A Lost Lady: They Could Conquer, But They Could Not Hold

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In Willa Cather’s A Lost Lady, two types of men are presented to the reader – the old fashioned man who belongs to the Old West, and the new man who is a product of the Industrial Revolution. Niel Herbert and Ivy Peters exemplify these two types of men; by their outlook upon life and by their actions, they are as fundamentally opposed to one another as the Old West was to the Industrial Revolution.

Niel and Ivy’s separate outlooks upon life – that of the Old West versus that of the Industrial Revolution – are as disparate as their appearances. Niel, with his “clear-cut [features, and] his grey eyes, so dark they looked black under his long lashes,” (Cather 33) represents the Old West and all its hopes and dreams, while Ivy with his red skin, harsh dimples like “a knot in a tree-bole,” (21) and his “fixed, unblinking” (21) eyes, is the realist of the next generation. Niel, younger than Ivy by several years, “had believed that man could live according to aesthetic ideals, and this belief is a positive one. However, he had not yet harmonized such ideals with human life” (Rosowski, Willa Cather’s A Lost Lady: The Paradoxes of Change, 59). It is this refreshing – though naïve – belief in the ability of men to rise above petty emotions, and particularly his reverence of Marian Forrester as an archetype of womanly goodness, which is slowly worn away in Niel as the novel progresses. When Niel returns to Sweet Water after his time away at a university, he meets Ivy, and from their brief conversation Niel realizes the difference between himself and Ivy. The men of the Old West, Niel realizes, were “dreamers, great-hearted adventurers who were unpractical to the point of magnificence; a courteous brotherhood, strong in attack but weak in de...

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.... Though Niel realizes that Marian Forrester is not the pure ideal he has reverenced from childhood, his treatment of her does not change – it remains courteous and gallant, as any man of the Old West would have done. At the last, the difference between these two characters can be summed up in a few words. Neil Herbert possesses that indefinable quality of life and action which belongs to all gentlemen, and Ivy Peters does not.

Works Cited

Cather, Willa. A Lost Lady. New York: Random House, Inc., 1972. Print.

Dawson, Dawn P. Magill’s Survey of American Literature. Pasadena, California: Salem Press, Inc., 2007. Print.

Mainiero, Lina. American Women Writers. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., Inc., 1979. Print.

Rosowski, Susan J. “Willa Cather’s “A Lost Lady”: The Paradoxes of Change.” Novel: A Forum on Fiction 11.1 (1977): 59. JSTOR. Web. 07 March 2012

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