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Jeruba's avatar

What makes My Antonia a novel for the 100-greatest lists?

Asked by Jeruba (53091points) October 30th, 2010

Call me a Philistine if you will, but I fail to see what qualifies this 1918 novel by Willa Cather to appear on list after list of the 100 greatest novels.

I’ve just finished reading it, nearly 50 years after I was first told to (that old aversion to taking orders runs pretty deep), and I must admit that I’m scratching my head.

Is it because it is a vivid portrayal of assorted characters in a certain time and place? because there simply weren’t other depictions of prairie life when the American West was young? because she garnered admiration at a time when fiction by women was still something of a novelty, and once Cather was on the lists everybody just kept naming her whether they’d read the book or not?

Sure, it has some wonderful passages. But a masterpiece? There is practically no plot. There is exhaustive detail on various subjects that have nothing to do with the central storylines, which are essentially a chronological narrative of two intersecting lives without conflict and with almost no drama. There isn’t even a wrap back to the introductory frame of two people recalling Antonia, one of whom sits down and pens this portrait of her and of his own boyhood, and the other of whom—the first-person narrator who sets the whole thing up!—is not named and is never heard from again.

Tell me, please, you who have read it: do you honestly feel that you’ve never read anything that’s qualified to unseat this work from its place near the apex of the literary pinnacle?

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4 Answers

lillycoyote's avatar

I read it in 8th or 9th grade. I remember liking it more than and less than some of the other things I to read for school but that’s about it. Sorry. It’s been a long time.

DominicX's avatar

I read it in 9th grade and thought it was boring as all get out and so did most of my friends. And I wasn’t one of those typical teenagers who thinks “reading is gay”. I loved many of the books we read for school, but this one did nothing for me.

JilltheTooth's avatar

I agree with you, here ,@Jeruba , I find it pleasant to read, well written, etc. etc, but certainly not worthy of that list. (For the record, I also think Moby Dick should be taken off the list… just sayin’.)

lillycoyote's avatar

@Jeruba I’ve been looking around and if it’s any consolation My Antonia is not on all the top 100 greatest American novels lists. It isn’t on the Modern Library’s Top 100 List list, though it is on the “readers” top 100 that they post along side the board’s list in comparison and it’s not on Time Magazine’s Top 100 list.

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