The Song of the Lark

infobox Book |
name = The Song of the Lark
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption =
author = Willa Cather
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = novel
publisher =
release_date = 1915
english_release_date =
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages =
isbn = NA
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"The Song of the Lark" is the third novel by American author Willa Cather, written in 1915. The title comes from a painting of the same name by Jules Adolphe Aimé Louis Breton.

Plot introduction

Set in the 1890s in Moonstone, a fictional place supposedly located in Colorado, "The Song of the Lark" is the self-portrait of an artist in the making. The story revolves around an ambitious young heroine, Thea Kronborg, who leaves her hometown to go to the big city to fulfill her dream of becoming a famous opera star.

The novel captures Thea's independent-mindedness, her strong work ethic, and her ascent to her highest achievement. At each step along the way, her realization of the mediocrity of her peers propels her to greater levels of accomplishment, but in the course of her ascent she must discard those relationships which no longer serve her.

Plot summary

Part I: Friends of Childhood

In the fictional small town of Moonstone, Colorado, Doctor Archie helps Mrs Kronborg give birth to her baby son Thor. He also takes care of their daughter Thea, down with pneumonia. Years later, she goes to the Kholers's for her piano lesson with Wunsch. Later, she walks into Dr Archie, who tells her to go to his garden and collect strawberries; once there, she is scared by his wife's meanness. The doctor goes to Spanish Johnny's, when he is also sick. Later, Ray Kennedy goes out to the countryside with Johnny, his wife, Thea and Alex and Gunner. Although she is only twelve and he is thirty, he dreams of getting rich and marrying her when she is old enough. They all tell stories of striking it rich in silver mines out west.

Before Christmas, Thea plays the piano at a concert; the town paper praises her rival Lily; Thea is angry. Tillie then turns down the local drama club's request to have Thea play a part in "The Drummer Boy of Shiloh", Tille believes that Thea is too busy and would not accept the part. After Christmas, Thea goes to the Kholers's for another lesson, and Wunsch tells her about a Spanish opera singer who could sing an alto part of Christoph Willibald Gluck. He also says she needs to learn German. Once, Wunsch gets so drunk he passes out and gets hurt during the night. When he wakes up again he turns violent, fells down the Khollers's cote, and is eventually brought back to the house by other towndwellers. Ten days later, as all his students have discontinued their lessons with him, he decides to leave the town. Shortly after, Thea drops out of school and takes up his students; at age fifteen she works full time.

Later, Ray lets Thea and her mother go to Denver on his train. They stop at the fictional town of Wassiwappa, where they have lunch with the station agent. Later they go past Winslow, Arizona. Later, Mr Kronborg insists that Thea should go to mass more often; she doesn't prove as picture-perfect as Anna. However, she becomes sad when she sees how a local tramp is ridiculed and shoed away, wondering whether the Bible wouldn't tell people to help him instead; Dr Archie explains people have to look after themselves. On the way from Moonstone to Saxony, Ray's train has an accident; the next day he bids an emotional goodbye to Thea before he dies. After the funeral, Dr Archie informs Mr Kronborg that Ray has bequeathed six hundred dollars to Thea for her to go to Chicago and study there. Her father agrees to let her go despite her only being seventeen.

Part II: The Song of the Lark

In Chicago, Thea moves close to the parish of a Swedish Reformed Church with two German women; she will sing in the choir and also in funerals for a stipend, and take piano lessons with Mr. Harsanyi. Once at dinner with Mr. Harsanyi she mentions that she sings in a church choir, and he asks her to sing; he is much impressed by her voice. Later, he meets with the conductor of the Chicago orchestra and asks him who is the best singing teacher in the area; the answer is Madison Bowers. He then parts with Thea, explaining that her voice is her true artistic gift, not her playing. After several weeks of singing lessons, she takes a train back to Moonstone; she appears to have grown a lot. She goes to a Mexican ball with Spanish Johnny and sings for them. Back in her house, Anna reproaches her for singing for them and not their father's church. Her ambition leads her back to Chicago.

