National Endowment for the Arts - The Big Read
My Ántonia

My Ántonia

by Willa Cather

An artist should have no moral purpose in mind other than just his art.


Willa Cather as managing editor of McClure's, 1908 (University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Archives & Special Collections)

Willa Cather's Bookshelf: Literary Influences on My Ántonia

Virgil's Georgics, 29 BC
Cather knew Greek, Roman, and Germanic-Norse mythology so well that a classical allusion was always on the tip of her pen. Virgil's Georgics extols the virtues of farm life and is the source of My Ántonia's epigraph.

John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, 1678
Cather's grandmother taught Cather to read with this book. Raised a Baptist and confirmed as an adult in the Episcopal Church, Cather's fiction often alludes to the Bible and Bunyan's description of Christian's journey to the Celestial City.

Alexander Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo, 1844
Cather believed that "romance is the highest form of fiction," and The Count of Monte Cristo was a favorite. She praised French romances for their brilliance of action and demonstrations of heroic courage.

Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, 1877
Long before she studied it at the university, Cather secretly bought one of her favorite Russian novels at a drugstore in Red Cloud. She once said, "If God is at all a literary God Anna Karenina will certainly do more toward saving its author's soul than all the prosy tracts [Tolstoy] has written since."

Sarah Orne Jewett's The Country of the Pointed Firs, 1896
Cather praised this novella as one of America's best. In 1908, Jewett gave Cather a much-needed push to quit McClure's to find "time and quiet to perfect [Cather's] work." When Jewett died a year later, Cather said that life was "dark and purposeless" without her. She dedicated O Pioneers! to her mentor in 1913.

If you enjoyed My Ántonia, you might also enjoy:
  • Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter, 1920
  • John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath, 1939
  • Vilhelm Moberg's The Emigrants, 1949
  • Truman Capote's The Grass Harp, 1951

Books about Cather and My Ántonia

  • Lewis, Edith. Willa Cather Living: A Personal Record. Introduction by John J. Murphy. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000.
  • O'Brien, Sharon. New Essays on My Ántonia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  • Woodress, James. Willa Cather: A Literary Life. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987.

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