restricted access Preface to the 1932 Jonathan Cape Edition
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617 Preface to the 1932 Jonathan Cape Edition The Song of the Lark was written in the years 1914 and 1915. The title of the book is unfortunate; many readers take it for granted that the ‘‘lark song’’ refers to the vocal accomplishments of the heroine, which is altogether a mistake. Her song was not of the sky-lark order. The book was named for a rather second-rate French painting in the Chicago Art Museum; a picture in which a little peasant girl, on her way to work in the fields at early morning , stops and looks up to listen to a lark. The title was meant to suggest a young girl’s awakening to something beautiful. I wanted to call the story Artist’s Youth, but my publisher discouraged me, wisely enough. The chief fault of the book is that it describes a descending curve; the life of a successful artist in the full tide of achievement is not so interesting as the life of a talented young girl ‘‘fighting her way,’’ as we say. Success is never so interesting as struggle—not even to the successful, not even to the most mercenary forms of ambition. The life of nearly every artist who succeeds in the true sense (succeeds in delivering himself completely to his art) is more or less like Wilde’s story, The Portrait of Dorian Gray. As Thea Kronborg is more and more released into the dramatic and musical preface to the 1932 jonathan cape edition 618 possibilities of her profession, as her artistic life grows fuller and richer, it becomes more interesting to her than her own life. As the gallery of her musical impersonations grows in number and beauty, and that perplexing thing called ‘‘style’’ (which is a singer’s very self ) becomes more direct and simple and noble, the Thea Kronborg who is behind the imperishable daughters of music becomes somewhat dry and preoccupied. Her human life is made up of exacting engagements and dull business details, of shifts to evade an idle, gaping world which is determined that no artist shall ever do his best. Her artistic life is the only one in which she is happy, or free, or even very real. It is the reverse of Wilde’s story; the harassed, susceptible human creature comes and goes, subject to colds, brokers, dressmakers, managers. But the free creature, who retains her youth and beauty and warm imagination, is kept shut up in the closet, along with the scores and wigs. The interesting and important fact that, in an artist of the type I chose, personal life becomes paler as the imaginative life becomes richer, does not, however, excuse my story for becoming paler. The story set out to tell of an artist’s awakening and struggle; her floundering escape from a smug, domestic, self-satisfied provincial world of utter ignorance. It should have been content to do that. I should have disregarded conventional design and stopped where my first conception stopped, telling the latter part of the story by suggestion merely. What I cared about, and still care about, was the girl’s escape; the play of blind chance, the way in which commonplace occurrences fell together to liberate her from commonness . She seemed wholly at the mercy of accident; but to persons of her vitality and honesty, fortunate accidents always happen. willa cather new brunswick, canada July 16, 1932 ...


Subject Headings

  • Women singers -- Fiction.
  • Children of clergy -- Fiction.
  • Swedish Americans -- Fiction.
  • Chicago (Ill.) -- Fiction.
  • Young women -- Fiction.
  • Colorado -- Fiction.
  • Opera -- Fiction.
  • Musical fiction.
  • Bildungsromans. -- gsafd.
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