Friday, 27 May 2011

Women's novels set in New York

At the florist's we found, among all the little trees and potted plants, a glistening holly-tree, full of red berries and pointed like a spire, easily the queen of its companions. Willa Cather, My Mortal Enemy, 1926

I've been re-reading Willa Cather's brilliant novella My Mortal Enemy. Set in New York it is the story of Myra Henshawe, a woman who has beauty and wealth in her youth but throws away her inheritance to marry the man she loves. She then becomes dissatisfied and envious when she cannot maintain her standard of living and by the time she is in her mid-forties she has become bitter and he is fond of the company of other women. The story is relayed by Myra's young niece who both admires and dislikes her aunt. Myra's conflict between her desire for worldly goods and her passion for art and literature and music is what makes her a sympathetic character.

I spotted Elaine Showalter's A Jury of Her Peers - American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx in the library and borrowed it to find out some information about Betty Smith. Sadly Smith merits less than a line in this account of American literature while of course there are chapters devoted to Willa Cather. Cather is a more literary writer, but it seems odd that the writer of a novel beloved by so many readers does not merit a few pages in the history of American women's writing

Thanks to your recommendations I've ordered Joy in the Morning - the Betty Smith revival starts here!

15 comments:

Bellezza said...

I've never been a huge Willa Cather fan, but I think that's because I "had" to read her too young. I couldn't appreciate her words, or wisdom, in high school. I know I should pick her up again, and the cover of this work is so gorgeous.

I'm happy you're reading Joy in The Morning. I haven't read that in decades, but I remember loving it. Absolutely. Now I want to reread it. :)

Sunday Taylor said...

I am so happy to find out about this book by Willa Cather. I loved "The Song of the Lark" by Cather which I read years ago. I will now look for "Mortal Enemy." Thanks for the recommendation!

bookssnob said...

I just bought a lovely old hardcover of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and I'm going to re-read it this weekend - thanks to your post last week which spurred me on.

I didn't realise she'd written other books - I am off to see about Joy in the Morning now!

Willa Cather is spectacular, isn't she? I didn't realise My Mortal Enemy was set in New York. I've been so caught up in her prarie novels that I haven't moved outside of them yet. I shall track this one down.

Have you read Elizabeth Hardwick's short stories? They're excellent, set in New York, and have been republished in a beautiful edition by NYRB classics.

Karen K. said...

I have My Mortal Enemy on my library book pile right now! I also have Death Comes for the Archbishop for my classics reading group next weekend. I only peeked at your synopsis because I live in mortal fear of spoilers, but I'll reread it after I've finished it. I think it's time to start it RIGHT NOW.

Jillian said...

I own Elaine Showalter's A Jury of Her Peers - American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx!! I'm going to read it front to back. :-)

potterjotter said...

Really appreciate your guidance on American literature I might like - I will look into these and add them to my ever-growing list! BTW - yes I am watching NBT - very interesting!

Anbolyn said...

I know so many people who revere Betty Smith, but, you're right, she isn't mentioned much in the histories of American lit.

AJ said...

My favorite Cather after death Comes for the Archbishop is The Professor's House. As a young woman, my favorites were My Antonia and O Pioneers but as I've gotten older, these two have the top spots.

Nice blog. A good read.

Penny said...

I seem to be having a bit of a New York fest. I'm reading, a bit at a time, 'New York' by Edward Rutherfurd; I read 'The Age of Innocence' a few months ago; I've just finished 'A Tree Grows in Brooklyn', which I adored!; I've just read Rachel (Book Snob)'s description of Central Park... I'm not a traveller, but I almost feel I've been there! This one should be next on my list, I think!

AJ said...

A lovely book to feed a New York fever -- albeit non-fiction -- is E.B. White's Here Is New York.

Kari said...

Oooh Joy in the Morning is a good one...it's a quick read so I'm anxious to see how the battle plays out for you.

bookssnob - Good to see your comments on Elizabeth Hardwick! Just checked out the NYRB version of her stories from the library and is next on the queue to read.

Mae said...

I still have to read my first Cather. I'd borrowed The Professor's House but didn't get around to reading it. She sounds like a writer I would love.

Who is Betty Smith?

Vintage Reading said...

Bellezza, I came to Cather late in life and probably wouldn't have appreciated her at school either. I'm still waiting for JitM to arrive - can't wait to read it!

Sunday Taylor, yes, I loved The Song of the Lark, too. I think my favourite Cather is The Professor's House.

booksnob, look forward to your Betty Smith posts. I'm still a little behind with Cather - there's a couple of novels I've still not read and none of the short stories. Checking out Elizabeth Hardwick, right now!

Karen K, hope you enjoy My Mortal Enemy. I've even stopped reading blurbs and introductions to books because they always give too much away!

Jillian, I'ved dipped into it and quite liked what I've read. I must admit that I rarely read critical works cover to cover these days - reminds me too much of school!

potterjotter - I can see your work in Liberty's!

Anbolyn, I think we need an American version of Persephone Books to resurrect forgotten American writers!

A J, thanks for dropping by. I love The Professor's House and I have a soft spot for Lucy Gayheart, too. Always good to 'meet' Cather fans!

Penny, I knew you'd love A Tree Grows in Brooklyn! I need to re-read The Age of Innocence, too, thanks for the reminder.

Kari, thanks for dropping, by. So many bloggers have read Joy in the Morning, I'm waaaaay behind!

Hi Mae, The Professor's House is a masterpiece you must read it. Betty Smith is the writer of American cult classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Anonymous said...

This is Beth from Minnesota.

I recommend that you read "Marjorie Morningstar" by Herman Wouk, if you are looking for a story about a girl growing up in NYC.

Vintage Reading said...

Beth, hi. I'm intrigued by that title. I will be checking it out and thank your for recommending it.