Thursday, April 12, 2007

By the decade challenge: The song of the lark

The Song of the Lark - Willa Cather.

Why did I select this book? I'd never read Cather, and I knew that the plot included opera. Well, now I have, and it does.

The plot - the trajectory of a young girl's life from small-town Colorado to international acclaim as a Wagnerian diva - is almost incidental. The huge Colorado landscape will, one knows, transmute itself into the vistas of Valhalla. The landscape itself will be as much a character as any human being, and will be given a voice more eloquent and true than any human.

In fact, every character's inner life centers on the radiant promise and fulfillment of Thea Kronenborg's artistry. Even the dying thoughts of a hideously-injured trainman are reverences to Thea. Thea contains multitudes, and they all are consumed by Thea.

They all worship with the same voice, designed to express grand principles, both aesthetic and philosophic. Unless I kept track of the the "he said" antecedents, I had no idea who was thinking, talking, or observing.

Perhaps I truly began to lose heart when Theas' musical mentors steered her toward Wagner. I loathe Wagner and nearly everything his music has influenced. Certainly, I always lose interest when a novel seems to be nothing but a duck blind for the author's philosophy. I would have stopped reading well before the end, since I did not care a whit about any character except Thea's mother, but I soldiered on in the name of - oh, who cares....

I'm not sorry that I read this book, but I am glad that it's over.

Notable passages (quotation herein does not constitute approbation by Teabird):

"Though their challenge is universal and eternal, the stars get no answer but that - the brief light flashed back to them from the eyes of the young who unaccountable aspire."
"Artistic growth is, more than it is anything else, a refining of the sense of truthfulness. The stupid believe that to be truthful is easy; only the artist, the great artist, knows how difficult it is."
"He was observant, truthful, and kindly - perhaps the chief requisite in a agood story-teller."
"[A rabbit] seemed to be lapping up the moonlight like cream."
"[Thea's sister had] the kind of fishy curiosity which justifies itself by an expression of horror."



Bridget said...

I've never read this one, but I really enjoyed reading "My Antonia." I guess they can't all be winners, huh?

(Wagner is not one of my faves either. But by the same token, he probably wouldn't have liked me ...)

Bookfool said...

Darn, I've had this one on the shelf for ages. I like the way you put that - "a duck blind for the author's philosophy". Yes, that's a definite put-off.

I'm with Bridget - I loved My Antonia

teabird17 said...

Bridget, he wouldn't have liked me much, either 0
And bookfool - thanks for the compliment - and maybe one of these days I'll try My Antonia.

Les said...

This is my least favorite of Cather's. You might try My Antonia or Death Comes for the Archbishop. And, O Pioneers is my absolute favorite of Cather's.

Isaac said...

My Antonia is a wonderful book - such a beautiful story. I haven't read The Song of the Lark, but I've heard others say it wasn't Cather's best. I am, however, an opera fan...and I do like Wagner - perhaps I should check it out.

Thomas said...

Don't let this one book sour you on Cather. I think I have read close to all of her works and in general love them. I was somewhat ambivalent about The Song of Lark, but her biggies like My Antonia and O Pioneers should not be missed. My personal favorite is The Professor's House.