I’m back with a review of yet another novel by Willa Cather, this being the fourth book I’ve read by her. Set primarily in a small Colorado town, The Song of the Lark is the story of a girl’s journey to stardom as she endeavors to leave her local life behind in pursuit of music. Protagonist Thea Kronberg soon finds herself swept up in a life of auditions, travel, and performances. Though she may move far from her Colorado home, the roots of her past remain persistently visible in the present.
I was enthralled by this novel. Everything about it captivated me from the very first sentence to the very last word. In fact, I was enjoying it so much that I marked all of my favorite passages with sticky notes, only to realize halfway through that I would have to take them all out when I was finished (it was a library book). Notable aspects of this novel include:
+ The Bildungsroman quality. One of the things that makes this novel so memorable is that it follows Thea from when she is a young child being treated by Doctor Archie to when she is an independent adult living away from her childhood home. In some ways Thea changes drastically– in her confidence, musical abilities, attitude towards her family, etc.– while in other ways she remains the same. It’s interesting to note how each setting influences Thea, as though the landscape itself asserts itself as a character rather than a backdrop for the story. Thus, the Thea of Colorado is much different from the Theas of Chicago, Panther Cañon, and so on. Here we are presented with many different versions or iterations of Thea, yet the common thread of her past in the small town of Moonstone runs through them all.
+ Character development. The physical and emotional growth of Thea is but one example of the masterfully crafted character development Cather fosters throughout this novel. Each character experiences some sort of change over the course of the story, even ones we meet later on. My favorite character is Doctor Archie for precisely this reason: he matures subtly, almost realistically, as he responds to the many unexpected events that occur around him. Despite the captivating and intriguing plot, I would still consider The Song of a Lark to be a character-driven novel.
+ The similarities with My Ántonia. This novel simply felt more like My Ántonia while I was reading it; however, it wasn’t until I finished that I realized just how many parallels exist between these two novels. For instance, both novels include female characters who move from rural to more populated areas. More importantly, both novels address a confrontation with the past after emotional and physical distance from one’s childhood home. These novels are obviously vastly different from one another in a myriad of ways, which makes the abundance of parallels even more fascinating.
+ The focus on music. Thea’s growing passion for piano and later singing provides an avenue through which Cather delves deep into the life of a burgeoning artist during this time period. We follow alongside the ups and downs of Thea’s tumultuous life with all of its twists and turns. It’s clear that Cather was either musical herself or did a lot of research before writing this novel. She includes many details about musical techniques, pieces, composers, and performers that add depth and a sense of reality to the text.
+ An exploration of different cultures. Another really interesting component of the novel is Cather’s focus on the relationships between people of different backgrounds and cultures. For instance, Thea’s friendship with a man referred to as Spanish Johnny and her Swedish family’s consequential backlash reveals the sort of social hierarchy and tension that existed between various groups of people during this time period.
+ Cather’s writing style. As always with reviews of Cather’s novels, I must t least briefly mention her beautiful, brilliant, lyrical writing style. I believe this is best understood by simply reading the writing itself, so here is only of my favorite passages from the novel:
“It came over him now that the unexpected favors of fortune, no matter how dazzling, do not mean very much to us. They may exercise or divert us for a time, but when we look back, the only things we cherish are those which in some way met our original want; the desire which formed in us in early youth, undirected, and of its own accord.”
Overall, The Song of the Lark rekindled the same love for Willa Cather’s work that was initially sparked by My Ántonia over a year ago. Though I wouldn’t say this has definitively dethroned My Ántonia as my favorite Cather novel, it has come much closer to doing so than I ever initially expected.
Would I recommend it to a friend?: Absolutely! I even think this would be a great place to start with Willa Cather if you’ve never read any of her work before because the story is incredibly engaging and well-developed.
What are your thoughts on this novel? What other works by Willa Cather would you recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!