I’ve been on a short classics kick of late, probably because the idea of reading a 1,000 page book seems like a daunting task as well as commuting with one is even worse. Anyway, I don’t know if you have noticed from the novels that I tend to review, but many of them are not American. I tend to stay international when considering reading classical literature, which I don’t quite know how to interpret. However, when I went to my favorite used bookstore recently I picked up a Willa Cather and thought to myself: “female American, this is knew, lets do this!” (Yes, I sometimes give myself a pep talk prior to reading, especially if its a new author).
I’m glad I read it! This novel took me 2.5 days to read. All of 174 pages and was actually a really easy read, but at the same time quite good. Cather is a talented American Pulitzer winner and has a knack for discussing what an American lifestyle was like prior to it being heavily settled. A Lost Lady concerns the life of Mrs. Marian Forrester and what consumes her life in the American frontier. The novel is told through the eyes of Neil who is a young boy when we first meet him to when he grows up, goes to school, and watches over Mrs. Forrester. Overall, for a short novel, the plot is quite good and there’s not much descriptions other than the thoughts of the characters and how they interact among each other (which is debatable as to whether people enjoy it or not).
The novel was a great joy to read, and I will be honest in that it was not exactly a light read or a happy one. Mr. Forrester has a stroke and Mrs. Forrester then has to take care of him. His businesses/land he has purchased falls below market value and the Forresters then become poor. Neil tries to help them by taking a year off of work to try to get their “stuff together” but because Mrs. Forrester holds fast to a connection, Ivy, a scrupulous attorney who just wants to make money, Neil leaves right after Mr. Forrester dies.
As I said, the novel is not exactly a “happy” one, but it does have some central themes that are key to understanding this era, especially with respect to women. Cather essentially defines a woman’s role by the man she marries. Mr. Forrester was very popular prior to his stroke, but afterward, it seems as though people abandoned the Forrester. Neil was the only one who stayed a true friend, and Mrs. Forrester knew this, but she never really was honest to herself. I also hope you noticed that I have not referred to Mrs. Forrester as Marian, but always as Mrs. Forrester. I believe this to be a great theme throughout the novel, in that Mrs. Forrester was “a lost lady” without her husband. Once he died, she packed her stuff up and moved west and remarried. Even when she remarried she continuously had flowers sent to her dead husband’s grave and when she died, her new husband had flowers sent as well on “Mrs. Forrester Collins’ behalf.” What a telling continuous symbol, which is greatly applicable to women today. Many women change their names to assume that of their husbands. For women in the sciences, this is a rather challenging thing to do, especially if one is published. I know of many women who did not change their names upon being married, or hyphenated their names. In today’s society, not changing your name does not have the social requirements as it did during Mrs. Forrester’s time. Would I be considered “a lost lady” by Cather if I didn’t change my name? Good question.
There were a few things that I wasn’t a huge fan of in this novel. For one, I think Cather portrayed Mrs. Forrester as dumb, sometimes dumb as a fox, but usually not very smart. It very much bothers me that a female author protrays the main female character as an idiot. But, maybe that was Cather’s point? Moreover, I wanted to learn more about Mr. Forrester. In the last two chapters the reader learns a lot about how the Forresters met and what attracted each to the other, and I think this is pivotal to the story. Mr. Forrester seems to be a high esteem character who has a ton of integrity, and really knew how to conquer America. It was quite depressing when Cather incapacitated Mr. Forrester and then killed him off. I felt as if he was a great man, and Mrs. Forrester really enjoyed being married to him and looked up to him herself, and was even more lost when he died than beforehand.
This novel was a pretty easy read, and was quite thought-provoking. It was a pleasure to read something by a female that was well-written and had some major themes that could be related to even in today’s modern age. If you stumble across one of Cather’s works I would suggest picking it up. She’s a great American author, and being a female and writing about female main characters was a joy to experience.