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Alexander's Bridge (Barnes & Noble Digital Library)

Alexander's Bridge (Barnes & Noble Digital Library)

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Alexander's Bridge (Barnes & Noble Digital Library)

3/5 (94 Bewertungen)
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Mar 13, 2012


This edition includes a modern introduction and a list of suggested further reading.

An incisive inquiry into matters of fate and fallibility, Alexander's Bridge (1912) raises questions that trouble us still. Willa Cather examines questions of autonomy and responsibility as she explores the arc and descent of Bartley Alexander, a successful bridge builder who has surmounted humble beginnings to experience fame, wealth, and finally, a preventable death in the prime of his life. As such, Alexander's story may remind readers of the stories of countless others whose outsized lives, mishaps, and deaths appear in today's newspapers and television news shows.

Mar 13, 2012

Über den Autor

Willa Cather (1873–1947) was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed American authors of the early twentieth century. Born in Virginia, she moved with her family to the frontier town of Red Cloud, Nebraska, at the age of nine, an experience that profoundly affected her literary career. Her Prairie Trilogy­­­—O Pioneers!, The Song of the Lark, and My Ántonia—is considered one of the finest achievements in American letters, and in 1922 she won the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours, her novel on World War I.

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Alexander's Bridge (Barnes & Noble Digital Library) - Willa Cather




Introduction and Suggested Reading © 2005 by Barnes & Noble, Inc.

This 2012 edition published by Barnes & Noble, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission from the publisher.

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ISBN: 978-1-4114-6598-5


ALEXANDER’S Bridge (1912) is Willa Cather’s first published novel, although it is not the first novel she wrote. An incisive inquiry into matters of fate and fallibility, Alexander’s Bridge, like Edith Wharton’s classic Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The House of Mirth (1905), raises questions that trouble us still. Among these questions are matters of human responsibility, individual autonomy, and whether we make our own luck or are subject to the vagaries of an indifferent universe. Cather examines these questions and others as she explores the arc and descent of Bartley Alexander, a successful bridge builder who has surmounted humble beginnings to experience fame, wealth, and finally, a thoroughly preventable death in the prime of his life and career. As such Alexander’s story may remind readers of the stories of countless others whose outsized lives, mishaps, and deaths appear in today’s newspapers and television news shows.

Renowned for such novels as O Pioneers! (1913) and My Ántonia (1918), Willa Cather (1873-1947) is often thought to be exclusively a chronicler of the early days of Nebraska’s settlement. Born in Winchester County, Virginia, and at age nine relocated to the town of Red Cloud, on the plains of Nebraska, Cather graduated from a rigorous academic program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and moved to Pittsburgh in 1896. In Pittsburgh, Cather worked in journalism and, by age twenty-two, was made managing editor of Home Monthly magazine. Cather then worked for McClure’s, publishing her own early prose and poetry in other magazines, until the celebrated and influential author Sarah Orne Jewett counseled her to leave her job and devote herself to writing, as well as to turn her attention to the Nebraska and Virginia of her childhood. This advice to concern one’s self with the terrain and populations of one’s earliest environs is not unlike that which Edith Wharton had earlier received from Henry James, who wanted his young friend to turn her back on European themes and locales in order to plumb New York and its society in her work. Taking Jewett’s advice made a decisive difference in Cather’s career, as taking James’ had made in Wharton’s; Willa Cather became one of the preeminent authors of her generation, and by 1923 she had won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction with the World War I novel One of Ours.

When she died in 1947 Cather was still considered one of the greatest authors of her generation, although she had been the target of disdain by some vocal critics in the 1930s. Such critics decried what they considered to be Cather’s lack of political engagement; however, one might argue that these critics simply misread her work, which is always concerned with such matters as the despoiling of the environment, the pervasiveness of the profit motive in human interactions, the plight of immigrants, and the manner in which many of America’s poorest and weakest inhabitants are, sometimes literally, ground up in the wheels of commerce and progress. Thus, despite the formal elegance and lucidity of her work, which in no way resembles the cruder muckraking work of some of her more clearly activist colleagues, Cather can readily be considered a politically engaged author. She questions, with love and fierce intellect, some of the most unexamined but cherished notions of the United States of America, such as the idea that deserving people, like cream, always rise to the top. Cather’s concern with this issue can be seen in Alexander’s Bridge, in which the qualities that help Alexander rise, namely charisma, energy, and ambition, become the same man’s weaknesses once he has lost his moral and ethical bearings.

