Admirers of Cather’s prose appreciate her gift for fusing realism and imagery to convey keen observations of the natural world and create powerful symbols. Of all of the vivid images in Lucy Gayheart, I want to draw your attention to one, as though to say, Hey look, check it out, before it flits away and is gone. Follow my cinematographic lens, starting as it does at tree line near the shore of the Platte River, covered with ice and a dusting of snow. Climb above the trees, steadily, and climb higher still above the Platte, and see, down below, six skaters pumping their legs into the wind. A brief aerial turn and now descend toward the two who lead the pack, a young man and a young woman, late teens, surrounded by a cold, gray expanse. Zero in on the young woman. Lucy wears a “brown squirrel jacket and fur cap…, and two ends of a long crimson scarf [are] floating behind her, like two slender crimson wings.” Here the animal imagery of a squirrel pelt and fur cap is a really nice touch, suggesting that Lucy is part and parcel of nature, and the slender red wings hint at longing, passion, imagination, and the desire to be elsewhere. It’s a fine image, and because migrations are dangerous affairs, who doesn’t want to follow Lucy closely and learn how she fares?
Postscript. Really, I’m just shoehorning this in because I like the sound of it, “On she came, past hedges and lilac bushes and woolly-green grape arbours and rows of jonquils, and one knew she was delighted with everything…, with the air and the sun and the blossoming world.”