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The Song of the Lark was Cather's third novel. Written between O Pioneers! and My Antonia, it is very different from those novels for which Cather is better known. The story is set among sand hills and canyons, big crowded cities and harmonious music. It is the story of the making of an artist, from her humble beginnings in Moonstone, Colorado to the big time singing operas in New York. It is a story in three parts.
Part one: A young, talented girl from an immigrant family grows up in a rural town. Those familiar with Cather's more famous works will feel right at home with Thea Kronberg as a young girl surrounded by her large Swedish family, German music teacher with a taste for booze, all-American sweetheart, and Mexican musical compatriots.
Parts two and three break with Cather's traditional fare to follow Thea in search of musical knowledge and finally, as the star of the New York opera scene. If the story were simply Thea's struggles inner and outer during her rise to fame, it would have been tiresome from the start. For all her imagination and talent, Thea is not entirely likable. However we are provided with a colorful cast of supporting characters that carry us through the story. We start and end with supporting characters--not Thea--and it is through them that we find a reason for empathy. We are in fact her audience even while reading her story.
If you're searching for Cather's famous prairie stories, you should probably move on and come back to The Song of the Lark when in a more introspective mood. However, if you're looking for the making of an artist as she realizes her talent and struggles to find herself and her place in the limelight, this one's for you.
A couple of notes:
- The book cover is The Song of the Lark by Jules Breton, a painting which Thea sees and admires at a museum in Chicago.
- I believe there are some misconceptions about this novel arising from the fact that not many people have actually read it. First, this book is regularly billed as the second in Cather's "Prairie Trilogy". There is little if any prairie in this novel. Second, this novel also is billed as Cather's most autobiographical. I find this very hard to believe. The story is so entirely musical and Thea so self absorbed, that I do not believe Cather saw herself in her at all. If you want an autobiographical novel, read My Antonia which is based on short stories Cather wrote about growing up on the prairie in Nebraska.