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My Ántonia

Cover of My Ántonia

My Ántonia

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'The best thing I've done is My Antonia,' recalled Willa Cather. 'I feel I've made a contribution to American letters with that book.' Set against the vast Nebraska prairie, Cather's elegiac novel features one of the most winning heroines in American fiction--Antonia Shimerda--a young woman whose strength and passion epitomize the triumphant vitality of this country's pioneers.

'If, as is often said, every novelist is born to write one thing, then the one thing that Willa Cather was born to write was first fully realized in My Antonia,' observed Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wallace Stegner. 'The prose is. . .flexible, evocative; the structure at once free and intricately articulated; the characters stretch into symbolic suggestiveness as naturally as trees cast shadows in the long light of a prairie evening; the theme is the fully exposed, complexly understood theme of the American orphan or exile, struggling to find a place between an Old World left behind and a New World not yet created. . . . No writer ever posed that essential aspect of the American experience more warmly, with more nostalgic lyricism, or with a surer understanding of what it means.'


'The best thing I've done is My Antonia,' recalled Willa Cather. 'I feel I've made a contribution to American letters with that book.' Set against the vast Nebraska prairie, Cather's elegiac novel features one of the most winning heroines in American fiction--Antonia Shimerda--a young woman whose strength and passion epitomize the triumphant vitality of this country's pioneers.

'If, as is often said, every novelist is born to write one thing, then the one thing that Willa Cather was born to write was first fully realized in My Antonia,' observed Pulitzer Prize-winning author Wallace Stegner. 'The prose is. . .flexible, evocative; the structure at once free and intricately articulated; the characters stretch into symbolic suggestiveness as naturally as trees cast shadows in the long light of a prairie evening; the theme is the fully exposed, complexly understood theme of the American orphan or exile, struggling to find a place between an Old World left behind and a New World not yet created. . . . No writer ever posed that essential aspect of the American experience more warmly, with more nostalgic lyricism, or with a surer understanding of what it means.'

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  • Available:
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Levels-
  • ATOS:
    6.9
  • Lexile:
  • Interest Level:
    UG
  • Reading Level:
    5

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Excerpts-
  • Chapter One

    We went all the way in day-coaches, becoming more sticky and grimy with each stage of the journey. Jake bought everything the newsboys offered him: candy, oranges, brass collar buttons, a watch-charm, and for me a Life of Jesse James, which I remember as one of the most satisfactory books I have ever read. Beyond Chicago we were under the protection of a friendly passenger conductor, who knew all about the country to which we were going and gave us a great deal of advice in exchange for our confidence. He seemed to us an experienced and worldly man who had been almost everywhere; in his conversation he threw out lightly the names of distant states and cities. He wore the rings and pins and badges of different fraternal orders to which he belonged. Even his cuff-buttons were engraved with hieroglyphics, and he was more inscribed than an Egyptian obelisk.

    Once when he sat down to chat, he told us that in the immigrant car ahead there was a family from 'across the water' whose destination was the same as ours.

    'They can't any of them speak English, except one little girl, and all she can say is 'We go Black Hawk, Nebraska.' She's not much older than you, twelve or thirteen, maybe, and she's as bright as a new dollar. Don't you want to go ahead and see her, Jimmy? She's got the pretty brown eyes, too!'

    This last remark made me bashful, and I shook my head and settled down to Jesse James. Jake nodded at me approvingly and said you were likely to get diseases from foreigners.

    I do not remember crossing the Missouri River, or anything about the long day's journey through Nebraska. Probably by that time I had crossed so many rivers that I was dull to them. The only thing very noticeable about Nebraska was that it was still, all day long, Nebraska.

    I had been sleeping, curled up in a red plush seat, for a long while when we reached Black Hawk. Jake roused me and took me by the hand. We stumbled down from the train to a wooden siding, where men were running about with lanterns. I couldn't see any town, or even distant lights; we were surrounded by utter darkness. The engine was panting heavily after its long run. In the red glow from the fire-box, a group of people stood huddled together on the platform, encumbered by bundles and boxes. I knew this must be the immigrant family the conductor had told us about. The woman wore a fringed shawl tied over her head, and she carried a little tin trunk in her arms, hugging it as if it were a baby. There was an old man, tall and stooped. Two half-grown boys and a girl stood holding oil-cloth bundles, and a little girl clung to her mother's skirts. Presently a man with a lantern approached them and began to talk, shouting and exclaiming. I pricked up my ears, for it was positively the first time I had ever heard a foreign tongue.

