I've been reading a lot of Willa Cather recently, aligned with a weekend at home to celebrate the wedding of very dear friends. Cather's writing always shocks me in its anger for this land and its people. You would expect her to be romantic, or nostalgic at the very least, but she refrains (thank goodness) and writes with a grit that captures a young nation. She loved Nebraska, that much is clear. Yet she understood its harshness and its unfair emptiness, climate, and spirit.
I value O! Pioneers at the level that I hold Fitzgerald, Alcott, and Dickens. And, like Gatsby, Little Women, and Great Expectations, I return to this text year after year. Reading it again while here, at Griffith Prairie, with its open vistas, small valleys, steep cliffs, and uncut loess hills, I'm reminded why Cather is great and why she has been so influential to a girl from the Great Plains who, like Cather, moved to New York City despite my clear and intense affection for the vastness of this prairie.
"The great fact was the land itself, which seemed to overwhelm the little beginnings of human society that struggled in its sombre wastes. It was from facing this vast hardness that the boy's mouth had become so bitter; because he felt that men were too weak to make any mark here, that the land wanted to be let alone, to preserve its own fierce strength, its peculiar, savage kind of beauty, its uninterrupted mournfulness."
-Willa Cather, O! Pioneers