Thursday, February 28, 2013

Willa Cather and Me

Celebrating cultural highlights of 1913...
Pioneer-blogging, essay 9 on
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather

Back when I wrote my first Willa Cather blog entry, my fingers speed-typed:  “If you’re looking for a Cather surrogate in O Pioneers!, you might consider Carl Anderson…”

Then I had to go back and correct the line because I typed it wrong.  It’s Carl Linstrum, not Carl Anderson. So I retyped Linstrum and continued on. Next time, same thing happened. I typed Carl Anderson again. You see, Linstrum isn’t natural for me. Carl ANDERSON is very natural. My brain auto-corrects to it.

My grandfather Theodore Carl Anderson.
It must be the Swedish side of me that takes over. My mother was an Anderson, my grandfather was Theodore Carl Anderson, and my great-grandfather was Carl Anderson. (Plus, my uncle and a cousin are Theodore Carl Andersons, too!)

My Anderson ancestors would have immigrated to America about a generation after the family of the fictional Carl Linstrum. While O Pioneers! doesn’t specifically describe Carl’s background, he seems to be a first-generation Swedish-American, born to recently arrived immigrants who immediately traveled west to this small Swedish community in Nebraska. My ancestors didn’t go that far. Carl Anderson never left the Atlantic coastal region after his boat arrived. He and his wife eventually settled in Connecticut.

I can identify with Carl Linstrum, picturing him not much different from my grandfather. I could easily imagine my grandfather as a young man climbing a telegraph pole to rescue a kitten for a little boy. He was always happy to help others.

There’s another personal connection that I enjoy with Willa Cather. While she wrote far more about Nebraska, Cather’s first ten years were spent near the idyllic Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. That’s my land! I have deep roots there.  The Blue Ridge Mountains were home to my grandmother—the woman who married that first-generation Swedish-American Theodore Carl Anderson. My grandmother grew up in Luray, Virginia, just 60 miles south of Cather’s birthplace in Gore, Virginia, near Winchester. Both my grandmother and Cather retained a lifelong love of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Cather frequently shared about her resentment at being dragged off to that depressing flat prairie land of Nebraska.

Cather came to terms with Nebraska through her fiction, but if you ever get the feeling that Nebraska is a compromise substitute for her original love, it’s because her heart belonged to the Blue Ridge Mountains. I can connect with that.

Our family vacationed in the Blue Ridge Mountains last year.
This shot was taken in Shenandoah National Park
looking down on the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

Reference Sources

Willa Cather: A Literary Life by James Woodress
Willa Cather: The Emerging Voice by Sharon O'Brien
Willa Cather: A Pictorial Memoir by Bernice Slote
O Pioneers!, the Willa Cather Scholarly Edition at the Willa Cather Archive
... and an occasional sneak glance at Wikipedia entries (but always double-checking everything!)

© 2013 Lee Price

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