Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Lost Lady by Willa Cather.

“If her image flashed into his mind, it came with a brightness of dark eyes, her pale triangular cheeks with long earrings, and her many-coloured laugh.  When he was dull, dull and tired of everything, he used to think that if he could hear that long-lost lady laugh again, he would be gay."

It has been quite some time since I read Cather, which saddens me. Cather has not always been a favorite of mine (I disliked My Antonia in high school), but over the last few years, I've come to cherish her work and her vision of the American frontier. 

For this #15in31 challenge, I wanted to make sure I incorporated some classics in my reading. We all know that a good YA novel or a thriller can fly by and keep us motivated, but I didn't want my month to be dominated by those books. I also wanted things of substance-books to savor and love and remind me why I love the classics so much. So a couple of Cather's shorter works ended up in my challenge pile, and this slim little volume found it's way into my hands as the fourth book for this reading challenge.

In A Lost Lady, our narrator, Neil, tells us the story of the last 30 years and his memories of Mrs. Forrester, second wife to a well-off railroad man. In Sweet Water, the Forresters were the well-to-do city folk who built a grand house for the summer and would invite their city friends to visit. They were seen as grander than the rest of the town's population and as a boy, Neil idolized Mrs. Forrester. She was a beautiful woman and carried herself with so much grace that she stood out as an anomaly in the country. 

Over time, Neil became a part of the Forresters' world. He dined at their home frequently with his uncle, and learned to see both of the Forresters as great people.

Until he doesn't. 

The older Neil gets, he begins to see that our illusions and impressions of the people around us change. And while we think people may be a certain way, well, we learn their true colors. 

Mr. Forrester falls on hard times. The bank where he had saved most of their money goes under, and then he suffers a stroke. The couple falls into hard financial times and Neil stays home from college to help them-taking care of Mr. Forrester and keeping Mrs. Forrester company.

This is when Neil sees the truth about Mrs. Forrester and his good opinion changes. She shuns the people who used to help her and pulls away, relaying on shady individuals who only seek to profit. It saddens Neil, who truly believes that the grandeur of a lady like Mrs. Forrester has been lost.

The book also spotlights the change in America going on in this time. Old businesses, like the railroading companies that Mr. Forrester had been involved with, were dying. The frontier and all of its promises was no longer a beacon for hope for many. Instead, people were moving back to the cities for work and hard times. The beauty and glory of the countryside was gone, and moments like those in the Forrester house were becoming few and far between.

Cather's work here really depicts that change in American culture-from the seemingly simple life in the country dying as the American dream, to the harsh realities of the city. The Forresters certainly reflect that change as the old way of living dies out. It's a fabulous juxtaposition of two worlds. And Neil's narration glides us through that change and the ending of an era.

This is certainly one of my favorites by Cather now. While different than some of her larger novels, My Antonia or O Pioneers!, it contains many of the same ideas-life on the American frontier, family, and the changing of eras. 

“He came to be very glad that he had known her, and that she had had a hand in breaking him in to life. He has known pretty women and clever ones since then,-- but never one like her, as she was in her best days. Her eyes, when they laughed for a moment into one`s own, seemed to promise a wild delight that he has not found in life. "I know where it is," they seemed to say, "I could show you!"

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