Author(s): Willa Cather
'She had felt as if her heart were hiding down there, somewhere, with the quail and the plover and all the little wild things that crooned or buzzed in the sun...'
A rapturous work of savage beauty, Willa Cather's 1913 tale of a pioneer woman who tames the wild, hostile lands of the Nebraskan prairie is also the story of what it means to be American.
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The land belongs to the future... that's the way it seems to me....I might as well try to will the sunset over there to my brother's children. We come and go, but the land is always here. And the people who love it and understand it are the people who own it -- for a little while." O Pioneers! (1913) was Willa Cather's first great novel, and to many it remains her unchallenged masterpiece. No other work of fiction so faithfully conveys both the sharp physical realities and the mythic sweep of the transformation of the American frontier -- and the transformation of the people who settled it. Cather's heroine is Alexandra Bergson, who arrives on the wind-blasted prairie of Hanover, Nebraska, as a girl and grows up to make it a prosperous farm. But this archetypal success story is darkened by loss, and Alexandra's devotion to the land may come at the cost of love itself. At once a sophisticated pastoral and a prototype for later feminist novels, O Pioneers! is a work in which triumph is inextricably enmeshed with tragedy, a story of people who do not claim a land so much as they submit to it and, in the process, become greater than they were.
Willa Cather was born in Virginia in 1873 and moved to Nebraska, with its wide open plains and immigrant farming communities, at the age of nine. This landscape would deeply affect her later writing. She attended university and became a journalist and teacher in Pittsburgh, and then a magazine editor in New York. Her first major novel, O Pioneers!, appeared in 1913, and was followed by two more in her prairie trilogy: The Song of the Lark and My Antonia. She lived with the editor Edith Lewis for thirty-nine years until her death in 1947.