Despite suffering critical slings and arrows, Cather produced provocative work throughout her career; indeed, her final work, Sapphira and the Slave Girl (1940), a novel about slavery, evil, and complicity in evil, elicits passionate response over half a century after its publication, most notably in Nobel laureate Toni Morrison’s volume of criticism Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination (1992). In contrast, Alexander’s Bridge, Cather’s first foray into the genre that brought her fame, is somewhat less well known, despite the high quality of Cather’s story and her precise and graceful prose style.

Alexander’s Bridge was first published in the February, March, and April 1912 issues of McClure’s under the title Alexander’s Masquerade. It received a generally enthusiastic critical reception, even from the famously acerbic columnist H. L. Mencken, who praised Cather’s descriptive gifts and noted with approval Cather’s obvious familiarity with Edith Wharton’s themes, such as responsibility and duty, and with Wharton’s lucid writing style. Mencken’s appreciation of Cather’s work was so warm and sincere that his were among the most enthusiastic reviews written of My Ántonia (1918), helping cement Cather’s already solid reputation. One review of Alexander’s Bridge favorably compared Cather’s accomplishment to that of the popular and respected author Dorothy Canfield Fisher, while another review suggested that there were many established and successful novelists who would do well to study and emulate Willa Cather’s clear style and her precise narrative control. Alexander’s Bridge was thus a remarkable critical and commercial success, particularly when one bears in mind that many authors’ first novels are judged on the authors’ potential for future growth and improvement, rather than on the actual merit of the work itself.

Interestingly, though, the style, subject matter, and cosmopolitan locale of Alexander’s Bridge are different enough from even Willa Cather’s own concept of her career that the author made repeated, ultimately successful, attempts to underplay the novel’s significance in her body of work. Ten years after its initial publication, Cather asserted in the Preface to the 1922 edition of Alexander’s Bridge that the novel did not deal with the sort of subject matter she now preferred to examine. In short, she had moved forward as an author, and she preferred that her readers would do so as well. Cather further, and repeatedly, insisted that Alexander’s Bridge was derivative, and that her subsequent works were more worthy of attention and acclaim than was Alexander’s Bridge.

Complicating matters still more, once Cather had found her voice and milieu as a chronicler of pioneer life, she worked to disassociate herself from the literary influence of novelists of manners Edith Wharton and Henry James. Alexander’s Bridge is the novel in which Wharton’s and James’ literary influence upon Cather is most in evidence, for instance in the cosmopolitan settings in which the novel takes place, in Cather’s meticulous examination of Bartley Alexander’s conscience and in his musings about his ethical dilemmas and his purpose in life, and, as scholar Sharon O’Brien notes, in Cather’s use of architectural metaphors to explore her own artistic concerns. Furthermore, like Edith Wharton’s Lily Bart, from The House of Mirth (1905), Bartley Alexander is consumed by forces outside his control; however, unlike Bart, who is beset by small-minded and cruel people who assist her to her doom, Cather’s Alexander brings many of his problems upon himself, through his sins of omission and commission. Perhaps, then, it was inevitable that Cather would repudiate both Alexander’s Bridge and James’ and Wharton’s literary influences after she decided to look to her Nebraska childhood for subject matter, although she always declared herself a grateful devotee and student of her regionalist mentor Sarah Orne Jewett. Despite Cather’s own reservations, Alexander’s Bridge remains a strong novel, and a good representative of novels in the early twentieth century. When an author dismisses and disparages her own work, it seems inevitable that other readers and critics will defer to her judgment, regardless of how incorrect this judgment may be. That Alexander’s Bridge is comparatively ignored is truly Cather’s own doing; however, it seems appropriate in this case to take the author’s words with a grain of salt and to read and evaluate the novel with an open mind.

The protagonist of Alexander’s Bridge, Bartley Alexander, is supremely talented, energetic, and visionary, and is well-rewarded for his ability and his ambitious projects. When his compensation is added to his wealthy wife’s estate, the modestly born man’s assets are staggeringly large. Nonetheless, Alexander is flawed in small but important ways. Chief among his flaws is a desire to have what he lacks, as well as an unwillingness to give up what he has in order to get what

