Like Disney movies, creamy coffee desserts, and many other things, Willa Cather is a terrifyingly terrific treasure. Being a boy, it’s somewhat bothersome to admit to admiring a girl, especially since nearly all the boys the I look up to don’t really look up to girls. “Woman is natural, that is to say abominable,” declares French boy poet Charles Baudelaire in his Intimate Journals. “She is always vulgar; the opposite, in fact, of the Dandy.” Then there’s the American boy novelist Norman Mailer. In An American Dream, Norman’s semi-doppelganger throws his ex-wife out the bathroom window after she admits to partaking in the type of act that Dan Savage and Frank Bruni revere. But, as with Emily D, Charlotte B, Annie F, and tons more, Willa is simply too wonderful to cast aside just because she’s the opposite of a boy. Her stories and novels are grumpy, moody, severe, ascetic, and fashionable (Antonia’s friend Lena becomes a dressmaker in San Francisco and Professor St. Peter composes his Spanish adventurer study in the same room as a seamstress).
As for the characters Willa compels, they’re cuttingly on the button in their evaluations of people-centric societies. Reflecting upon his prior city life, the eponymous boy of Neighbour Rosicky remarks:
In the country, if you had a mean neighbour, you could keep off his land and make him keep off yours. But in the city, all the foulness and misery and brutality of your neighbours was part of your life. The worst things he had come upon in his journey through the world were human, — depraved and poisonous specimens of man.
What to do when beset by corrupt, indelicate, inconsiderate creatures? Why… destroy, of course! Violence is enthralling, enlightening, and entertaining. It’s allotted a starring role in Willa’s world. In My Antonia, Jim slugs a rattlesnake to death in front of Antonia, her father also hangs himself, and her family is friends with a couple of Russian boys who were ostracized by practically every European country for throwing a newlywed couple off a sled and to the wolves so that they themselves wouldn’t be eaten. Some stories start out serene only to become violent later on. The Enchanted Bluff is about a bunch of boys on a camping trip. The trip’s tranquility is toppled when one of the boys tells of a Cliff-Dweller society whose men were massacred and whose women and children were left to starve. Keeping children’s tummies empty is obviously wrong, but violence is right. There are few better means to upending uppity control (i.e liberal America) than violence, and there is such an abundance of this trenchant tool in Willa’s tales.
Basically, Willa is sort of one of the best. Formerly, I dressed up The Professor, but someone as sensational as the Nebraska girl certainly deserves to have her universes adorned much more than once, which is why I’ll now deck the characters from O Pioneers!