Lucy Gayheart: Book #11 Intro

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 eleventh novel of the challenge is Lucy Gayheart. Read it sometime over the next three weeks and we’ll start our conversation about it on Monday, November 19th.

Some quick facts:

  • Cather started writing Lucy Gayheart in December 1932
  • It was serialized in Woman’s Home Companion, March-July 1935
  • Published in book form by Knopf on August 1, 1935
  • It sold for $2.50 and the first printing was 25,000 copies

Description from the Vintage Classics paperback:

“The unity of Miss Cather’s design, the clarity and distinction of this book, should put it beside her first great success, My Antonia.” –The Times Literary Supplement (London)

“Some people’s lives are affected by what happens to their person or their property, but for others fate is what happens to their feelings and their thoughts-that and nothing more.” In this haunting 1935 novel, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of My Antonia and Death Comes for the Archbishop performs a series of crystalline variations on the themes that preoccupy her greatest fiction: the impermanence of innocence, the opposition between prairie and city, provincial American values and world culture, and the grandeur, elation, and heartache that await a gifted young woman who leaves her small Nebraska town to pursue a life in art.

At the age of eighteen, Lucy Gayheart heads for Chicago to study music. She is beautiful and impressionable and ardent, and these qualities attract the attention of Clement Sebastian, an aging but charismatic singer who exercises all the tragic, sinister fascination of a man who has renounced life only to turn back to seize it one last time. Out of their doomed love affair-and Lucy’s fatal estrangement from her origins-Willa Cather creates a novel that is as achingly lovely as a Schubert sonata.


  • Not often available at new bookstores, but some larger used bookstores might have a copy. Almost always available at your local library.
  • Support the Willa Cather Foundation and order it online here. Plan ahead and buy a copy of Sapphira and the Slave Girl, our book for December, and the last book of the challenge (!), while you’re at it.

In The Professor’s House, Cather strove to create a framework that was like a Dutch painting. With Lucy Gayheart, Cather turns to music both in content (some similarities with The Song of the Lark), but also in formIn her memoir, Many Lives-One Love, Fanny Butcher writes:

Before Lucy Gayheart was published, Miss Cather stopped off in Chicago, on her way West, to see me and she said to me something I never forgot. I quoted it in my review of the book: “I see no reason why one cannot write a novel as a composer writes a symphony.” (366).

I’ll share my thoughts on reading Lucy Gayheart in a new post on Monday, November 19th. 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.

Happy Reading!

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