Virago Reading Week: The Song of the Lark

This week will be all about women. I’m reading women authors and taking a look at the lives of women and their lot in life. I’m reading two books for Virago Reading Week and I also want to tell you about the book I read this month for the Feminist Classic’s Reading Challenge.

First up is a book for Virago Reading Week. This casual “everybody read Virago” challenge is sponsored by Rachel at Book Snob and Carolyn at A Few Of My Favorite Books. Virago refers to a publishing company started in 1973 with the purpose of publishing books by women authors.

As I looked at the list of books Virago has published I saw many books and authors I’ve already read. I’m determined to read some of the authors that are new to me. This week, however, I chose to read a book by Nora Ephron (my post will be up on Saturday) and this one today, by one of my all-time favorite authors, Willa Cather.

The Song of the Lark

Author: Willa Cather

Publisher:  Originally published in 1915,Virago Press republished it in 1989 and again in 2007

Genre: Classic, Women’s Fiction

My Rating: A

Willa Cather wrote three books known as the Prairie Trilogy. They were O,Pioneers (1913), My Antonia (1918), and this one, The Song of the Lark (1915). I think this one is now my new favorite. All three books reflect Cather’s roots in the Great Plains of America. She was raised and educated in Nebraska.

The Song of the Lark is the story of Thea Kronborg, daughter of the Reverend and Mrs. Kronborg. He is the Methodist minister in Moonstone, Colorado, which is on the high desert east of Denver. The time is the ¬†1890’s.

Thea is one of seven children in the Kronborg family, but is the one who seems the most intelligent and certainly the one with the most musical talent. In addition, she is the one most tolerant of people.

Thea shows an early talent for the piano and her family arranges for her to take lessons from a gifted but strange fellow, Professor Wunsch. Walking the mile out to where he lives brings Thea in contact with people she might not normally meet. Thea makes friends with these people and the town’s doctor, Dr. Archie, as well as Ray, a railroad man who decides early that he will marry Thea even though he must wait years for her to grow up.

All of these people recognize Thea’s uniqueness and serve as her early guardians and subtle guides. One person in this group makes it financially possible for Thea to go to Chicago to further her musical studies. While there, another friend encourages her to change from the piano to studying voice. In the remainder of the book we follow Thea’s career and life and that of her friends and family.

I don’t want to spoil the story for you by telling you too much. I do want to share what I consider the real joy in reading Cather’s books. When she describes places and people they become so real to me. For instance, when she describes the little town of Moonstone, I’m positive I’ve been in that little town.

. . . and the frail, brightly painted desert town was shaded by the light-reflecting, wind-loving trees of the desert, whose roots are always seeking water and whose leaves are always talking about it, making the sound of rain.

If you’ve ever heard the sound of cottonwoods blowing in a breeze, you’ll know what Cather was describing.

Here is a description of Thea’s mother:

She had a rather unusual capacity for getting the flavor of places and of people. Althouh she was so enmeshed in family cares most of the time, she could emege serene when she was away from them. For a mother of seven, she had a singularly unprejudiced point of view.

Cather did an in-depth evaluation of Dr. Archie. Here’s part of it:

There was a puzzling timidity in Archie’s make-up. The things that held his shoulders stiff, that made him resort to a mirthless little laugh when he was talking to dull people, that made him sometimes stumble over rugs and carpets, had its counterpart in his mind. He had not the courage to be an honest thinker. He could comfort himself by evasions and compromises.

And finally, here’s an excerpt about Thea as she is riding on the train. She’s just said good-bye to her family and she’s heading toward the big city:

Everything that was essential seemed to be right there in the car with her. She lacked nothing. She even felt more “compact and confident than usual. She was all there, and something else was there, too, — in her heart, was it, or under her cheek? Anyhow, it was about her somewhere, that warm sureness, that sturdy little companion with whom she shared a secret.

I hope you catch the pleasure I felt as I read The Song of the Lark. There’s a reason these books have endured for nearly a century. Although this book is part of a trilogy, each book stands alone. Give this one a try.

Check your local library for a copy of this book. Numerous copies are available at Amazon, including inexpensive editions on Kindle. The Virago Press editions are available here: Virago Books

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14 Responses to Virago Reading Week: The Song of the Lark

  1. Beth F says:

    Don’t you just love Cather??

    What a cool idea for the week. I’ll be following along.

  2. I have never read Willa Cather! So it’s especially enlightening to read your post! :–)

  3. Annie says:

    I lovethe way you speak of this book . I’l have a look to virago press ! I love books by women authors !

  4. FleurFisher says:

    I love this book Margot, and I am so glad that you do too.

    I remember borrowing The Song of the Lark from the university library many years ago. I had never heard of the author but I spotted the green Virago cover that I knew was a sign of quality.

    I fell in love with Willa Cather’s writing, and a world that I had read nothing about before. She has a much higher profile on your side of the Atlantic than on mine, and I am very glad that Virago brought her to a wider audience.

  5. Rural View says:

    I find it hard to believe that I’ve never read Willa Cather. I always think I will, yet I never get one of her books. Must read her before I forget again.

  6. Martha says:

    I just learned the word Virago a few weeks ago and used it for my Wondrous Words Wednesday. I love that word now and it makes perfect sense as a publishing group for women authors.

    I love Willa Cather, if I had had a second daughter I would have named her in honor of Willa. And I adore this series. I may have to nip over and see if there is still time to participate in the reading week.

  7. Rachel says:

    Oh Margot, I am reading Cather too this week and just loving her. Her writing is so exquisite. The Song of the Lark sounds sublime and I must hunt it out. Thank you for participating in our week, and I’m so glad you enjoyed the book you chose!

  8. JoAnn says:

    I loved both My Antonia and O Pioneers!, and have 3 or 4 more of her books waiting to be read. Sounds like I need to add one more to the pile. I love Cather’s writing.

  9. I’ve never read Cather, but you’ve made this book sound marvelous.

  10. Staci says:

    Your review was usual! I love your style and the way you convey your feelings. I really want to try this author now!!!

  11. Lyn says:

    I haven’t read any Cather for a very long time but I have a copy of this on the tbr shelves. Not the Virago but a lovely Penguin Modern Classic with a Hammershoi painting on the cover. I’ll get to it one day. Thanks for the review.

  12. Pingback: Virago Round Up: Day Two! | Book Snob

  13. I am reading “One of Ours” almost as we speak (well, you know what I mean.) I thought it was part of the Prairie Trilogy, but obviously I didn’t do enough research. I read ‘My Antonia’ a while ago and I have ‘Song of the Lark’ (the one you just reviewed) and ‘O Pioneers’ on my Kindle. And I am loving Willa Cather. Her descriptions of characters is the best; they stay with you.

  14. Jennifer says:

    This is one of my favorite books. If you ever feel like re-reading it, listen to the audio version, read by Flo Gibson. She was a wonderful voice actor and conveyed much compassion for her characters. She passed away in January – you can read about her long career here:

    I’m retiring in 6 weeks and just found your blog – I’m so glad you’re enjoying your retirement and making the most of it.

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