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A Lost Lady (VMC)

A Lost Lady - Willa Cather, A.S. Byatt Willa Cather's work always fascinates me thanks to Mrs. Pepoy's introduction of her to my first-year college writing class through the classic O Pioneers! Both her novels and short stories are strong, but the short novel, A Lost Lady, had sat on my bookshelf too long.It is a novel which brings in the familiar Cather themes of old vs. new, stagnation vs. growth, and to stretch the idea a bit, love vs. loyalty. Cather published the work in 1923 and in it we see a move away from the pioneers of My Antonia and O Pioneers! as the modern world makes itself felt on the Western expansion. As a result, the idyllic but harsh pioneer life Cather lived and captured are falling away.The novel centers around Niel Pommeroy, a young boy living with his lawyer uncle in a small railroading town. The object of much of his attention is Mrs. Forrester, the young wife of a older man who has made a comfortable living based on his railroad work. As a growing boy Niel admires the Mrs. Forrester for her elegance, her ease with people, and her promise of something greater than the town. But like most railroad towns, the modern world begins to leave it behind and their social decline is mirrored with Mr. Forrester's financial decline. Niel is close to the childless couple and even takes a year off of college to help care for the ailing husband. The grim future is represented by Ivy Peters, a cruel kid who becomes (you guessed it) a cheating lawyer. He eventually buys up parts of the town including parts of the Forrester estate, and after the death of Mr. Forrester he takes a least temporary possession of Mrs. Forrester.Niel's dedication to Mrs. Forrester is often described as a love interest by many critics, but I think that misses the point. He loves her, but not as a woman so much as an idea. She represents for Niel possibilities: passion for life, a wider world of experience, self confidence, and elegance not seen in a rural town. Even when he discovers she is having an affair he manages to overlook the reality which denies the possibilities. Only when he sees Ivy groping her in the kitchen does his idealism disappear, although his fondness for her does not since he is still in love with possibilities. What is interesting is that Mrs. Forrester never loses the appearance of these possibilities. She moves beyond Ivy Peters to settle comfortably in Buenos Aires as the wife of a rich Englishman. What Cather shows in that quick end stroke is the facade such possibilities often exist upon. Her life in rural Nebraska and her own struggles with her sexuality doubtless left her with little patience for anything less than reality.