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The Song of the Lark (Dover Thrift Editions)

The Song of the Lark (Dover Thrift Editions) [Kindle Edition]

Willa Cather
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Product Description


A tremendous, ranging story, economical and distilled as poetry, fast moving, rich and short. A mighty subject. A lovely book (JANE GARDAM of DEATH COMES FOR THE ARCHBISHOP)

Willa Cather makes a world which is burningly alive, sometimes lovely, often tragic (HELEN DUNMORE)

In her writing, an almost bardic ability to hold us with stories coexists with a blazing commitment to a moral view of human distinction and human turpitude that recalls Wharton without the cynicism and Conrad without the weightiness ... Her voice, laconical and richly sensuous, sings out with a note of unequivocal love for the people she is setting down on the page (MARINA WARNER)

Book Description

* The Cinderella story of Thea Kronborg, rescued from obscurity in the American Midwest by her exquisite voice

* Strongly autobiographical

* 'The Song of the Lark illuminates all her work' A.S. BYATT

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1014 KB
  • Print Length: 290 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1449529712
  • Publisher: Dover Publications (6 Feb 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00A62YIBO
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #145,504 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Development of an artist. 25 Nov 2001
By A Customer
The small-town life is vividly described and the curiousity and inclusiveness that set Thea apart from her conformist neighbours. Her musical gift is recognised by her piano teacher but he can give her only a very basic introduction to music. Unexpectedly it is the railwayman Ray Kennedy who opens the way for her to escape the confines of her hometown and study in Chicago. Here she is confronted by a world she is hardly prepared for and Thea must be separated from her family by more than distance if she is to develop her talent. She discovers her voice, but the way to vocal mastery and building a career is full of struggle with conventional ties as well as with technique.
Willa Cather asks, how is genius discerned? What sacrifices and what satisfactions attend such a gift? In the story of Thea Kronberg she gives us her answers, finishing with Thea's triumph at the Metropolitan Opera, with just a hint of the frustrations of the successful diva. It is the development of the artist that interests her, and she communicates her interest directly to the reader.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful! 27 Jan 2012
By Kate Hopkins TOP 1000 REVIEWER
A great big feast of a book, describing how a young girl from a Scandinavian emigre background, born in small-town Colorado, becomes a world-famous opera singer. Cather describes every period of Thea's life beautifully and in detail, from her childhood in Moonstone, Colorado, one of seven children of the local part-Swedish part-Norwegian Methodist minister and his calm Swedish wife Anna, her piano lessons with an alcoholic German emigre, Professor Wunsch, her early work (from the age of 16) as a piano teacher, the tragedy which unexpectedly leaves her with enough money to train as a pianist and later as a singer in Chicago, her time there, her meeting with a wealthy young German-American beer merchant and keen amateur musician, an idyllic holiday spent among the ancient ruins of an Indian settlement, her decision to leave America to go to Germany and train, and her triumphant return to New York as an opera singer, where her international career is launched with performances as Sieglinde at the Metropolitan Opera. Cather brings her large cast of characters beautifully to life: my particular favourites included Thea's calm and philosophical mother, Doctor Archie the gentle doctor who gives Thea a love of literature, Spanish Johnny - a Mexican who lives in Moonstone in a small Mexican community and befriends Thea and teaches her a lot about music - Professor Wunsch, Andor Harsanyi Thea's charismatic and thoughtful piano teacher in Chicago, Fred Ottenburg the beer merchant and music-lover and Oliver Landry, who becomes Thea's piano accompanist. The different areas of America to which Thea goes, and the different stratas of society in which she moves were wonderfully described; this is a book that's fascinating as social history as well as a vivid and exciting story. Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great writing, annoying lead 17 Jan 2013
By R. A. Davison TOP 1000 REVIEWER
I've read a few Willa Cather novels before and really enjoyed them, you don't seem to see her in popular bookshops in the UK which is a shame. I've had The Song Of The Lark for a year now, and somehow felt in "the mood" for it as I read its first few pages.