Part III: Stupid Faces

Back in Chicago, Thea keeps moving from one home to another. She grows tired of Bowers's shoddy students up until she meets Fred Ottenburg, a rich youth. He takes her to the Nathanmeyers, a rich family, and they seem to like her as well. Fred suggests she spends the Summer on a farm in Arizona - his family owns the whole canyon.

Part IV: The Ancient People

Thea gets off the train at Flagstaff, Arizona, close to the San Francisco Peaks. Back in the wilderness, she starts relaxing. Ottenburg then joins her; they kiss by a rockpile, then get stranded outside in a storm. They finally decide to get married, but Ottenburg says that should be in Mexico City - he doesn't tell her he is already married (though estranged from his wife for many years).

Part V: Doctor Archie's Venture

Doctor Archie goes to Denver to look over some silver investments. He receives a telegram from Thea summoning him to New York City. There, she tells Fred she will leave shortly; after he told her he couldn't marry her she felt she had to let go. Archie goes to dinner with Ottenburg and Thea. Later, Fred goes away to his unconscious mother, who fell from a carriage; when he comes back Thea ponders on the futility of her ambition, but comes to the conclusion that the future is still hers to see.

Part VI: Kronborg "Ten Years Later"

Ten years later, Doctor Archie has moved to Denver after his mining investments went up; his wife is paralysed. He has helped get Governor Alden elected, though Fred and he admit the politician's doubletalk has proved disappointing. Archie attends Thea's operatic performance in Jersey City, and later he talks to her at her hotel; they meet again at four the next day. Later they meet again with Fred; she performs the end of an opera at the last minute and pulls it off well. Thea then takes the time to talk both to Archie and to Fred about her life. Finally, she gives another performance, and Harsanyi is in the audience, much enthused. The novel ends with Tillie, the only remaining Kronborg to live in Moonstone.


*Doctor Howard Archie, barely thirty, elegant.
*Mrs Archie, her maiden name is Belle White. She is from Lansing, Michigan.
*Larry, Doctor Archie's errand boy.
*Mr Peter Kronborg, the Methodist minister. he has seven children plus the baby. born in a scandinavian colony in Minnesota, went to school in Indiana
*Mrs Kronborg, she speaks Swedish.
*Thea Kronborg, the protagonist. She is eleven years old at the onset of the novel. After studying in Chicago, she becomes a renowned opera singer in Dresden.
*Professor Wunsch, a music teacher with a drinking problem. He lives with the Kholers. He has taught in St Louis and Kansas City.
*Spanish Johnny, a harness maker. He used to be a painter in Trinidad. He plays the mandolin. Real name Juan Tellamantez.
*Mrs Tellamantez, Johnny's wife.
*Famos Serrenos, Spanish Johnny's cousin. He worked in a mine in Moonstone.
*Thor Kronborg, the baby son at the outset of the novel. Later, he works as Doctor Archie's chauffeur.
*Tillie Kronborg. She is the remaining Kronborg in Moonstone at the end of the novel.
*Mrs Paulina Kholer. She comes from the Rhine Valley and speaks little English. She likes to take care of her garden.
*Mr Fritz Kholer, the local tailor.
*The Kronborg's children, namely Axel, Gunner, and Anna (the elder daughter), Gus, (a local clerk in a drygoods store), Charley.
*Mrs Smiley, a millinery shop keeper.
*Billy Beemer, an old drunkard who died while playing with a switch engine.
*Ray Kennedy, a train conductor.
*Mrs Lively Johnson, a Baptist and a member of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. She is the president of a committee in the Moonstone Orchestra. She learnt to play the piano in Grinnell, Iowa.
*Lily Fisher, Thea's rival.
*Upping, a jeweller, the 'trainer' of a drama club.
*Joe Giddy, Ray's brakeman.
*Mr Carsen, a local carpenter.
*Anna, a conventional Methodist girl.
*Reverend Lars Larsen, a friend of Mr Kronborg's in Chicago.
*Hartley Evans, a friend of Dr Archie's, a throat specialist.
*Andor Harsanyi, a piano teacher. His wife is in her thirties. They have a daughter, Tanya, and a son, Andor.
*Mrs Lorch, a German parishioner in Chicago.
*Mrs Irene Andersen, Mrs Lorch's daughter. She sings in the Mozart society in Chicago. She has married a Swedish man.
*Oscar Andersen, Irene's late Swedish husband.
*Mr Eckman, one of Mrs Lorch's lodgers. He works in a slaughterhouse in Packingtown.
*Theodore Thomas, the conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
*Madison Bowers, a singing teacher in Chicago.
*Maggie Evans, a girl from Moonstone who died. Thea won't sing at her funeral.
*Miguel Ramas, a Mexican from Moonstone. He has two cousins, Silvo and Felipe.
*Mrs Miguel Ramas, Miguel Ramas's mother.
*Famos Serrenos, a bricklayer.
*Miss Adler, 'Bowers's morning accompanist, an intelligent Jewish girl from Evanston'.
*Hiram Bowers, Bowers's father, a choirmaster in Boston.
*Mrs Priest
*Jessie Darcey
*Mr Philip Frederick Ottenburg, the scion of a beer magnate. He went to Harvard.
*The Nathanmeyers, a family of rich Jews, friends with the Ottenburgs.
*Katarina Furst, Fred Ottenburg's mother.
*Henry Biltmer. He lives on Ottenburg's ranch in Arizona.
*Mrs Biltmer, Henry Biltmer's wife. She cooks meals for her husband, Thea and Ottenburg.
*Dick Brisbane, a friend of Ottenburg's from Kansas City.
*Edith Beers, Ottenburg's wife. She now lives in Santa Barbara. She was originally engaged to Dick Brisbane.
*Alphonse, the hansom driver for Ottenburg and Edith in New York City.
*The financier from Denver
*Thomas Burk, Dr Archie's assistant.
*Jasper Flight, an undaunted investor.
*Pinky Alden, the governor that Doctor Archie helped get elected.
*Tai, Doctor Archie's Japanese servant.
*Therese, Thea's maid.
*Mr Oliver Landry, an accompanist. He grew up in Cos Cob and later helped Thea whilst in Germany.
*Necker, a successful opera singer.
*Nordquist, a man Thea nearly married.

