Response to “Neighbour Rosicky.” The Willa Cather Short Story Project

It was nice to meet Neighbor Rosicky. If he seems familiar to you, it might because he’s based on the real life John Pavelka, husband of Annie Pavelka, who was Cather’s inspiration for Antonia of My Antonia fame. In that novel he appeared as Anton Cuzak, the man who marries Antonia after her ill fated love affair.

When “Neighbour Rosicky” was being serialized in the Woman’s Home Companion in the spring of 1930, Cather mailed parts of the story to her twin nieces. Here’s the beginning part of that letter:

Dear Twinnies;

Perhaps you’ve seen the first part of “Neighbor Rosicky” in the Woman’s Home Companion — but I am sending you the first and second parts in another envelope, in case you have not seen it. Your daddy will read it aloud very well, as he knows the characters.”

Click here to see the actual letter at the Willa Cather Archive

How fun it must have been for the girls to hear their dad read the story and then answer their questions about the characters and what they were like in real life.

City-Farm Dichotomy

“Neighbour Rosicky” is a good character study. I appreciate that Rosicky’s anti-city bias stems from his actual experience of having lived in both London and New York City. Without readers knowing some of that backstory, he would have been just another opinionated old man.

In the end, it seems that the city-farm dichotomy isn’t what ultimately drives Rosicky’s concerns. Rather, it’s love. What he “really hoped for his boys was that they could get through the world without ever knowing much about the cruelty of human beings.” He saw much cruelty in the city and considers wage earners to be slaves. To not have your own land is to have nothing.

I think he knows times are changing and that such cruelty might find it’s way even into his paradise. Modern attitudes have crept into town on Miss Pearls’s plucked eyebrows. Even closer to home, his eldest son’s wife, Polly, has eyebrows “reduced to a mere brush-stroke, like Miss Pearl’s.” These eyebrows are signs of inauthenticity and shallowness, if not outright danger.

Rosicky can see the potential trainwreck that his son and daughter-in-law are headed for and intervenes with love. What a gift to have such an observant elder, one who can see what people need without being a destructive busybody.

What are your thoughts about “Neighbour Rosicky”? Please share below.

One comment

  1. I read Neighbor Rosicky twice because I enjoyed his character so much. He did immediately remind me of My Antonia. Thank you for noting that he was based on the real life John Pavelka. I was so taken by Rosicky’s warmth and love for his family and community. The care he took with his new daughter-in-law who was struggling with her transition from town life to farm life was so moving. Their connection at the end of the story was rendered perfectly. Rosicky could die in peace knowing that his daughter-in-law had a tender and nurturing heart. I teared up at the end of the story, but in a good way. The final scene of the doctor driving by the cemetery was so life-affirming and beautiful. This was such a sweet and uplifting story! And now I would really like some of Mary’s baked goods and coffee!

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