Like the other novels of hers I have read, The Song Of The Lark focuses on recent European immigrants to America, in this instance it's a Swedish family The Kronberg's and specifically their daughter Thea, one of seven.
The daughter of a Methodist preacher, Thea is singled out early on as a "person of talent" and encouraged musically. The reader follows her story from young girl to grown woman and her trials and tribulations along the way.

Wherever she is wherever she goes Thea seems to find people who adore her, from young doctor Howard Archie, to railway man Ray Kennedy as a child and onwards constantly throughout her life, she is described as somehow bewitching, possessing a kind of aura.

I wasn't feeling it. Thea was to my mind often quite miserable, angry, spiteful, or snobbish, with very little of any good to say about other women in particular, and specifically rivals. I found her a bit of a bitch to be honest, and a whiner.
Despite this, I really loved the storytelling of the book, the writing, the form, how it was constructed. Normally, I dislike it when novels leap great chunks of time, but it worked very well in this case. There are still unread Cather works out there for me, and hopefully, I will get to them as I work my way through the books I possess!!
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3.0 out of 5 stars Bookclub Monthly Read 16 May 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I found it easier to read although some pieces I did not understand. I liked the characters of Dr Archie and Fred, but Thea became too time consuming!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  61 reviews
88 of 88 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant American book 27 Dec 2003
By Patricia A. Powell - Published on
This is the first novel that I have read by Willa Cather, and so I began my reading with no specific expectations. What I found was an extraordinary American writer. Her descriptions, and her ability to sum up the lifetime of a character in just a few sentences or lines are unlike the writings of anyone else I have read. She reminds me most of Henry James, although she is easier to read..
Thea, the subject of this early Willa Cather novel is flawed, and not really a heroine at all. She is an artist; her art is music. Her family and neighbors in Moonstone Colorado barely recognize what this means; most just find her odd. Thea is a loner. She has no friends her own age. Her siblings do not like her. But, she is the subject of attention from the town doctor, a railroad worker, a drunkard piano teacher, and Mexican laborers. All recognize something special in her; all contribute to her early struggle to find her art, and herself.
It is a railroad accident that changes her life. When her friend, Ray Kennedy, dies in a railroad accident, he leaves Thea a $600 inheritance. These funds take her to Chicago to study piano. There she struggles in poverty, and is discouraged, but she also gets her first glimpse of who she is as an artist.
This is a timeless story about struggle. What does it take to be an artist? What does the artistic commitment mean? Thea does not visit her mother before her death because she had a special opportunity to sing a Wagnerian part in Germany. Her response seems selfish, and uncaring. Her sweetheart turns out to be unavailable, he is unhappily married. Thea has little personal life; people are somewhat incidental to her. Her life models that of a true artist. The normal relations that most people need to thrive, are peripheral to her life as an artist. It is that devotion to the art of singing that fills her life.
At the time of this writing, Song of the Lark is number 40,604 on's best selling list. As a brilliant American writer, Cather seems to have been somewhat but not completely overlooked. Perhaps this is because she was a contemporary of Hemingway, and Fitzgerald, both of whom were such public figures. Many of their works were transferred to the silver screen. Perhaps it is due to her gender. Regardless of the reason for this, she is an author worth discovering, and worth reading. I highly recommend the Song of the Lark.
68 of 71 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A portrait of the diva as a young woman 10 Mar 2005
By D. Cloyce Smith - Published on
Behind "The Song of the Lark" is a true story, which James Woodress presents in his fine biography of Willa Cather. In 1913, working on a piece for McClure's magazine, Cather interviewed the opera star Olive Fremstad, who had been born in Sweden and raised in Minnesota. By coincidence, the night of their first meeting, Cather went to see a production at the Met; right before the performance was to begin, the director learned that the lead singer had fallen into a dead faint. With only minutes to prepare for the role, Fremstad agreed to fill in, and Cather was amazed that the tired, faded, unapproachable star she interviewed earlier in the day had somehow transformed herself into "a vision of dazzling youth and beauty."

