‘On the Gull’s Road’ by Willa Cather

I think the best thing about the spark decision I made, when asked over the phone by someone at the University of Essex during clearing in the summer of 1998 ‘Would you like to do English and European Literature or English and United States Literature?’, to answer ‘United States’, was Willa Cather. The fact I made that decision because Plath and Poe and Sweet Valley High and Jackie Collins jumped into my head when I was asked the question, is by-the-by.

I’m not sure I’d have discovered Willa Cather so soon (or ever?) if I hadn’t. My Ántonia is one of my favourite books, and I love it wildly and loyally, and this story is its worthy companion in my heart.  She writes with spaces and rhythm and, somehow, a soaring plainness, if there can be such a thing. Vast and clear without every being fussy, but also, detail of the like you can’t imagine not having known before you read it. She also is a champion when it comes to unrequited love.

Though when we are young we seldom think much about it, there is now and again a golden day when we feel a sudden, arrogant pride in our youth; in the lightness of our feet and the strength of our arms, in the warm fluid that courses so surely within us; when we are conscious of something powerful and mercurial in our breasts, which comes up wave after wave and leaves us irresponsible and free.
 I just, absolutely and unapologetically to my bones, love stuff like that.
First published in McClure’s in December 1908. You can read it here

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