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  • (4/5)
    I think I have read all of Cather's other fiction--Death Comes for the Archbishop on 8 Nov 1946, My Antonia on 5 Aug 1951, One of Ours on 11 May 1958, The Professor's House on 1 Sep 1970, O Pioneers! on 7 sep 1970, A Lost Lady on 13 Sep 1970, The Song of the Lark on 19 Sep 1970, My Mortal Enemy on 19 Sep 1970, Shadows on the Rock on 20 Sep 1970, Lucy Gayheart on 20 Sep 1970, and Sapphira and the Slave Girl on 21 Sep 1970,, so I thought I should read this one. It is her first publlshed novel and I did not expect too much from ii, but was surprised that it did arouse and hold my interest, with its hints of Henry James-like characterization. and its play on the conflict which an affair does, and properly so, bring to a principled person. The denouement was, I suppose, the only possible one, though I had hoped for a more innovative one. I am glad I read the book.
  • (4/5)
    Willa Cather’s first novel, published in 1912 just one year before her breakout work ‘O Pioneers!’, shows all of her promise, and is excellent in its own right. Cather is said to have been influenced by Henry James, but I think the novel reflects more of another in James’s circle, Edith Wharton, possibly because of her feminine viewpoint. At the same time, Cather at 39 years old channels the thoughts of a middle-aged man who is torn between a loving wife and an affair with an exciting woman from his past. It’s a brilliant psychological study, and she uses just the right amount of restraint while telling the story. I also liked the little touches she includes from the era about things like meals, ocean travel, and theater-going. This edition from Simon & Schuster was nice as well, as it included a number of large black and white photographs from the period, to help set the tone.Quotes:On affairs:“’I am not a man who can live two lives,’ he went on feverishly. ‘Each life spoils the other. I get nothing but misery out of either. The world is all there, just as it used to be, but I can’t get at it any more. There is this deception between me and everything.’”“It seems that a man is meant to live only one life in this world. When he tries to live a second, he develops another nature. I feel as if a second man had been grafted onto me. At first he seemed only a pleasure-loving simpleton, of whose company I was rather ashamed, and who I used to hide under my coat when I walked the Embankment, in London. But now he is strong and sullen, and he is fighting for his life at the cost of mine. That is his one activity: to grow strong. No creature ever wanted so much to live. Eventually, I suppose, he will absorb me altogether. Believe me, you will hate me then.”On beauty:“He liked everything about her, he told himself, but he particularly liked her eyes; when she looked at one directly for a moment they were like a glimpse of fine windy sky that may bring all sorts of weather.”“He leaned forward and beamed felicitations as warmly as Mainhall himself when, at the end of the play, she came again and again before the curtain, panting a little and flushed, her eyes dancing and her eager, nervous little mouth tremulous with excitement.”“She was sitting on the edge of her chair, as if she had alighted there for a moment only. Her primrose satin gown seemed like a soft sheath for her slender, supple figure, and its delicate color suited her white Irish skin and brown hair. Whatever she wore, people felt the charm of her active, girlish body with its slender hips and quick, eager shoulders.”“He was looking at her round, slender figure, as she stood by the piano, turning over a pile of music, and he felt the energy in every line of it.”On middle age:“He found himself living exactly the kind of life he had determined to escape. What, he asked himself, did he want with these genial honors and substantial comforts? Hardships and difficulties he had carried lightly; overwork had not exhausted him; but this dead calm of middle life which confronted him, - of that he was afraid. He was not ready for it. It was like being buried alive. In his youth he would not have believed such a thing possible. The one thing he had really wanted all his life was to be free; and there was still something unconquered in him, something besides the strong work-horse that his profession had made of him.”On transience:“Since then Bartley had always thought of the British Museum as the ultimate repository of mortality, where all the dead things in the world were assembled to make one’s hour of youth the more precious. One trembled lest before he got out it might somehow escape him, lest he might drop the glass from over-eagerness and see it shivered on the stone floor at his feet. How one hid his youth under his coat and hugged it! And how good it was to turn one’s back upon all that vaulted cold, to take Hilda’s arm and hurry out of the great door and down the steps into the sunlight among the pigeons – to know that the warm and vital thing within him was still there and had not been snatched away to flush Caesar’s lean cheek or to feed the veins of some bearded Assyrian king. They in their day had carried the flaming liquor, but to-day was his!”“I’m not tired at all. I was just wondering how people can ever die. Why did you remind me of the mummy? Life seems the strongest and most indestructible thing in the world. Do you really believe that all those people rushing about down there, going to good dinners and clubs and theatres, will be dead some day, and not care about anything? I don’t believe it, and I know I shan’t die, ever! You see, I feel too – too powerful!”
  • (4/5)
