Sunday, April 13, 2008

My Antonia (1918)

Willa Cather
My Antonia (1918)


I sat down in the middle of the garden, where snakes could scarcely approach unseen, and leaned my back against a warm yellow pumpkin. There were some ground-cherry bushes growing along the furrows, full of fruit. I turned back the papery triangular sheaths that protected the berries and ate a few. All about me giant grasshoppers, twice as big as any I had ever seen, were doing acrobatic feats among the dried vines. The gophers scurried up and down the ploughed ground. There in the sheltered draw-bottom the wind did not blow very hard, but I could hear it singing its humming tune up on the level, and I could see the tall grasses wave. The earth was warm under me, and warm as I crumbled it through my fingers. Queer little red bugs came out and moved in slow squadrons around me. Their backs were polished vermilion, with black spots. I kept as still as I could. Nothing happened. I did not expect anything to happen. I was something that lay under the sun and felt it, like the pumpkins, and I did not want to be anything more. I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep.

– Willa Cather, My √Āntonia (1918), Bk 1, chapter II.

Online Text:

Project Gutenberg edition (full text)

Critical Responses:

"David Daiches feels that the section on the Hired Girls is structurally unsound ... He feels also that the novel should have more effectively ended, tragically, with Antonia betrayed and pregnant 'alone in the field in the gathering darkness,' rather than being redeemed with a conventional happy ending. Most of these anxieties seem to me to be to do with a misunderstanding of Miss Cather's mastery of pace." - Hermione Lee.

"I thought my Antonia deserved something better than the Saturday Evening Post sort of stuff in her book" - Willa Cather.

My Antonia (1995)
directed by Joseph Sargent
screenplay by Victoria Riskin
starring Jason Robards, Eva Marie Saint & Neil Patrick Harris

Critical Responses:
"After enjoying the book, I was looking forward to the movie - but was disappointed. The filmmakers stayed mostly faithful to the novel, though the actors could have done better jobs. This is partly because of the script, however, and though it sticks to the main events in the novel, it just barely covers them. The setting is beautiful, and I agree that the Lena-portrayal was right on track. However, in the novel, there was no romance between Antonia and Jim, as is "started" in the movie. He loved her, but she always thought of him more as a brother than a beau, according to the book." - Internet Movie Database.


Anonymous said...

Based on the Willa Cather novel My Antonia, a young boy's parents die and he is sent to live with his grandparents on the plains of Nebraska where he is enchanted by a young Bohemian girl, Antonia, who helps him adjust to his new life. The story revolves around the lifelong friendship between Antonia and young Jim Burden, her family’s struggle to survive through the rough winters, and the prejudice of town toward immigrants. Jim reluctantly leaves her to go to college and begin a career in New York while she stays to run her farm and raise her children. Yet he often returns to visit, always missing her spirit and the hold the land has over him, with the hope that she might marry him.

Beautifully executed film. The challenge of the adaptation is that the novel follows side characters that don't work in a film. Here the film captures the essence of the story, builds the tender relationship between two young people who are soul mates, and tugs at the heartstrings as we follow their bitter sweet separation when life pulls them in different directions. Wonderfully acted by Elena Lowenshon as Antonia and supported by great veterans like Jason Robards and Eva Marie Saint who play the grandparents with Neil Patrick Harris finding just the right balance in the role of Jim Burden. The film also captures the beauty of Nebraska and the richness of Cather's love of the land.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully executed adaptation. Without falling into the trap of building a false plot, we meet rich and fully realized characters who are devoted to one another. Antonia is played by Elena Lowenshon and she is magical. The film brings to the screen the magnificent landscape and the lyricism of Willa Cather's classic novel.