From this kernel grew the story of Thea Kronborg, the heroine of "The Song of the Lark," which is Cather's portrait of the diva as a young woman. The first part, "Friends of Childhood," is standard bildungsroman fare: a young farm girl from a large family in Moonstone, Colorado, grows up and moves to the big city--in this case, Chicago--to pursue her dreams. The early sections of the book are pure Cather: a strong-headed yet friendly young girl surrounded by a colorful cast of multi-ethnic characters, from the anonymous tramp who drowns himself in the water tank to her alcohol-fueled German music teacher to the lively free-spirits living in the Mexican section of town. Nearly a novel unto itself, this opening section sketches the entire town of Moonstone with a multiplicity of tragicomic details

When Thea moves to Chicago, however, both her character and the book's tone changes. Initially her studies go well, but she finds her artistic growth chained by the expectations of the folks back home. Her awakening occurs when she travels to the American Southwest and stays near the ancient dwellings of the cave-dwellers; her removal from the influence of her Moonstone family and the stress of her Chicago education results in her emotional breakthrough. Thea realizes she will find success only after she has stripped away the vestiges of her countrified upbringing and forfeited her life, her friends, even her self to her art. Thea offers explains this sacrifice in terms similar to what the real-life Olive Fremstad told Cather: "It takes you up, and uses you, and spins you out; and that is your life. Not much else can happen to you."

"The Song of the Lark" melds two seemingly disparate literary traditions: the Western realism of the book's first half recalls Sinclair Lewis and the drawing-room sophistication of the later sections evokes Edith Wharton. (I was surprised by how much the first two sections reminded me of Dreiser's "Sister Carrie."). The disparity was intentional: Cather's premise is that the artist must completely transform herself if she expects to shake the dust off her childhood moccasins and step into the heels of an artiste. Similarly, that very transformation (and the length required to present it) is what makes Cather's novel so difficult for many readers: in order to become a star, Thea turns into a self-centered prima donna, a character who may be admirable but who is not always very likeable.

