"Rooted in America's Heartland," WSJ Review of My Antonia

"Rooted in America's Heartland," WSJ Review of My Antonia

September 28, 2018

‘I simply don’t care a damn what happens in Nebraska,” ranted a New York critic, “no matter who writes about it.”

Or so Willa Cather claimed. In the long leisure of the grave, the alleged scoffer may ponder how it is that a century after its September 1918 publication, Cather’s “My Ántonia,” its every page rooted in Nebraska, remains very much alive and in print—while he is neither.

Reading Virgil in college, the narrator of “My Ántonia” is struck by the lines “for I shall be the first, if I live, to bring the Muse into my country.” For the Roman poet, “my country” was rural Lombardy; for Cather, transplanted to New York, it was the prairies, cottonwoods, bleak winters, cornfields and homesteaders of 1880s Nebraska. Her first novel, set in patrician Boston and Savoy-Hotel London, she acknowledged a mistake. Turning to “the people and the country that are my own,” she made a second, truer beginning with “O Pioneers!”

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Photo/Graphic by Ryan Inzana