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IlanaSimons
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First Impressions

Is this your first time reading Willa Cather? What strikes you immediately about her style? Do Jim Burden or Ántonia Shimerda come alive as characters for you?

As you continue to read, try to name Jim and Ántonia’s main qualities: What makes each of them tick?



Ilana
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The Introduction

This book has a neat introduction.

In it, an unnamed professional woman writer meets Jim Burden on a train, and they talk about a woman they both used to know and admire, Antonia.
Jim says they should write Antonia's story. The writer says she never knew enough about Antonia to do it. Jim says he could do it, but what he wrote wouldn't look like polished professional book: "I should have to do it in a direct way," Jim says, "and say a great deal about myself. It's through myself that I knew and felt her, and I've had no practice in any other form of presentation."
So the non-writer pours his heart out about Antonia--which is what this book is supposed to be: an account of Antonia that comes from someone who loves her in a raw way.

Why do you think Cather gives her book this frame?
I've been thinking these things: The woman writer on the train stands for the self-doubting or analytic Cather. Cather wanted to allow herself to see Antonia through passionate eyes. This also might be why she let herself write in the voice of a man. Cather was a lesbian who, probably, did not consummate her relationships with women. So that's one reason she allows herself to assume the voice of this desiring man.

But of course Antonia, also, carries a lot of Cather in her. So maybe Cather wanted to play with how a man saw, and admired, an androgynous woman?

What do you make of Jim's voice?



Ilana
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caroline88
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Re: First Impressions

What strikes about her style? The choice of wording. The elegance of "undraped female figures". Antonia is a distant person, because the story is told through the eyes of Jim, and in the first part of the book, he does not say much about her.
Jim does not come alive because of the same choice of wording. "outside man's jurisdiction" does not strike me as thoughts of a boy his age.

And I smile at the funny observation about rattlesnakes and Krajiek "because they did not know how to get rid of him".
Belief in your mission, greet life with a cheer
There's big work to do, and that's why you are here
~ Caroline
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IlanaSimons
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Re: First Impressions

Nice comments. "Undraped female figures"--that's what Otto has on his big dirty cowboy boots. They're naked women, and he calls them "angels."
You're right: Jim can sometimes be a little high falutin' or at least poetic in his language.
Remember that the reason that the narrator's voice blends in with Jim's is that this story is supposed to be that bulk of papers that Jim himself hands over to the unnamed, famous writer that he meets in the Introduction. This novel is Jim's retelling of his relationship with Antonia, after he's already been to Harvard and had a successful career as a NY lawyer. So it's in his educated, retrospective voice.
I'd love to hear what other parts of the language strike you, and why.



caroline88 wrote:
What strikes about her style? The choice of wording. The elegance of "undraped female figures". Antonia is a distant person, because the story is told through the eyes of Jim, and in the first part of the book, he does not say much about her.
Jim does not come alive because of the same choice of wording. "outside man's jurisdiction" does not strike me as thoughts of a boy his age.

And I smile at the funny observation about rattlesnakes and Krajiek "because they did not know how to get rid of him".





Ilana
Check out my book, here and visit my website, here.


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kiakar
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Re: The Introduction



IlanaSimons wrote:
This book has a neat introduction.

In it, an unnamed professional woman writer meets Jim Burden on a train, and they talk about a woman they both used to know and admire, Antonia.
Jim says they should write Antonia's story. The writer says she never knew enough about Antonia to do it. Jim says he could do it, but what he wrote wouldn't look like polished professional book: "I should have to do it in a direct way," Jim says, "and say a great deal about myself. It's through myself that I knew and felt her, and I've had no practice in any other form of presentation."
So the non-writer pours his heart out about Antonia--which is what this book is supposed to be: an account of Antonia that comes from someone who loves her in a raw way.

Why do you think Cather gives her book this frame?
I've been thinking these things: The woman writer on the train stands for the self-doubting or analytic Cather. Cather wanted to allow herself to see Antonia through passionate eyes. This also might be why she let herself write in the voice of a man. Cather was a lesbian who, probably, did not consummate her relationships with women. So that's one reason she allows herself to assume the voice of this desiring man.

But of course Antonia, also, carries a lot of Cather in her. So maybe Cather wanted to play with how a man saw, and admired, an androgynous woman?

What do you make of Jim's voice?




Ilana; Is this debatable or factual? That is, whether Cather was a lesbian. This was discussed on b&n university and alot of posters didn't believe that she was lesbian. After I finished the book, I will explain at a later time, but I felt she was lebian, by her symbolic writing about Antonia.
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Re: The Introduction



kiakar wrote:
Ilana; Is this debatable or factual? That is, whether Cather was a lesbian. This was discussed on b&n university and alot of posters didn't believe that she was lesbian. After I finished the book, I will explain at a later time, but I felt she was lebian, by her symbolic writing about Antonia.




