A Lost Lady: Willa Cather Challenge Book #6

Can you believe we’re already on book six? The half way point!

First edition dust jacket

Read all 12 of Willa Cather’s novels in chronological order of publication, one each month, throughout 2012. For details about the challenge click here.

Our sixth novel of the challenge is A Lost Lady. Read it over the next three weeks and we’ll start our conversation about it on Monday, June 18th.

About A Lost Lady:

  • Cather started writing it in the winter/spring of 1922.
  • Serialized in The Century Magazine in spring 1923 (see links below).
  • Published in book form in September 1923. The book sold for $1.75 and the first printing was 20,000 copies (that’s a big jump from the 12,000 initial printing of One of Ours).
  • Influenced F. Scott Fitzgerald who read it while he was writing The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald even wrote Cather a letter explaining his “apparent plagiarism.”
  • Two movie adaptations of the novel were produced. The first was a silent film released in January 1925 starring Irene Rich and George Fawcett. The second was released in September 1934 and starred Barbara Stanwyck and Frank Morgan. Cather disliked the adaptations to the point that she had a prohibition written into her will that no dramatic presentations could be made of her novels and she certainly never again sold the movie rights to her work while she lived. Her editor, Knopf, once received a six figure offer for one of her stories and he replied that he’d rather jump out of the window than mention the offer to Cather. He was on the 35th floor when he said that.

Description from Vintage Classics Paperback edition:

“If her image flashed into his mind, it came with a brightness of dark eyes, her pale triangular cheeks with long earrings, and her many-coloured laugh. When he was dull, dull and tired of everything, he used to think that if he could hear that long-lost lady laugh again, he would be gay.”

To the people of Sweet Water, a fading railroad town on the Western plains, Mrs. Forrester is the resident aristocrat, at once gracious and comfortably remote. To her aging husband she is a treasure whose value increases as his powers fail. To Neil Herbert, who falls in love with her as a boy and becomes her confidant as a man, Mrs. Forrester is an enigma, by turns steadfast and faithless, dazzling and pathetic: a woman whose charm is intertwined with a terrifying vulnerability.

In this masterpiece of nuance and revelation, Willa Cather composed something like an answer to Madame Bovary, a subtly shifting portrait of a lady who reflects the conventions of her age even as she defies them and whose transformations embody the decline and coarsening of the American frontier.


  • Rather difficult to find new or even used, but libraries often have a copy.
  • Read some of the Scholarly Edition online via Google Books here, but note that there is a page view limit. 
  • Read the serialization in The Century Magazine: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
  • Support the Willa Cather Foundation and order it online here.
  • Download a free epub/pdf/kindle version here (added 6/7/2012)

1934 movie poster

If you’ve been reading along with this challenge you’ll no doubt see flashes of Cather’s earlier novels–character types, themes, moods, etc–in A Lost Lady. Does this add to or take away from your experience of reading the novel? Is Marian Forrester a completely new kind of female character for Cather or do you see more similarities between her and earlier characters than differences? If you’re a fan of The Great Gatsby, can you see how Fitzgerald was influenced by A Lost Lady?

I’ll share my thoughts on reading A Lost Lady in a new post on Monday, June 18th. 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 A Lost Lady until the then so everyone has the time to read it without spoilers.

Happy Reading!

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