Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly Volume 28, Number 4, Fall 2008, pp. 277-91.
An independent and strong-minded woman gains control of a farm and determines to effect its fruition. Though many doubt her capacity, the female landowner trumps her male counterparts when the farm flourishes under her effective management. In the end, she marries- but on extremely unconventional terms. Rejecting romantic love, she instead weds a devoted friend. Camaraderie hence privileged over passion, the novel ends. This summary outlines the story of not one but two major literary heroines-Bathsheba Everdene of Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) and Alexandra Bergson of Willa Cather's 0 Pioneers! (1913). Critics have analyzed these texts with multifaceted lenses, yet there has been no suggestion of their relationship to one another. This oversight is unusual, given documented evidence that Cather esteemed Hardy. In the October 5, 1895, issue of the Courier, Cather wrote: "I admire Thomas Hardy; I admire the lofty conception of Tess of the D'Urbervilles, the finished execution of A Pair of Blue Eyes, the beautiful simplicity of Far from the Madding Crowd." In an undated letter to Burges Johnson, she included Hardy in a selective list of "classics of English literature," and on May 29, 1943, wrote to William Lyon Pheips that it was a "pleasure" to hear "through Stephen Tennant that Thomas Hardy's widow said Hardy liked A Lost Lady."
At the same time, Cather's opinion of Hardy was not one of strict admiration. She identified his tone as "sometimes mechanical or patronizing" in a letter to Albert G. Feuillerat on November 6, 1929, and detested both Jude the Obscure and its precursor, Hearts Insurgent. Deeming the latter a "crowning piece of arrant madness and drivelling idiocy," Cather went on to write an even more vituperative review of Jude the Obscure in 1896. In it, she indicted Hardy for inventing "two such hysterical and generally erratic parents" and sanctioning the "spontaneous" appearance of children. On this point, Cather was particularly incensed that Hardy made a "blooming mother of three" out of Sue Bridehead. "It will take several decent ordinary novels to bring you to your senses again," she concluded.