    Another lantern came along. A bantering voice called out: 'Hello, are you Mr. Burden's folks? If you are, it's me you're looking for. I'm Otto Fuchs. I'm Mr. Burden's hired man, and I'm to drive you out. Hello, Jimmy, ain't you scared to come so far west?'

    I looked up with interest at the new face in the lanternlight. He might have stepped out of the pages of Jesse James. He wore a sombrero hat, with a wide leather band and a bright buckle, and the ends of his moustache were twisted up stiffly, like little horns. He looked lively and ferocious, I thought, and as if he had a history. A long scar ran across one cheek and drew the corner of his mouth up in a sinister curl. The top of his left ear was gone, and his skin was brown as an Indian's. Surely this was the face of a desperado. As he walked about the platform in his high-heeled boots, looking for our...

About the Author-
  • WILLA CATHER was born on December 7, 1873, in Back Creek Valley, Virginia. Her father was a sheep farmer. When she was nine the family moved to Nebraska, eventually settling in the frontier village of Red Cloud. As a child Cather read voraciously, learning Greek and Latin from a neighbor, and displayed an early interest in science. At the University of Nebraska she immersed herself in literary studies and began writing stories and essays; following her graduation in 1895 she worked for some years as a journalist and schoolteacher, living part of the time in Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., and visiting Europe.

    Cather's first book, a collection of poetry called April Twilights, was published in 1903, followed two years later by a book of short stories, The Troll Garden. In 1906 she accepted a job in New York as editor at one of the great American national magazines, McClure's, where she stayed for six years, often doing the bulk of the work of putting out the magazine herself. In 1908 she met the novelist Sarah Orne Jewett, whose writing influenced her greatly, and with whom she shared a close friendship until Jewett's death sixteen months later. From 1912 on, Cather devoted herself entirely to writing. For most of her adult life she was based in New York City, but she traveled frequently; she was particularly influenced by her visits to the Southwest from 1912 onward, and to Quebec City beginning in 1928. Her friends included Dorothy Canfield, Mabel Dodge Luhan, Mary Austin, Sigrid Undset, Stephen Tennant, Yehudi Menuhin, and Edith Lewis.

    While Cather's first novel, Alexander's Bridge (1912), was not particularly successful, in the next--O Pioneers! (1913)--she firmly established the sense of place and the meticulous descriptive style that would inform her best work. She later wrote of O Pioneers!: 'Since I wrote this book for myself, I ignored all the situations and accents that were then generally thought to be necessary.' Her reputation was further enhanced by The Song of the Lark (1915) and My Antonia (1918), and for the war novel One of Ours (1922) she received the Pulitzer Prize. A Lost Lady (1923), My Mortal Enemy (1926), and Lucy Gayheart (1935) were further evocations of the Midwestern setting, but in other works she explored a variety of landscapes and eras: in The Professor's House (1925) the contemporary Southwest; in Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927) the Southwest in the period of the Spanish missions, treated in what she called 'the style of the legends'; in Shadows on the Rock (1931), seventeenth-century Quebec; and in her final novel, Sapphira and the Slave Girl (1940), the nineteenth-century Virginia of her own ancestors.

    Cather's later stories were collected in Youth and the Bright Medusa (1920) and Obscure Destinies (1930). Of her approach to fiction, she wrote: 'Art, it seems to me, should simplify. That, indeed, is very nearly the whole of the higher artistic process. . . . Any first-rate novel or story must have in it the strength of a dozen fairly good stories that have been sacrificed to it. A good workman can't be a cheap workman; he can't be stingy about wasting material, and he cannot compromise.' Cather was for many years regarded as one of the most important American novelists and was the recipient of many literary prizes and honors. She died in New York on April 24, 1947.

Reviews-
  • H.L. Mencken

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

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    Random House Publishing Group
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