Willa Cather has been described as “one of the most important American authors of the first half of the twentieth century” and this praise is well deserved as she is responsible for such pieces of enduring literature as My Ántonia (1918), O Pioneers! (1913), and The Song of the Lark (1915), which make up her Prairie Trilogy. These works are known for their mixture of compelling, fully realized characters paired with rural settings inspired by her own upbringing in Nebraska. Another shining example of rich characters melding well with a lived-in rural setting is her short story “Neighbour Rosicky”. In the span of twenty pages, Cather manages to create a literary experience that lingered in my mind years after I read it.
The story centers around a sixty-five-year-old farmer named Anton Rosicky who gets news from his physician, Dr. Burleigh, that he has a weak heart and must refrain from demanding work around the farm. From this point on Cather envelopes the reader in the warmth of Anton, his wife Mary, their teenage boys, and their small farm. The characters seem real and as Anton has Burleigh over for breakfast so too does the reader get to spend time with these kindhearted, charming people. The bonds between each character and their surroundings are the shining star of the narrative, whether it is Anton reflecting on how he became a Nebraskan farmer, Burleigh worrying about Anton’s family or Anton’s connection to his city-born daughter in law Polly, Cather creates a three-dimensional world that the reader is all but helpless to be entranced by. While the inevitable is set up early in the story, the conclusion is equal parts gut-punching and heartwarming. “Neighbour Rosicky” is available free to read online you wish to check it out, though I suggest having a tissue box handy while doing so.
“About Willa Cather”. The Willa Cather Foundation,
https://www.willacather.org/about-willa-cather . Accessed Jan. 24 2022
Cather, Willa. “Neighbour Rosicky”, Full Reads,
http://fullreads.com/literature/neighbour-rosicky/ Accessed Jan. 24 2022