Allusions to other works

*Literature is mentioned with Nikolaus Lenau's "Don Juan", Lord Byron ('My native land, good night', 'Maid of Athens', 'There was a sound of revelry', "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage"), Virgil, Honore de Balzac's "A Distinguished Provincial At Paris", Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", Hugh Reginald Haweis, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., Walter Scott's "Waverley Novels", Washington Irving, Thomas Paine's "The Age of Reason", Robert Burns, William Cullen Bryant's "Thanatopsis", William Shakespeare's "Hamlet", and Jules Verne.
*Music and the performing arts are mentioned with Fay Templeton, Carl Czerny, Jenny Lind, Muzio Clementi, Carl Reinecke, Maggie Mitchell, Johann Strauss II's "The Blue Danube", Ludwig van Beethoven, Frédéric Chopin, Johann Sebastian Bach, Robert Schumann, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Antonin Dvorak, Henrietta Sontag, Clara Morris, Helena Modjeska, Charles Gounod's "Ave Maria", John Philip Sousa, Gustav Mahler, Richard Wagner's "Tannhauser" and "Der Ring des Nibelungen", and Ignacy Jan Paderewski.
*The Bible is mentioned with Tower of Babel, Noah's Ark, Jephthah, Rizpah, 'David's lament for Absalom', and Mary Magdalen.
*The visual arts are mentioned with Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Barbizon school, Dying Gaul, Venus de Milo, Jean-Léon Gérôme, Henri Rousseau, Édouard Manet, and Anders Zorn.

Allusions to actual history

*Historical figures such as Napoleon III, George Washington, William H. Prescott, Robert G. Ingersoll, Julius Caesar, and Cato the Younger are mentioned.
*Lars Larsen's parents are said to have moved from Sweden to Kansas thanks to the Homestead Act.

Literary significance and criticism

*The novel was inspired by soprano Olive Fremstad [Wayne Koestenbaum, "The Queen's Throat: Opera, Homosexuality and the Mystery of Desire", Gay Men's Press, 1994, page 87] .


External links

*gutenberg|no=44|name=The Song of the Lark
* [ E-Book] From the Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library

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