Date of this Version
Great Plains Quarterly 33:3 (Summer 2013)
Published in 1915, Willa Cather’s third novel, The Song of the Lark, was groundbreaking in its portrayal of a talented, creative young woman who wanted to be an artist and subsequently devoted her life to the pursuit of her career, rather than marriage and motherhood. As an added bonus, she did not throw herself under a train or fling herself into an ocean. Instead, Cather’s heroine, the Swedish soprano Thea Kronborg, finds her artistic inspiration in the West and eventually triumphs on stage at the Metropolitan Opera House.
Many readers, however, among them Cather’s Houghton Mifflin editor, Ferris Greenslet, experienced a fundamental discord between the story of Thea’s struggle to fulfill her dreams and her eventual triumph. Readers engrossed by the story of Thea’s Colorado childhood and her artistic awakening in the Southwest sometimes find her a much less sympathetic character in the second half of the novel. Her artistic success appears to be gained at the price of her humanity. Cather herself came to sense a tension in the novel, noting in her later 1937 revised edition that Thea’s personal life becomes paler as her imaginative life becomes richer, but that unfortunately the novel suffered as a result. Greenslet himself pointed to the conflict between a closely documented realism in the first part and the romantic impulse that takes over in later sections. Ann Moseley’s scholarly edition offers a fascinating glimpse of the correspondence between Greenslet and Cather and the subsequent shaping of the published version based upon their conversations. (Readers will be particularly intrigued by many of the revisions of Doctor Archie.) Readers are also offered a fresh look at the sources for many of the characters in Song of the Lark.