Monday, December 7, 2015

The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather

Title:  The Song of the Lark
Author:  Willa Cather
Published:  1915
Challenges: n/a

The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather, the second book in The Prairie Trilogy, is a coming of age story about a young girl and her artistic journey through life, to adulthood.  Using the main character Thea Kronborg to make an argument for artistic maturation, Cather states:
Artistic growth is...a refining of the sense of truthfulness.  The stupid believe that to be truthful is easy, only the artist, the great artist, knows how difficult it is.  
Thea is an independent, aspiring, young girl growing up in small town Moonstone, Colorado, whose ambition as a piano student takes her to the big city of Chicago.  But it is her ability to sing that brings her attention.  She decides to continue her singing in Germany where she blossoms into a successful performing artist, and finally realizes her achievements as an opera singer at the New York City Opera House.

Before Thea left for Germany, she spent time away from Chicago and her family in Colorado to grow and mature.  Here she was alone with nature, which was one of my favorite parts of the book.  Nature often means peacefulness to me, and I imagine Thea was experiencing that same peace; she was part of her environment, and it entranced her.  This was one of my favorite quotes:
Thea began to wonder whether people could not utterly lose the power to work, as they can lose their voice or their memory...And now her power to think seemed converted into a power of sustained sensation.  She could become a mere receptacle for heat, or become a color, like the bright lizards that darted about on the hot stones outside her door; or she could become a continuous repetition of sound, like the cicadas.  
Thea was talented, but it was not without personal difficulty and private struggles to achieve her place in the world.  The author ends her story with this:
The growth of an artist is an intellectual and spiritual development which can scarcely be followed in a personal narrative.  The story attempts to deal only with the simple and concrete beginnings which color and accent an artist's work, and to give some account of how a Moonstone girl found her way out of a vague, easy-going world into a life of disciplined endeavor.  Any account of the loyalty of young hearts to some  exalted ideal, and the passion with which they strive, will always, in some of us, rekindle generous emotions.
As with the other two Cather books I have read -- O! Pioneers, and My Antonia, also part of The Prairie Trilogy -- Cather's narratives are unhurried.  If her works were recipes, they would do well in a crockpot for slow, simmered cooking.  The Song of the Lark is not my favorite of the Trilogy, and I was a little disappointed that I was not as engaged.  However, this will not be my last Cather, and I look forward to reading Death Comes for the Archbishop next year.

By the way, this painting, with the same title and part of The Last Gleaning series, was the inspiration for Cather's novel.  The main character visits the art museum in Chicago and admires this work, by Jules Breton.

The Song of the Lark
by Jules Adolphe Breton

Also part of The Last Gleaning series, this work is at The Huntington Library and Museum in San Marino, California, and I was able to see it earlier this year.

The Last Gleaning by Jules Adolphe Breton @ The Huntington Library


RT said...

What a nice tribute to a good Willa Cather book! You will notice (at Beyond Eastrod, where I've posted a birthday tribute to Cather) that I have my own Cather favorites.

Ruth said...

Oh, cool. I will check it out, R.T. Thanks.

Jillian said...

Love the crock pot analogy. :)

Ruth said...

Doesn't she feel like that? She takes her time to explore every character and every environment. This one was really mellow.