She could not be negative or perfunctory.

I’m reading My Antonia again — actually listening for the second time, to the recording narrated by Jeff Cummings. Next time I’d like to hear a different narrator, because I think Cummings makes the adult narrator of the story, Jim Burden, sound like young Anne of Green Gables. And he reads too fast, which doesn’t suit the pace of life depicted in the novel, and does an injustice to Willa Cather’s evocative prose.

This may be the fifth time I’ve read the book, and every time is a fresh experience. A paragraph or a personality will jump out at me as though I’m encountering it for the first time. For example, the introduction to the Burdens’ Norwegian neighbors after they moved into town:

“Mrs. Harling was short and square and sturdy-looking, like her house. Every inch of her was charged with an energy that made itself felt the moment she entered a room. Her face was rosy and solid, with bright, twinkling eyes and a stubborn little chin. She was quick to anger, quick to laughter, and jolly from the depths of her soul. How well I remember her laugh; it had in it the same sudden recognition that flashed into her eyes, was a burst of humour, short and intelligent.

“Her rapid footsteps shook her own floors, and she routed lassitude and indifference wherever she came. She could not be negative or perfunctory about anything. Her enthusiasm, and her violent likes and dislikes, asserted themselves in all the everyday occupations of life. Wash-day was interesting, never dreary, at the Harlings’. Preserving-time was a prolonged festival, and house-cleaning was like a revolution. When Mrs. Harling made garden that spring, we could feel the stir of her undertaking through the willow hedge that separated our place from hers.”

The-Harling-House_Red-Cloud_1013763 (2)
The “Harling House” in Red Cloud, Nebraska

8 thoughts on “She could not be negative or perfunctory.

  1. Oh, how I love My Antonia also. I put it on my summer reading lists for years for my students, and I read it twice myself. The most compelling (and terrifying) passage is deep in the layers of narrative in the book, the tale of the Russian wedding and the wolves. But I loved the whole novel. Maybe it will be a reread coming up soon! Thanks for the reminder.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Reading what you wrote makes me wish I was reading My Antonia. I do love that book and I have never listened to it read before. That will be something to look into. I hope you are having a wonderful summer now that you are home. I hope your weather has been perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve always wanted to read this but for some reasons, never did. You’ve just prompted me to move this up my TBR list. Thanks for the quotes and the photo of that character house.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Goodness, what a glowing review. I read My Antonia many years ago when it was reissued by the Virago label in the UK but have never picked it up again. Perhaps I’d better, after your enthusiastic post here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cather knew a real woman in her town after whom she modeled the fictional Mrs. Harling, and this is the house where that woman’s family lived. I put it in quotes because it probably has another “real” name.


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