Aug 28, 11
Read in August, 2011
This is a hard book to review. I felt like there were two parts - the first half and the second half and that each part suggested different ideas and themes. The first half, which I liked so much more, was about a curious and intelligent girl growing up honest and interested. She had flare and she seemed to care a great deal about people, the real person and not their circumstance. She was talented, yes, very much so, but she worked hard practicing four hours a day and she cared about her influence and impact on the small part of the world she knew. Ray's story touched me and I wonder at Thea's happiness had she remained in Moonstone with those people who were genuine and cared about her. The author suggest Thea could not be happy had she not developed her talents as she eventually did but it was the memories of her youth that kept her sane. I suppose you don't appreciate what you have until you've lived something else. Thea had to become great in order to love and appreciate what made her so.
The second part of the book held Thea in a much different light and one much less becoming. She was hard, self-contained, proud and conciented, admittedly so, and she viewed her friends as followers, almost. Although she loved Dr. Archie (and wasn't he a great and noble character?)she didn't treat him equaly but almost as if he owed her something for her having so much talent. Fred was like her in many ways and their love entanglements seemed to deserve each other. She kept her passion and flare but she could not appreciate other people who were not great artists and apparently there were none others like her. She was never satisfied. She never knew if she was in love. She never developed lasting friendships outside of Moonstone and Fred. Her passion rested on her voice alone. The back of the book says of this young heroine, "I want only the impossibly things. The others don't interest me." And that is exactly how she lived and because of it she became great but not happy.
This book suggests that great artists are born not made. Or rather born, and then made. Can one become great on hard work and inginuity alone? Also, Cather continually referred to the non artists or poor artists as "stupid people" and this being her most autobiographical novel make me wonder what kind of person Cather was. Was she so proud and dislikable as Thea became? I wonder at her life story and her own sacrifices.
I loved the character of Thea's mother and I cannot imagine any amount of fame or fortune being great enough to keep one away from her dying mother. So sad. I appreciated the closing pages as Thea describes the scene of a poor German couple watching and appreciating a grand opera together all the while being so much in love and seeming so happy. The epilogue told that Thea, one day, did indeed have a husband. Are we to assume it was Fred? I daren't say but it does suggest that Thea changed her mind on what she wanted out of life. Fred said he wanted a son. He said he regretted spending all those years on Thea. Both these characters who demonstrated fame and glory in two very different ways, took the long road to finding what it was that they really wanted. Ironically, Dr. Archie's story is opposite. He became free on the death of his wife and the rise of his fortune.
Willa Cather's writing is beautiful. I love her venacular. I love the idea that art can cause one to feel the exhilaration of getting free from personalities, of being released from one's own past. I appreciate the title and where it emerged from - the painting - allowing Thea to relish in the abilities on another kind of artist. The book suggests you cannot be a great artist without great sacrifices and I, for one, am grateful for such great artists.