In the final volume in her prairie trilogy, Willa Cather fully transforms memory into art to create her most autobiographical novel.Set in the Nebraska landscape in a community evocative of Cather’s own (Red Cloud), My Ántonia tells the story of Ántonia Shimerda, a Bohemian immigrant, and Jim Burden, who like Cather was uprooted from Virginia to the Nebraska prairie. Ántonia and Jim, like many of the other characters in this 1918 novel, are based on Cather’s childhood friends. This Norton Critical Edition is based on the first published edition of the novel. It is accompanied by explanatory footnotes, key illustrations, an introduction that gives readers a historical overview of both author and novel, and a note on the text.
Ántonia, who, even as a grown woman somewhat downtrodden by circumstance and hard work, "had not lost the fire of life," lies at the center of almost every human condition that Cather's novel effortlessly untangles. She represents immigrant struggles with a foreign land and tongue, the restraints on women of the time (with which Cather was very much concerned), the more general desires for love, family, and companionship, and the great capacity for forbearance that marked the earliest settlers on the frontier.
As if all this humanity weren't enough, Cather paints her descriptions of the vastness of nature--the high, red grass, the road that "ran about like a wild thing," the endless wind on the plains--with strokes so vivid as to make us feel in our bones that we've just come in from a walk on that very terrain ourselves. As the story progresses, Jim goes off to the University in Lincoln to study Latin (later moving on to Harvard and eventually staying put on the East Coast in another neat encompassing of a stage in America's development) and learns Virgil's phrase "Optima dies ... prima fugit" that Cather uses as the novel's epigraph. "The best days are the first to flee"--this could be said equally of childhood and the earliest hours of this country in which the open land, much like My Ántonia, was nothing short of a rhapsody in prairie sky blue. --Melanie Rehak