    In this her first published novel, Willa Cather is still relying highly on the Jamesian settings and style. But the story is an interesting one that examines the role of the artist and the artistic process, metaphorically
  • (4/5)
    Beautiful example of Cather's emerging style in her writing, this first novel was disavowed by her in later years. That's too bad, because it is a simple story told in a simple manner in simply beautiful prose.
  • (4/5)
    At the end of my first year at university, the day after the final exam, I paid my first visit to the literature shelves in the basement of the university library. There were only a few shelves, because I was at university that – at the time – had no arts faculty. Those shelves didn’t look entirely promising, but there was a small run of green Virago Modern Classics. Half a dozen books by the same author; an author I hadn’t heard of before.That was my introduction to Willa Cather.I picked up the smallest book first – ‘My Mortal Enemy’ – just to see if I liked her. I loved her, I read all of those green books, I tracked down all of the others …..That was a long time ago, and I’ve been thinking that maybe I should re-read Willa Cather’s novels is chronological order for quite some time. I must confess that I didn’t really remember ‘Alexander’s Bridge’, Willa Cather’s first novel, from 1912; but I did remember that she hadn’t written a book that she didn’t like.Now that I’ve read it again I have to sat that it isn’t her finest work. The story is a little underdeveloped, a little contrived; the writing, though lovely, is sometimes a little less than subtle. But it is a very accomplished and very readable first novel. Her understanding of character, her skill in evoking places was there; I could see so many signs of the fine novelist she would quickly become.The story is set not in the American west that she is most associated with, but in Boston, in New York, and in London. She catches those places very well, and she sets up her story beautifully.Professor Lucius Wilson arrives in Boston to visit a former pupil. His hostess, Mrs Winifred Alexander, arrives home just before him and he pauses to observe her:“Always an interested observer of women, Wilson would have slackened his pace anywhere to follow this one with his impersonal, appreciative glance. She was a person of distinction he saw at once, and, moreover, very handsome. She was tall, carried her beautiful head proudly, and moved with ease and certainty. One immediately took for granted the costly privileges and fine spaces that must lie in the background from which such a figure could emerge with this rapid gait.”Mrs. Alexander explains that her husband is working late, and she is so hospitable, so warm, so charming, that Wilson is almost disappointed when her husband arrives and she leaves the two men alone to talk.Bartley Alexander has been working on a major bridge in Canada. The bridge has the greatest span of its type, it will be an extraordinary achievement, it will place him at the pinnacle of his profession. But he is unsettled:“After all, life doesn’t offer a man much. You work like the devil and think you’re getting on, and suddenly you discover that you’ve only been getting yourself tied up. A million details drink you dry. Your life keeps going for things you don’t want, and all the while you are being built alive into a social structure you don’t care a rap about. I sometimes wonder what sort of chap I’d have been if I hadn’t been this sort; I want to go and live out his potentialities, too.”It’s understandable: Bartley feels that pressure of responsibilities, he misses the energy and vitality of his youth, and he is aware that he is ageing and that his life is finite.When he visits London he catches a glimpse of Hilda Burgoyne, an Irish actress who he had loved years earlier, and he starts to walk the streets near her home:“He started out upon these walks half guiltily, with a curious longing and expectancy which were wholly gratified by solitude. Solitude, but not solitariness; for he walked shoulder to shoulder with a shadowy companion – not little Hilda Burgoyne, by any means, but someone vastly dearer to him that she had ever been – his own young self …..” Inevitably, the two meet. They rekindle their relationship is resumed and Bartley finds himself emotionally torn between his perfect wife and his great lost love.Willa Cather draws the love triangle so well, and with such subtlety. I understood Bartley’s emotions and I appreciated that both women – one aware of the other and one not – loved him and wanted the best for him.They understand and accept the realities of life and their situation, in a way he can’t quite.That side of the story was brilliantly executed; the way that the older side of the story played out though, the story of the bridge-builder- was a little contrived and a little predictable.But the telling of the tale was lovely; the depth and detail of the characterisation, and the way that it was woven , made it a joy to read; and I am so, so pleased that I have started my second journey through Willa Cather’s novels.
  • (5/5)
    I read this book years ago and did not recognize that fact until I was 20 or so pages in. Unlike the first time, I savored every single word. Cather's writing is akin to experiencing ascending diamond tipped ocean waves as they glide to the shore on a warm and restful day; mesmerizing. The story was more interesting to me at 57 than it was many years ago, in it's humanness and her main character, Bartley Alexander. I was surprised at the compassion that her story evoked toward Bartley and in treading into a world and time that I've been charmed by only in old films. I have read reviews on this book, her first published novel, and I am relieved to not be tethered by narrow viewpoints that put every book through a series of tests and report on where it did and didn't meet the collective ideal. My review is simply experiential and based on the sheer delight in revisiting and being touched by a story well told.
