The Song Of The Lark is the story of how a small town girl becomes a famous opera singer by staying true to her instincts and artistic vision. Thea Kronberg is a difficult person to like: her talent and sensitivity mark her as a tall poppy to her detractors, but also attract the interest of those who can, and do, help her along on her path to education and success. It’s an interesting novel in that most protagonists celebrated in this way are men. Despite my own dislike of Thea’s personality (supposedly, she’s the kind of woman who gets along better with men than with other women, which made me roll my eyes each of the several times it was mentioned,) I enjoyed the fact that she was not punished merely for being female. Which isn’t to say that she doesn’t suffer the indignities flung at women from time immemorial: just that she was allowed to be evaluated on her talent and personality as opposed to her gender. I’m honestly not used to that from books of the period or earlier, so it was refreshing.
I was also impressed with Willa Cather’s ability to dissect what it means and how it feels to possess a restless talent. Her depiction of Thea’s drive and self-doubt but ultimate determination was encapsulated perfectly in Thea’s speech here to a benefactor/lover, as they are on the brink of a new chapter in their lives, “The past closes up behind one, somehow. One would rather have a new kind of misery. The old kind seems like death or unconsciousness. You can’t force your life back into that mould again.” Speaking of lovers, tho, I thought it odd how Thea kept attracting married men, and why this was never discussed in terms of her personality.
That aside, I enjoyed Ms Cather’s incisiveness and overall generosity in depicting the majority of the supporting characters. Maybe it’s just Asian Daughter Guilt, but I was comforted when Thea’s mother says to Dr Archie, “The children you don’t especially need, you have always with you, like the poor. But the bright ones get away from you. They have their own way to make in the world. Seems like the brighter they are, the farther they go.” Of course, this doesn’t apply to all children in all families, but it was nice to have this thought to counterbalance the fear of a lack of familial piety, particularly in the service of an ambition, even one so commonplace as personal happiness.
Anyway, not a book I would recommend to just anyone, as it’s a long, not entirely simple read. But definitely the kind of book to give to someone with a talent who might be afraid of pursuing it. Probably a good book for opera lovers, as well. Oh! And I found this fascinating article on the woman who inspired the book, and her relationship with Ms Cather, which was a great supplement to the novel.