Anthology: The Collected Stories of Willa Cather
Story: Neighbour Rosicky
I confess that I re-shuffled when the first card I pulled this week was a club – I wanted to read something out of the Willa Cather anthology, which was the only one that hadn’t yet come up for me. I won’t do it again, now that I’ve managed to read something out of each suit.
Reading this reminded me of why I love Willa Cather, and why I’ve made it a personal goal to read everything she ever published. No one writes the prairie immigrant experience like Cather. This story is told in third person, and focuses on Rosicky, a late-middle aged Czech immigrant who owns a farm somewhere in Nebraska. Rosicky is married to Mary, and they have five sons – he is contented, and even a little bit awestruck, by how his life has turned out. He owns his farms outright, is married to a fine woman he both loves and respects, and has five strapping, kindhearted and hard working boys, even if he doesn’t have much cash in the bank.
They were comfortable, they were out of debt, but they didn’t get much ahead. Maybe, Doctor Burleigh reflected, people as generous and warm-hearted and affectionate as the Rosickys never got ahead much; maybe you couldn’t enjoy your life and put it into the bank, too.
For a man who began his life extremely impoverished, nearly starving on the streets of London, he feels a great deal of gratitude for how it all worked out.
While he sewed, he let his mind run back over his life. He had a great deal to remember, really; life in three counries. The only part of his youth he didn’t like to remember was the two years he had spent in London, in Cheapside, working for a German tailor who was wretchedly poor. Those days, when he was nearly always hungry, when his clothes were dropping off him for dirt, and the sound of a strange language kept him in continual bewilderment, had left a sore spot in his mind that wouldn’t bear touching.
I was born in Nebraska, and have a soft spot for the prairie. So did Cather – she loved the wide open skies and the endless horizons of that part of the country, and, as well, shows a deep and abiding respect for the hardscrabble, warmhearted people who lived there. She doesn’t romanticize the hard work and austerity of their lives, but she also acknowledges that there was love, generosity and happiness there, too.
If Neighbour Rosicky is an example of what I have to look forward to in this collection, I am really looking forward to continue to read Cather’s short fiction.