  • (3/5)
    This is a perfect example of why I love being in this bookclub; I finally get to read an author who has been on my tbr list for ever! I was thrilled to sit down and read this, Cather's first book. The writing has a natural, beautiful flow and the book was easy to read. The plot is quite simple, one of a man having an affair and the tortures it brings to all concerned. It is a story of overwhelming love, the wife for the husband, the mistress for the husband, the husband for the wife and the husband for his youth. The mistress brings the husband his youth and he feels joy with her, meaning her no harm but his love is obviously not as obsessive as hers is for him. This brings him deep guilt for what he is doing to both his wife and his mistress. I have no sympathy for adulterers and in the end I feel he hurts them both by his actions. The mistress being equally at fault for her own hurt and in the end Alexander receives his divine justice whilst leaving both women a little scarred for having known him. I can't say the topic was my favourite; I'm not exactly into love triangles and I've always been interested in reading Cather because of her pioneer fiction which is a theme I am greatly interested in. However, I found the book entirely readable and the writing superb and am confident that I must get to O Pioneers! in the not too distant future.
  • (4/5)
    First published 101 years ago, Cather's first book shows her promise as a writer. It is also an intriguing story, fast-paced, and beautifully written.
  • (2/5)
    Everyone has to start somewhere. I think the most well written feature of the copy I have is the preface written by Cather in which she basically distances herself from the book. She states, "Alexander's Bridg was my fist novel, and does not deal with the kind of subject-matter in which I now find myself most at home." That feels obvious as one reads the story - characters that appear to be caricatures, characters without depth, stilted and unconvincing dialogue...the list goes on. The book is mercifully short. It is hard to imagine that the writer represented with this story eventually wrote Death Comes for the Archbishop and My Antonia. The beauty and grace of those books seems so distant from Alexander's Bridge. It is an interesting contrast to her other works - and a reasonable read for a completist, but it is a far cry from the great writing one expects when the name Willa Cather is mentioned.
  • (4/5)
    Brilliant examination of illicit love between Bartley Alexander, a civil engineer and builder of bridges, and Hilda Burgoyne, a London actress and his former lover, now renewed. Alexander is building the first suspension bridge in Canada, aware that price constraints are forcing him to flirt dangerously with inadequate construction materials and techniques. His work carries him from his home in Boston where he lives happily with his devoted and talented pianist wife, Winifred, whom he loves deeply. A visit from his favorite former teacher, Professor Wilson, hints at what is to come. He says about his one-time student: "'Yet I always used to feel that there was a weak spot where some day strain would tell. Even after you began to climb, I stood down in the crowd and watched you with — well, not with confidence. The more dazzling the front you presented, the higher your facade rose, the more I expected to see a big crack zigzagging from top to bottom,' — he indicated its course in the air with his forefinger, — 'then a crash and clouds of dust."This is exactly what happens, as by nature, Barley is unable to live a double life and unable to quit either woman he loves. His bridge “into the future” that he traverses between his wife in America and his lover in England snaps and his suspension bridge in Canada collapses while he’s standing on it, sending him to his death.Very tightly written novella in which every word counts. The sketching of character is sharp and deft and true and the descriptions of scene - especially weather and cities – are vivid and metaphoric. It’s nice to be reminded how a writer one last read in high school still commands such power over the imagination 50 years later. Cather is as good as Edith Wharton or Henry James.
  • (4/5)
    Alexander's Bridge was Willa Cather's first book, published in 1912. Alexander Bartley is a bridge builder who has acquired international fame for his ability to build the worlds most daring and advanced bridges. But he doesn't like the attention he receives and yearns for a simpler life. He is married to an intelligent woman who is an heiress and American socialite. They live in Boston and he enjoys their life together although he must be away from home often.When he runs across a former flame in London, he becomes involved with her again, agonizing over the unfairness to both women. Juggling work on a bridge in Canada that is not going well, his wife in Boston, and his lover in London, becomes more than Alexander can cope with and he begins to unravel.I like that Cather made all of the characters, including Alexander, sympathetic. Although written over 100 years ago, it could easily be written for the current time. Even in this first book the writing is beautiful. Her skills will grow and her next book, O! Pioneers, will be more nuanced. Still, this novella is well worth reading.
  • (4/5)
    Really excellent psychological novella about a successful and gifted man whose dual life demons haunt him.