Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Classics Club 46: O Pioneers!

The last two classics that I've reviewed - The Dollmaker and The Good Earth - have both featured the relationship between the main character and the earth as a key theme. Willa Cather's O Pioneers! continues this trend. It is the story of one family's survival on the Nebraska prairies.  The Bergsons are Swedish migrants trying to make a go of it in the harsh environment. After years of hard work the family is debt free but barely surviving and many of their neighbours are giving up and leaving for the city. Then John, the father dies, and leaves his daughter not his wife or one of his sons in charge. 

Alexandra is determined to remain on the land.She notices that the big investors are not selling up, but rather buying more land. She convinces her family to do the same and expand their property.  She's not afraid of being unconventional in other ways, investigating and replicating where it seems sensible farming methods used in more prosperous areas.

Sixteen years pass and the family is prospering. Alexandra's brothers farm land of their own but continue to resent her success and remain suspicious of her new ideas. She sends Emil, the youngest brother, to college since she recognizes that farming is hard work and is trying to ensure a better and easier future for him. For all her success Alexandra remains lonely. A doomed attraction between Emil and her neighbour Marie costs Alexandra both of them, and her love Carl cannot find success on the prairie and leaves. While he later returns and she agrees to marry him and go with him to Alaska, it is clear her heart is with the land and she imagines returning in a year. Whether she will be able to retain her links to the land and her love with Carl remains unanswered.

While I was able to appreciate both the plot and the writing style, for some reason this novel didn't touch me, resonate with me or remain with me the way some of the other classics have. I certainly didn't dislike it, but I'm unlikely to reread it or recommend it to others. But don't let me out you off. My reaction probably says more about me that it does about the book. O Pioneers! is a relatively, short and easy read, so if the plot synopsis appeals to you it would be worth reading and forming your own judgment.


  1. The Good Earth is the only one of these I've read; I recall liking it quite a lot.

    I hope you all are not flooded!

    1. Pretty persistent rain for 12 hours or so but no flooding here. Other parts of the country were not so lucky but I don't think there is as much damage as Debbie caused last week. Amazed you heard about it. Always interesting to learn what makes overseas news.

  2. The BBC online news is my go-to for general news updates (tho' I do have other favorites as well). And also, our local newspaper, to which we have a daily subscription, reported on the cyclones as well. It's a really good paper :-)