My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I enjoy reading Cather's prose. She crafts a sentence,a paragraph, a chapter with great skill. This is a simple, pared down American prose but still with description, which makes it more fun to read than Hemingway, for example.
This is the third Cather novel I've read. First was her masterpiece and one of my favourite novels Death Comes for the Archbishop. O Pioneers I enjoyed. It has brilliant moments, but also some weaknesses in its structure and some overly sentimental elements.
A Lost Lady I picked up at a used book sale both because I like Cather and because I'm now collecting Nebraska authors, of course.
It is set in a small railroad town as the age of founding pioneers and pathbreakers is coming to an end. The main character is a young man, Niel, who grows up in the town admiring the wife of the town's richest man. The book delightfully narrates this time period, its characters, and how it must have looked and felt and smelled and tasted. Cather is very good at that.
Mrs. Forrester, the beautiful, charming, admired wife of the richest man, is the Lost Lady of the title. Much like Emma Bovary, Mrs. Forrester feels confined in the life she leads, despite its charm and brilliance to Niel (and to us). She is bored with her husband, a respected great man who loves her and treats her well; we are given no reason for her dissatisfaction other than he is older than she.
In Madame Bovary or The Awakening or any number of other novels, the woman confined to her position and wanting to break out is a trope. But what surprised me here is that I couldn't help but feel that Cather's presentation was misogynistic. In those other novels one really cheers for the woman, on some level, because one understands why she feels the way she does. Not so here. As much as you find Mrs. Forrester charming and lovely, you never understand her motivation and can't sympathize with what she does.
Which means that this, then, is not a novel like Madame Bovary of a woman breaking out of her social confines. It may, instead, be a critique of such a story. We are supposed to judge and dislike Mrs. Forrester. This is a morality play.
Which seemed unnecessary and possibly misogynist, thus my two stars.
View all my reviews