October 22, 2010

Cather Country!

How many of you have read the novels and short stories of Willa Cather?  She is one of my favorite American novelists!  I just returned from spending a week in Nebraska visiting my daughter and her husband in Lincoln (home of the University of Nebraska).

We took a couple of day trips and were able to visit Cather's hometown of Red Cloud, Nebraska.  My daughter is quite the Cather scholar and really gave me a superb 'busman's tour' of all of the important Cather sites and scenes from many of her novels.  It was just an awesome experience!

I took several photographs while visiting Red Cloud, and thought that it might be fun to share them with all of you.  The photograph at top upper-right is a black and white conversion that I made of Cather's childhood home in Red Cloud.  Please do make sure that you 'click' on each photograph for the larger view.

Here's Cather's home in color.  The trees are all just starting to change into their fall colors too.

This black and white photograph (at right) is the Miner House (the fictional 'Harling' house), and is where Willa Cather frequently stayed when she came back to Red Cloud to visit family and friends.  This house is thought to have been built in 1878, and is in the Italianate style.  She dedicated My Antonia to two of the Miner girls, Carrie and Irene ("To Carrie and Irene Miner, In memory of affections old and true").

This is the house that Anna Pavelka lived in out on the Nebraska prairie outside of Red Cloud.  Anna is the woman that Willa Cather generally based her character Antonia Shimerda upon in her classic novel, My Antonia.  The root cellar (tornado shelter too?) in the foreground is the one that Jim and Antonia climb out of followed by the gaggle of little children.  While this old abandoned house is owned by the Nebraska State Historical Society, it is in a desperate state of disrepair.  I hope that the means can be found to protect and restore this beautiful piece of Americana.

The photograph, at right, is of Anna Pavelka's grave in the tiny Cloverton Cemetery.  This cemetery is miles from anywhere out in the midst of the endless Nebraska prairie.  It was truly poignant to stand at this woman's grave and realize all that she had accomplished.  Besides being a muse and inspiration for Willa Cather's writing, she bore and raised thirteen children and lived a long life.  I do wish that they (whoever 'they' are) had not planted that ugly metal sign right on top of the poor woman's grave.  Even if one had had to browse about to find her grave, it shouldn't have taken very long.  It isn't a big cemetery at all.

This is a photograph of the St. Juliana Falconieri Catholic Church in Red Cloud.  This is where Annie Pavelka's ('Antonia's') baby was baptized.  It is now owned and protected by the Nebraska State Historical Society.  It was built in 1883 and was used by the diocese until 1903.

This is a photograph that I made of the Red Cloud Burlington Train Depot.  This is the train station that Willa Cather would passed through in her journeys to and from Red Cloud.  It has been lovingly restored too, and was fascinating to visit.  During Red Cloud's heyday, this depot would have seen something like ten trains a day passing through town.  Red Cloud was on the main-line between Kansas City and Denver.

Finally, I am including a photographic portrait of Willa Cather that I have always liked.  The necklace that she is wearing was given to her by her very good friend, and fellow author, Sarah Orne Jewett (The Country of Pointed Firs and Other Stories).  This photo of Willa is thought to have been taken about 1912 and was taken in New York.

Willa Cather was born in Virginia in 1873, and died in 1947.  When Willa was nine years old, her family moved to Red Cloud, Nebraska.  She later attended and graduated from the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, Nebraska.  She then went back east and worked as a teacher, newspaper writer and editor, and an editor of magazines.  Most importantly though, Willa Cather is known for her beautiful novels.  To finish this posting I am including a listing of all of her novels, in the order in which they were published.

Alexander's Bridge (1912)
O Pioneers! (1913)
The Song of the Lark (1915)
My Antonia (1918)
One of Ours (1922, for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1923)
A Lost Lady (1923)
The Professor's House (1925)
My Mortal Enemy (1926)
Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927)
Shadows on the Rock (1931)
Lucy Gayheart (1935)
Sapphira and the Slave Girl (1940)


  1. My mom wrote her master's thesis on Willa Cather and thus has always pushed me to read her. I've read My Antonia and Death Comes for the Archbishop. I think I liked Death Comes for the Archbishop better, maybe just because I love the Southwest.
    Thanks for this post!

  2. Thank you so much for this post and the photographs. I've only recently started reading Willa Cather but I do love her writing. I've read My Antonia, Alexander's Bridge and The Professor's House. I'm starting Death Comes for the Archbishop soon. It seems to be the favourite with most people.

  3. IngridLola and Katrina, I want to thank both of you for your lovely comments, and for sharing the memories that the post inspired. I think that both of you would have very much enjoyed visiting this beautiful and idyllic part of Nebraska and the prairie world of Willa Cather. Thank you very much for your visit and the kind words! Cheers! Chris

  4. Thanks you for the photos. I haven't read Cather yet but both My Antonia and Death Comes for the Archbishop are on my American Project list so it was interesting to learn a little about her.

  5. I love Cather but will probably never get to Kansas, so I appreciate the chance to get a virtual tour here on your blog. Great photos and interesting details of Cather's life and friendships. Thanks for posting!

  6. @ 2manybooks

    I am so glad you enjoyed the photographs! I have to say that the visit really gave me an even better appreciation for Cather's fiction. This part of Nebraska is really quite beautiful too. The Nature Conservancy recently purchased over 600 acres of prairie ecosystem and has restored it with native plants, and it is named for Cather. I stood there on the top of one of the rolling hills in waist-deep grasses and just reflected on what this country must have been like at the beginning of the 20th century as Cather saw it. Very cool experience!

    Thank you for stopping by, and the kind words!

  7. I have read Cather, but to tell the truth she's not my favorite. Maybe I need to try again.

    You are cordially invited to add a link to your book reviews for the week at my Saturday Review of Books at Semicolon. It's a sort of round-up of bloggers' book reviews each week on Saturday:

  8. Guess I better get started reading some Cather! I'm sad to say that I have never read anything by her (and I have my BA in English!). That first black and white photograph is enough to get me to pick up one of her novels! Thanks for posting about your trip!

  9. What a great trip! My Antonia is one of my top ten favorites. I've only been to Nebraska once, driving through on a road trip, and the only attraction we experienced was Carhenge in Alliance. The Cather sites would have been much more interesting!

  10. Shelley, I am so glad that you liked the posting and the photograph! I had great fun seeing this wonderful houses, churches, train stations, and the surrounding country. I have to say that it really brought the novels home for me. I can completely understand the prairie life-style that she was describing in her novels and short stories. Do make sure that you take the time to visit Red Cloud, Nebraska the next time you pass through the state. Cheers! Chris

  11. This sounds like exactly the sort of vacation my husband would love! I've only read two by Cather so far (My Antonia, which was not my favorite but still good, and Death Comes for the Archbishop, which I thought was absolutely brilliant!), but I'm slowly getting to more and more of her works. She's my dad's favorite author and he's been telling me which ones to read next. :D

  12. Thank you so much this post! I just read my first Willa Cather book (My Antonia) a few months ago. I continued with O Pioneers. I'm currently reading The Song of the Lark. I have fallen in love with this amazing authors writing and will continue to read through all her books.

    You post above is wonderful. Thank you so much for pulling it all together. If I ever get to Nebraska, would love to visit these houses and landmarks. And especially pull off the side of the road and sit in a wheat field and read My Antonia.