The Song of the Lark: Book #3 Intro

“The Song of the Lark” by Jules Breton
Read all 12 of Willa Cather’s novels in chronological order, one each month, throughout 2012. For full details about the challenge click here.
Our third novel of the challenge is The Song of the Lark. Read it over the next three weeks and we’ll start our conversation about it on Monday, March 19th.
About The Song of the Lark:
  • Cather started writing the novel in 1913 and finished it in early 1915. It’s Cather’s longest novel.
  • It was published in October 1915 with an initial printing of 3,000 copies. (O Pioneers! first printing was 2,000.)
  • Literary critic H. L. Mencken wrote that this novel placed Cather in, “the small class of American novelists who are seriously to be reckoned with.”
  • The title comes from Jules Breton‘s painting “The Song of the Lark.”

Vintage Classics description:

“The time will come when she will be ranked above Hemingway.” –Leon Edel

In this powerful portrait of the self-making of an artist, Willa Cather created one of her most extraordinary heroines. Thea Kronborg, a minister’s daughter in a provincial Colorado town, seems destined from childhood for a place in the wider world. But as her path to the world stage leads her ever farther from the humble town she can’t forget and from the man she can’t afford to love, Thea learns that her exceptional musical talent and fierce ambition are not enough.

It is in the solitude of a tiny rock chamber high in the side of an Arizona cliff–“a cleft in the heart of the world”–that Thea comes face to face with her own dreams and desires, stripped clean by the haunting purity of the ruined cliff dwellings and inspired by the whisperings of their ancient dust. Here she finds the courage to seize her future and to use her gifts to catch “the shining, elusive element that is life itself–life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose.” In prose as shimmering and piercingly true as the light in a desert canyon, Cather takes us into the heart of a woman coming to know her deepest self.

  • You can download a free digital edition from Project Gutenberg here.
  • Support the Willa Cather Foundation and order it online here.
First edition
The Song of the Lark is a coming-of-age novel (or künstlerroman) that shows how Thea Kronborg, a talented small town girl, works hard to become a masterful, world-class artist. Not only is it Cather’s longest novel, it’s also considered her most autobiographical. She often based characters on people from her childhood, and in this novel she also incorporates specific spaces such as her childhood bedroom as the model for Thea’s sanctuary and trips she took to Chicago and the Southwest, among other elements. She seems to capture what her growing up years may have been like in Red Cloud, NE. The older Thea Kronborg was modeled upon Wagnerian opera star Olive Fremstad as well as Cather’s own experience of creating her career as a writer. Of course, however, it’s a novel.
Some readers have come away from The Song of the Lark thinking that Thea is a bit cold-hearted and selfish, whereas others say that she’s simply following her passion and that if she were a man such drive would not be a problem, it would be an asset.
I’ll share my thoughts on reading The Song of the Lark in a new post by noon on Monday, March 19. At that time let’s start our conversation–simply post your thoughts about the novel in the comments section of that post so we can have everyone’s thoughts in once place. Please hold off on sharing your thoughts about The Song of the Lark until the 19th so everyone has the time to read it.

Happy Reading! 

One comment

  1. I read this for the first time a few years ago.

    The consistent virtue of Cather is that she never, quite, is doing what you think she's going to do.

    Her work is like no one else's.

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