Willa Cather’s American Pioneers

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Toronto Pursuits and COVID-19: We expect to formally open registration and collect deposits early in 2022, once we get more information from the University of Toronto. See the main Toronto Pursuits page for more details.

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Nancy Carr is a writer, editor and discussion leader with many years of experience at the Great Books Foundation. She has a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia and especially loves Victorian and 20th-century novels. Nancy is drawn to Willa Cather for the beauty of Cather’s prose and her ability to combine incisive character analysis with compassion.


My Antonia, by Willa Cather
(Dover Thrift Editions, 1994)
ISBN-13: 978-0486282404

The Professor’s House, by Willa Cather
(Dover Thrift Editions, 2021)
ISBN-13: 978-0486845289

Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather
(Vintage, 1990)
ISBN-13: 978-0486845289

Participants are required to obtain the specified edition to facilitate the group’s ability to find and cite portions of the text during discussion.

Willa Cather painted the Midwestern and Western landscapes of America—and the characters shaped by those settings—with unmatched vividness. In this seminar we will discuss three of Cather’s masterpieces, considering both how Cather’s portraits of Americans wrestling with their identities spoke to her own time, and how they continue to speak to ours.

In My Ántonia (1918) Cather creates the indomitable Antonia Shimerda, a Bohemian girl who immigrates to Nebraska and captivates her young neighbor Jim Burden. Years after leaving Nebraska, Burden recreates Antonia’s story in an effort to understand the effect she has had on his life.

The Professor’s House (1925) also confronts questions of identity and history, as Godfrey St. Peter nears retirement and looks back at his family life and his students. For him, recollecting the story of his favorite student, Tom Outland, leads him to reassess his own life and choices.

Cather explores a different facet of America’s history in Death Comes For the Archbishop (1927), focusing on the mid-nineteenth-century life of Father Jean Marie Latour, a French Catholic missionary to New Mexico. Through this fictional protagonist, Cather shows us the beauty and complexity of a still-young country and its varied cultures.

“Some memories are realities and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again.”
—Willa Cather, My Antonia


The cost of Toronto Pursuits registration will be announced shortly. Registration includes one seminar Monday to Friday, morning coffee and newspapers, five buffet lunches, afternoon speakers, a five-day opera lecture series, film screenings, guided walks, two cocktail receptions, and a range of other cultural and social activities. All costs are subject to the 13% Harmonized Sales Tax (HST).

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Concert ticket, Not eligible for discount, Five times, With friend, Gift registration