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O Pioneers! (Paperback)
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Willa Cather published her second novel, "O Pioneers " in 1913 at the age of 40. Together with "My Antonia," "O Pioneers " is the novel for which she is best known. The book takes place on the plains of Nebraska in the late 19th Century as the Prairie is settled be Swedish, Bohemian, and French immigrants trying to eke out a living from what appears to be a harsh, inhospitable land. The heroine of the book is Alexandra Bergson, who inherits her father's farm as a young woman, raises his three sons and stays with the farm through the harsh times to become a successful landowner and farmer. The book speaks of being wedded to the land and to place. In this sense it is an instance of the American dream of a home. It also speaks of a strong woman, of thwarted love, of the difficult nature of sexuality, and of human passion. There is also the beginning of what in Cather's works will become an increased sense of religion as a haven and a solace for the sorrow she finds at the heart of human endeavor. Above all it is a picture of stark life in the Midwest. There is almost as much blood-letting in this short book as in an Elizabethan tragedy. Cather's picture of American life on the plains, even in her earliest books, is not an easy or simple one. Some readers may quarrel with the seemingly happy ending of the book, though Alexandra's happiness is not only bittersweet, but dearly bought. "O Pioneers " is a thoughtful, well written story of immigrant life on the plains and of the sorrow pain, and strength of the American experience.
About the Author
Willa Sibert Cather (1873 -1947) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American author who achieved recognition for her novels of frontier life on the Great Plains, works such as O Pioneers!, My Ántonia, and The Song of the Lark. In 1923 she was awarded the Pulitzer for One of Ours (1922), a novel set during World War I. Cather grew up in Nebraska and graduated from the state university; she lived in New York for most of her adult life and writing career. In 1896, Cather moved to Pittsburgh after being hired to write for The Home Monthly. She lived in Pittsburgh until 1906. In Pittsburgh, she taught English first at Central High School for one year and then at Allegheny High School, where she also taught Latin and became the head of the English department. She also worked as a telegraph editor and drama critic for the Pittsburgh Leader and frequently contributed to The Library, another local publication. She moved to New York City in 1906 upon receiving a job offer on the editorial staff from McClure's Magazine. Cather and Georgina M. Wells were co-authors of a critical biography of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science. It was serialized in McClure's in 1907-8 and published the next year as a book. Christian Scientists were outraged and tried to buy up every copy. McClure's serialized Cather's first novel, Alexander's Bridge (1912). The work showed her admiration for the style of Henry James. While recognizing her potential, the author Sarah Orne Jewett advised Cather to rely less on James and more on her own experiences in Nebraska. Cather left McClure's in 1912 and began to write full time. Cather returned to the prairie as a setting for inspiration for most of her novels; she also used experiences from her travels in France. Such deeply felt works became both popular and critical successes. Cather was celebrated by national critics such as H.L. Mencken for writing in plainspoken language about ordinary people. When the novelist Sinclair Lewis won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1930, he paid homage to Cather by declaring that she should have won the honor.