Tuesday, September 22, 2015

My Ántonia by Willa Cather – Sep 18, 2015

My Ántonia  First Edition 1918

Six of us met to read from this classic novel of American Literature. H.L. Mencken, the acerbic critic from Baltimore, said: “I know of no novel that makes the remote folk of the western prairies more real . . . and I know of none that makes them seem better worth knowing.” He added, “No romantic novel ever written in America, by man or woman, is one half so beautiful as My Ántonia.”
Priya, Shoba, Talitha

Nevertheless two of the readers struggled to find a coherent plot until one realised there was not meant to be a plot at all, just a series of sketches by Jim, the adult city-living lawyer, of his early childhood on the prairie in Nebraska. It is a novel of nostalgic remembrance into which enters the enigmatic Ántonia, a girl a few years older, in whom Jim invests all his romantic longing.


KumKum who chose the novel for reading was loyal in defence of its merits, and could answer all the objections others raised. She had studied this novel in one of her lit courses in West Virginia University. A matter unnoticed by other readers was the pervasive class distinctions that separated the children, and was imposed by their parents, or in Jim's case, by his grandparents. There goes egalitarian America!

KumKum listens to Zakia reading

There are astonishing descriptions of the prairie in this novel and many of its best passages are about nature. Of sex there is nothing, zilch (Ántonia has no Oomph! was Priya's verdict). But there is plenty of nostalgia to justify the epigraph of the poem taken from Virgil's Georgics, Book III: Optima dies … prima fugit (the best days are the first to flee).

KumKum, Joe, Priya

Here we are, with the new grandmother, seated in the centre:

back: Joe, Zakia, Priya sitting: KumKum, Talitha, Shoba