I think a lot depends on how stiff a line we draw between types of sexual preference. Many people see sexuality on a spectrum. Without a doubt, Cather fell in love with several women in her life and said she loved women more than men, but she never used the word "lesbian" in reference to herself. Here are some things cut from the web:

from http://www.teenreads.com/authors/au-cather-willa.asp:
"There is no proof that Cather ever came close to marriage. The men she loved the most were her father and brothers. In her book WILLA CATHER: The Emerging Voice, Sharon O’Brien discusses Cather’s sexuality. She dwells predominantly on Cather’s relationship with her beloved friend Louise Pound. After her affair with Pound ended, Cather found 'more enduring and supportive relationships' with Isabelle McClung and later with Edith Lewis, yet she never declared publicly that she was in fact a lesbian."

from http://www.geocities.com/Athens/oracle/4925/Willa.html
"According to several sources, Willa Cather was a life-long lesbian. According to The Queer History Homepage, Cather even went so far as to pose as her imaginary twin brother, William, while a student at the University of Nebraska.

After moving to Pittsburgh Cather met and fell in love with a 16 year old girl. Cather would have been in her early twenties at this time. The girl, Isabelle McClung, later married a man, but Cather and McClung kept in touch over the next 40 years. According to Quistory, Cather's heart belonged to McClung for the rest of her life, even though Cather's closest relationship was with her lifetime companion, an editor by the name of Edith Lewis. The two lived together in Greenwich Village for forty years, until their deaths. They arranged to be buried together when they died."

fromhttp://www.columbia.edu/cu/cup/catalog/data/023111/0231113250.HTM
"Although it has been proven posthumously by scholars that Willa Cather had lesbian relationships, she did not openly celebrate lesbian desire, and even today is sometimes described as homophobic and misogynistic. What, then [can we say about her sexuality? According to] Marilee Lindemann, Cather's sexual coming-of-age occurred at a time when a cultural transition was recasting love between women as sexual deviance rather than romantic friendship. At the same time, the very identity of 'America' was characterized by great instability as the United States emerged as a modern industrial nation and imperial power. Indeed, both terms, 'queer' and 'America,' achieved fresh ideological potency at the turn of the century. [In Cather's] controversial love letters of the 1890s..."queer" is employed to denote sexual deviance, [a technique echoed in] her epic novels, short stories, and critical writings. Lindemann points to the 'queer' qualities of Cather's fiction--rebellion against traditional fictional form, with sometimes unlikable characters, lack of emphasis on heroic action, and lack of engagement in the drama of heterosexual desire."



Ilana
Check out my book, here and visit my website, here.


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kiakar
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Re: The Introduction



IlanaSimons wrote:


kiakar wrote:
Ilana; Is this debatable or factual? That is, whether Cather was a lesbian. This was discussed on b&n university and alot of posters didn't believe that she was lesbian. After I finished the book, I will explain at a later time, but I felt she was lebian, by her symbolic writing about Antonia.




I think a lot depends on how stiff a line we draw between types of sexual preference. Many people see sexuality on a spectrum. Without a doubt, Cather fell in love with several women in her life and said she loved women more than men, but she never used the word "lesbian" in reference to herself. Here are some things cut from the web:

from http://www.teenreads.com/authors/au-cather-willa.asp:
"There is no proof that Cather ever came close to marriage. The men she loved the most were her father and brothers. In her book WILLA CATHER: The Emerging Voice, Sharon O’Brien discusses Cather’s sexuality. She dwells predominantly on Cather’s relationship with her beloved friend Louise Pound. After her affair with Pound ended, Cather found 'more enduring and supportive relationships' with Isabelle McClung and later with Edith Lewis, yet she never declared publicly that she was in fact a lesbian."

from http://www.geocities.com/Athens/oracle/4925/Willa.html
"According to several sources, Willa Cather was a life-long lesbian. According to The Queer History Homepage, Cather even went so far as to pose as her imaginary twin brother, William, while a student at the University of Nebraska.

