2022: Book 13 – My Mortal Enemy by Willa Cather

My Mortal EnemyMy Mortal Enemy
by Willa Cather
Rating: ★★½
Publication Date: January 1, 1926
Genre: classic, fiction
Pages: 112
ReRead?: No
Project: a century of women, back to the classics, classics club round 2

"Sometimes, when I have watched the bright beginning of a love story, when I have seen a common feeling exalted into beauty by imagination, generosity, and the flaming courage of youth, I have heard again that strange complaint breathed by a dying woman into the stillness of night, like a confession of the soul: 'Why must I die like this, alone with my mortal enemy.'"

Willa Cather's protagonist in My Mortal Enemy is Myra Henshawe, who as a young woman gave up a fortune to marry for love—a boldly romantic gesture that became a legend in her family. But this worldly, sarcastic, and perhaps even wicked woman may have been made for something greater than love.

In her portrait of Myra and in her exquisitely nuanced depiction of her marriage, Cather shows the evolution of a human spirit as it comes to bridle against the constraints of ordinary happiness and seek an otherworldly fulfillment. My Mortal Enemy is a work whose drama and intensely moral imagination make it unforgettable.

This book fills 1926 for my Century of Women project, and also qualifies for my Classics Club, Round 2. It’s one of my very last remaining books by Willa Cather – the only novel I have remaining to read is Shadows on the Rock and I also have her Collected Short Stories on my bookshelf. I may try to finish Cather this year, but the idea of a future with no new Cathers to read is bleak, indeed.

This book is very short – really a novella, at about 112 pages. It is not Cather’s best, but it’s still something to admire, nonetheless. It’s the story of Myra Henshawe, who famously thumbed her nose at her wealthy guardian and married for love against his wishes. She was a wild creature in her youth.

The book is told from the perspective of a young niece who visits Myra in New York City, where she lives in a rather bohemian life, when Myra and Oswald are in their thirties. She reconnects with them in San Francisco, where they have descended into genteel poverty. All long marriages are complicated, and the marriage between Myra and Oswald is no different.

It’s not a particularly likeable book because Myra is a difficult woman. It’s a lesser Cather, and recommended for completists, but would definitely not be a good entry point into her work.


  1. I’m new to Cather, having read little of her work; nevertheless I really enjoyed this when I read it about two years ago. I’ve been meaning for some time now to focus on Cather, at least for a novel or two but — so many books, etc.
    Isn’t it awful, when you’re running out of books by a favorite author? Luckily I have many more Edith Whartons to go!

    1. Edith Wharton is another author I love! I have read most of her “major” works, except for Ethan Frome, which I generally plan to read this year.

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