Willa Cather is weirder than you think

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how bizarre Willa Cather’s work is–namely, while I’ve been re-reading her 1915 novel The Song of the Lark. Take this passage, for instance, when Thea attends her very first concert (with Wagner and Dvořák on the program):

“First memories, first mornings long ago; the amazement of a new soul in a new world; a soul new and yet old, that had dreamed something despairing, something glorious, in the dark before it was born; a soul obsessed by what it did not know, under a cloud of a past it could not recall.”

For a narrative defined by chronological development—the protagonist’s rise from country girl to international opera sensation—this temporal fluctuation between past and present strikes me as out of place in a beautifully haunting idiom: a soul both new and old, dreaming something “in the dark before it was born,” yet obsessed with a “past it could not recall.” Rather eerie and uncommonly experimental for an author we generally associate with prairies and plains, no?

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