After moving to Pittsburgh Cather met and fell in love with a 16 year old girl. Cather would have been in her early twenties at this time. The girl, Isabelle McClung, later married a man, but Cather and McClung kept in touch over the next 40 years. According to Quistory, Cather's heart belonged to McClung for the rest of her life, even though Cather's closest relationship was with her lifetime companion, an editor by the name of Edith Lewis. The two lived together in Greenwich Village for forty years, until their deaths. They arranged to be buried together when they died."

fromhttp://www.columbia.edu/cu/cup/catalog/data/023111/0231113250.HTM
"Although it has been proven posthumously by scholars that Willa Cather had lesbian relationships, she did not openly celebrate lesbian desire, and even today is sometimes described as homophobic and misogynistic. What, then [can we say about her sexuality? According to] Marilee Lindemann, Cather's sexual coming-of-age occurred at a time when a cultural transition was recasting love between women as sexual deviance rather than romantic friendship. At the same time, the very identity of 'America' was characterized by great instability as the United States emerged as a modern industrial nation and imperial power. Indeed, both terms, 'queer' and 'America,' achieved fresh ideological potency at the turn of the century. [In Cather's] controversial love letters of the 1890s..."queer" is employed to denote sexual deviance, [a technique echoed in] her epic novels, short stories, and critical writings. Lindemann points to the 'queer' qualities of Cather's fiction--rebellion against traditional fictional form, with sometimes unlikable characters, lack of emphasis on heroic action, and lack of engagement in the drama of heterosexual desire."





Thanks Ilana so much for the information. I have often wondered about this subject. Thank you so very much. It makes her life quite interesting and her writing symbolic to the way she saw life.
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IlanaSimons
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Re: The Introduction

[ Edited ]

kiakar wrote:
Ilana; Is this debatable or factual? That is, whether Cather was a lesbian. This was discussed on b&n university and alot of posters didn't believe that she was lesbian. After I finished the book, I will explain at a later time, but I felt she was lebian, by her symbolic writing about Antonia.



I'm very interested to hear your ideas about Antonia as a symbolic, sexual figure.

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 05-03-200701:53 PM




Ilana
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KristyR
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Re: First Impressions

What immediately struck me about her style is how readable she is. Although I don't mind delving into more challenging material, it's nice to read something and be able to easily read and understand what is going on. Of course, then I read the early discussion questions... I now understand your earlier statement about what is said between the lines being as important as what is written there! My initial reading was surface level only. So now I need to go back and look at the first 10 chapters a little differently!
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IlanaSimons
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Re: First Impressions

I don't think you've got to read in any way but the way you most like to read. I think we read as differently as we do anything else, with our own styles, drawn to different things. Some readers here pick up on details that I don’t even remember from the book; people appreciate the music in different ways.... (most importantly: I don't mean for that flood of questions to make reading less pleasant. I got a job here at B&N, which means I got to give a flood of questions.) So please post according to your own voice--saying whatever you want to say about this book.



KristyR wrote:
What immediately struck me about her style is how readable she is. Although I don't mind delving into more challenging material, it's nice to read something and be able to easily read and understand what is going on. Of course, then I read the early discussion questions... I now understand your earlier statement about what is said between the lines being as important as what is written there! My initial reading was surface level only. So now I need to go back and look at the first 10 chapters a little differently!





Ilana
Check out my book, here and visit my website, here.


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KristyR
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Re: First Impressions


IlanaSimons wrote:
I don't think you've got to read in any way but the way you most like to read. I think we read as differently as we do anything else, with our own styles, drawn to different things. Some readers here pick up on details that I don’t even remember from the book; people appreciate the music in different ways.... (most importantly: I don't mean for that flood of questions to make reading less pleasant. I got a job here at B&N, which means I got to give a flood of questions.) So please post according to your own voice--saying whatever you want to say about this book.






Ilana, I wasn't complaining, honest:smileyhappy:! I do this with my reading anyway, the first reading is to get a feel for the work and the second (if I like the book) is for thinking! I really appreciate the questions because they give my thoughts some focus, which I need. I'm enjoying Cather very much so far, so a second reading isn't a painful contemplation!
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CallMeLeo
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Re: The Introduction

What occurs to me about Cather's use of a male voice is that it legitimizes Antonia's "masculine" qualities in a man's world: her independence, her confidence, and her ability to companionably work beside men doing men's work. In spite of these "masculine" qualities she is deeply loved and respected by an American boy, Jim, who becomes an intelligent, sophisticated, and wealthy man.
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Re: The Introduction

[ Edited ]
beautifully said. A man is impressed with a woman here. He sits back in awe, just recording it all. This dynamic, as you say, “legitimizes” the woman.


CallMeLeo wrote:
What occurs to me about Cather's use of a male voice is that it legitimizes Antonia's "masculine" qualities in a man's world: her independence, her confidence, and her ability to companionably work beside men doing men's work. In spite of these "masculine" qualities she is deeply loved and respected by an American boy, Jim, who becomes an intelligent, sophisticated, and wealthy man.

Message Edited by IlanaSimons on 05-06-200705:06 PM




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mef6395
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Re: The Introduction

I would hazard a guess that the unnamed woman travelling with Jim (in the introductory chapter) is either Julia or Sally Harling.
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