Incidentally, there are two very different versions of "Song of the Lark" available. Most editions reprint the 1915 text, since it is in the public domain. This earlier version is far more detailed and, some have argued, overwritten; her British publisher complained that she "told everything about everyone." For the 1932 Autograph Edition, Cather revised the book substantially, cutting it by seven thousand words and streamlining the overall text. Descriptive passages were pared; Thea's and Fred Ottenburg's roles were altered; and style, opinion, and matters of taste were polished and modernized. This version is still under copyright restriction, and I believe it is available only in the Mariner Books (Houghton Mifflin) edition. The original version is regarded by many readers and scholars as better (and certainly truer to Cather's original intent); this is the book that Mencken praised for its "sharp bits of observation, sly touches of humor, [and] gestures of that gentle pity which is the fruit of understanding."
39 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The emergence of an American artist--Cather style. 13 Aug 1998
By - Published on
For some reason, this is a Cather novel that sometimes goes unnoticed, given the popularity of OH PIONEERS! and MY ANTONIA. But don't overlook it. It's a thinly veiled autobiography of the emergence of a female artist in America at the turn of the Century. Cather had met a famous Wagnerian opera singer, who inspired the character of Thea Kronborg....but this is really Cather's own tale. The story of a young girl, growing up at the edge of the known world, in this case, Moonstone, Colorado, doubling for Cather's own Nebraska home town. It's about the influences on her life, her mother, the men who surround and protect her--sensing that she has a special gift that needs nurturance. And, ultimately, it's about that emergence--as the character goes from being a sturdy Swedish immigrant child to "The Great Kronborg," a Wagnerian opera Diva on the stages of Europe. The novel contains many memorable characters--and a transformation scene in Arizona that is among the most important in Cather's work. It's also deeply moving. For anyone who loves American literature, it should not be missed.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When I Fell in Love with Willa... 13 July 2001
By B. Morse - Published on
Rarely, if ever, do books captivate me on such a level as this one, and even more rarely do I find such a strong connection between a fictional character and myself. That is what I discovered in the pages of Song of the Lark.
In preparing to post this review, I saw the title of another, which I believe read Hideously Dull and Boring, or something to that effect. This story, my first Willa Cather, was nothing of the sort.
Within the pages of this book a reader finds passion, love, art, beauty, despair, tragedy, disgust, longing, and triumph. Not bad for 9.95 in this day and age.
Thea Kronborg, the heroine of the story, is from very earliest meeting somewhat different from the rest of her family, and the other citizens of Moonstone, Colorado. She is one of several children, but is seen as 'something different, something special' by Howard Archie, the town doctor. He becomes her confidant, her friend, and patron as Thea rises from midwestern girl to Metropolitan Opera headliner.
Through her training and triumph, Thea discovers what is sorely lacking in others in her profession....passion, committment, and integrity. She bemoans the success of other singers, as merely 'crowd pleasing' rather that technically superior, or even correct. She rails at the off-pitch, lifeless tones of some of the more popular of her contemporaries, thinking them hideous and beastly, and severely lacking in talent.
Thea's life starts in a small Colorado town, where she experiences her first 'love', and her first tragedy when she loses that love. But as she grows, as a singer, and as a woman, Thea realizes, through a series of highs and lows, that her one true love is the pursuit of her passion, her singing. She sacrifices all for that passion, and never seems to regret it as she reaches her reward.
Although I admired many traits in this character, the one that stands out most to me is her disdain at others for accepting mediocrity in themselves. Thea despairs when others sell out for simple recognition, and accept it in lieu of striving for artistic integrity. As a performer, this quality in her touched me personally, from having shared stages with many performers stealing scences, upstaging, oversinging, all for personal gain, whether it befit their charater or not. Integrity is a quality sorely lacking in so many these days, that to find another being, fictional or real, so disgusted with the lack of it, was truly a treat.
Willa Cather draws from her own childhood to illustrate life in a small midwestern town accurately, and makes liberal mention of many well-known operas in Thea's rise to fame. This is a perfect gem of a novel, with a very believable story of a woman's passion realized in her art. There are no lucky breaks, no right place at the right time, Thea works for everything she gains, one of the greatest rewards of all.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sacrifice for the sake of Art 3 Aug 2005
By Piety Hill Booksellers - Published on
To read Cather is to see life stripped bare of all but the essentials, then to recognize its beauty anew, and finally learn something original and profound. This is certainly the case with Song of the Lark.

I won't detail the novel in full. Instead I'll try to offer a few pithy observations.

SOTL is epic in scope. The first "act" taking place in Moonstone is so well developed it is a complete story unto itself. As a result, I am glad I read the book tabula rasa. This allowed me read unencumbered by expectations of plot development and to find each new turn in the novel a surprise.

This novel speaks to anyone who has ever wondered if they must reject their home and leave a life behind in order to achieve greatness. This theme is echoed often in modern literature. The Fountainhead by Rand may seem like a strange comparison but in fact, the concept of giving everything to art is fundamental to both author's works, however divergent their style and tone may be.

Regarding the style, I don't seem to recall as much noteworthy prose as Cather's other novels. That said there certainly is much to admire here. I vividly recall the final pages (spoiler ahead) with Thea's theater exit and a friend left among the waiting throng of admirer's. This scene combined with the narration, evokes the loneliness and separation Thea's pursuit of art has created.

I am surprised to find this novel among my favorite Cather books. After reading My Antonia, this novel provides greater diversion from the homogenous world of the prairie. As wonderful as the aforementioned novel is, it's nice to see Cather explore other places with her eye towards the simple, unrefined beauty that is found everywhere.
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