A Lost Lady by Willa Cather
In the introduction to my copy A.S. Byatt writes, Neither judgment of fine moral points not analysis of motivation enter into this portrait: it is done with gestures, clothes, an idiosyncratic laugh, the co-existence of a liking for too much sherry, kindness to boys, vulnerability to unpleasant men, a capacity to exact and hold affection from good men.
Mrs Forrester is lost for many reasons but she is also, undoubtably, a survivor.
It was what he most held against Mrs Forrester: that she was not willing to immolate herself, like a widow of all these great men, and die with the pioneer period to which she belonged; that she preferred life on any terms. In the end, Niel went away without bidding her goodbye. He went away with weary contempt for her in his heart.
And this short novel reminding me, as it did of other short novels – Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Erskine Caldwell’s Gretta – delivers a portrait of an individual in such a way that you feel as though the author has taken a knife and cut through flesh to reveal the soul of the subject.
In the end the novels of Fitzgerald and Caldwell are both superior to Willa Cather’s, because she allows the insidious drip of sentimentality to stain her pages. This is a great pity, but certainly not enough for any intelligent reader to miss the experience of Mrs Forrester. She’ll be with you for a long time after you’ve finished reading the book.