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Willa Cather: Song of the Lark

Song of the Lark was, apparently, Cather’s favourite of her novels. It is the story of Thea Kronborg, the daughter of a preacher in Moonstone, Nebraska, brought up in the rough Western environment. Gradually, she claws her way out of Moonstone, first to Chicago, then to Dresden and finally to New York, becoming a famous opera singer. The journey is not easy. Her family is poor and can barely afford the cost of her training, so she has to work and struggle to get there. But she is helped on her way by many people. First and foremost there is Dr. Archie, the local doctor but a man who remains her friend for life. There is Ray Kennedy, a poor railroad man who is secretly in love with her and leaves her money when he is killed in a railroad accident. There is the drunken music professor, Professor Wunsch, who first steers her on the path to music and then is driven away from Moonstone because of his drunkenness, never to be seen or heard from again. Then, in Chicago, there is Mr. Harsanyi, who discovers that she is more than just a pianist but that she is a singer as well. Finally, there is Fred Ottenberg, rich dilettante from a family that owns a brewery, who introduces Thea to New Mexico (which Cather herself loved), who helps her morally and financially and who, finally, once his estranged wife dies, marries her.

It is not only finances that make her journey difficult. She sees, right from the very beginning, that she is different and is treated as such not only by the people of Moonstone, who consider her arrogant, but also by her own family, with whom she seems to have little contact after her mother’s death and not much before. She continues her life apart, making contact with various teachers at various stages of her life but moving when necessary. Even with Fred Ottenberg, with whom she seems to be in love and who assists her all he can, she remains detached, till she has become famous, right at the very end of the book. For Cather, there can be no doubt that attaining artistic fulfilment is more important than personal happiness.

Publishing history

First published 1915 by Houghton Mifflin