenberg here.
  • Read the Scholarly Edition online here.
  • Support the Willa Cather Foundation and order it online here.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT
My Antonia is regularly taught in high schools, colleges, and is on many summer reading lists. If you read it in high school, I hope you're one of those for whom it was a good experience, rather than painful. The novel is considered one of the best American novels in general, due to its themes and style, and perhaps the best written about the immigrant farming and small-town experience in late nineteenth century America. Cather herself thought My Antonia was "the most successfully done" of her novels, and that with it she contributed something to American literature.

MARK YOUR CALENDAR
I'll share my thoughts on reading My Antonia in a new post by noon on Monday, April 16. At that time let's start our conversation--simply post your thoughts about the novel in the comments section of that post so we can have everyone's thoughts in once place. Please hold off on sharing your thoughts about My Antonia until the 16th so everyone has the time to read it.
Happy Reading!

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