Thursday, March 6, 2014

A recommendation

I think some of you are still reading Lord of the World, but I have a recommendation if anyone is looking for something new to read: anything by Willa Cather.  I've been reading The Professor's House and loving it. Not a page turner, but easy to get lost in. Every time I read Willa Cather's books, I set them down feeling sort of wrung out because they contain so much. Her main characters usually have a great appreciation for beauty and nobility and a longing for higher things, even if it isn't something explicitly Catholic.  Here is a passage quoting one of the aging professor's lectures, in response to a student who extolled the achievements of science:
"[Science] has given us a lot of ingenious toys; they take our attention away from the real problems, of course, and since the problems are insoluble, I suppose we ought to be grateful for distraction. but the fact is, the human mind, the individual mind, has always been made more interesting by dwelling on the old riddles, even if it makes nothing of them. Sciences hasn't given us any new amazements, except of the superficial kind we get from witnessing dexterity and sleight-of-hand. It hasn't given us any richer pleasures, as the Renaissance did, nor any new sins -- not one! Indeed, it takes our old ones away. It's the laboratory, not the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world. you'll agree there is not much thrill about a physiological sin. We were better off when even the prosaic matter of taking nourishment could have the magnificence of a sin. I don't think you help people by making their conduct of no importance -- you impoverish them. As long as every man and woman who crowded into the cathedrals on Easter Sunday was a principal in a gorgeous drama with God, glittering angels on one side and the shadows of evil coming and going on the other, life was a rich thing. The king and the beggar had the same chance at miracles and great temptations and revelations. And that's what makes men happy, believing in teh mystery and importance of their own little individual lives. It makes us happy to surround our creature needs and bodily instincts with as much pomp and circumstance as possible. Art and religion (they are the same thing, in the end, of course) have given man the only happiness he has ever had."
Not theologically sound, but an interesting argument. Later, the professor is lectured by his wife's dressmaker about how it was Mary who composed the Magnificat, an idea and an encounter which makes him cheerful as he climbs up to his old study.

I'm only about halfway through the book, which I read in my late teens, and I don't remember the ending. But I don't think I'll be disappointed.  I'm not sure what Cather's relationship to the Church was, but Death Comes for the Archbishop is one of the best priest books ever, and My Antonia is a masterpiece. I enjoyed rereading One of Ours last year, and want to reread or discover more of Cather's books - maybe O Pioneers next, a reread, or Shadows on the Rock, which I never read and which is not one of her more popular books, but is supposedly more philosophical. I think it has more Catholic themes.

I was so enamored of reading The Professor's House last night that I went to bed thinking "Willa Jane" is kind of a nice name - if only it didn't sound so much like the naughty little neighbor of Ramona Quimby's, Willa Jean.