Review: "My Mortal Enemy" by Willa Cather


My Mortal
by Willa Cather
pages 90 

"Sometimes, when I have watched the bright beginning of a love story, when I have seen a common feeling exalted into beauty by imagination, generosity, and the flaming courage of youth, I have heard again that strange complaint breathed by a dying woman into the stillness of night, like a confession of the soul: 'Why must I die like this, alone with my mortal enemy.'"

Willa Cather's protagonist in My Mortal Enemy is Myra Henshawe, who as a young woman gave up a fortune to marry for love—a boldly romantic gesture that became a legend in her family. But this worldly, sarcastic, and perhaps even wicked woman may have been made for something greater than love.

In her portrait of Myra and in her exquisitely nuanced depiction of her marriage, Cather shows the evolution of a human spirit as it comes to bridle against the constraints of ordinary happiness and seek an otherworldly fulfillment. 
My Mortal Enemy is a work whose drama and intensely moral imagination make it unforgettable.

I already knew Willa Cather, for that famous and precious novel (so much she won the renowned Pulitzer Prize) that was "One of Ours" but I did not know anything about this novel, which, though initially underestimated by numbers of pages and intent is revealed to be a true masterpiece of reflection on love and its duration over time.

"My Deadly Enemy" is a novel that reveals much of the female soul and the strength of the soul that women keep in their hearts, and revealing, at the same time, they own fragility.

Cather, with this novel, shows us how Myra Driscoll, a young woman destined to inherit a real fortune, instead chooses to marry, against the grandfather's opinion, a man considered without perspectives that would only make her poor and unhappy. Myra chooses to follow her hear and refuse as much as her grandfather had suggested to her, the money ... so she ran away with her beloved Oswald in New York to build a new life together, without money because she was disenchanted by her grandfather, who did not leave them a cent.

We read the story always from the eyes of a little girl named Nellie, who knows the Henshawe when they return for the first time in the country where they met and loved (and where Myra lived with his grandfather in his huge and legendary house) - long after the escape and the wedding; Nellie see them a second time a few years later in their New York apartment, surrounded by literate, poets and artists of all kinds until they met them for the last time many years more later - always from the point of view of a Nellie (but now grown up) - in a small village of the american West Coast, now old and without a penny, forced to live in an apartment that they hate and where they live miserably.

Regardless of the fate of the protagonists, which I let you discover (otherwise I would ruin the proper suspension that Cather creates skillfully) by reading the novel, such as feeling and love (the true, intense, leading you to madness)  in its mutation over time.

Will that passionate love endure?
Will one of its protagonists a unique life?
Will you truly lead the happiness the two lovers promise to achieve?
Will the lovers of the best people do?

Cather, with "My Deadly Enemy", wants to focus on how a woman in love and willingly dispossessed for the sake of life, abandon everything for the happiness found in that love, almost recklessly, grandparent's warning, that having met both poverty and old age - and became shamelessly rich - he had recommended choosing money and economic security rather than the actuality (or anyway) of happiness of love.

Myra, meeting several times with Nellie, always looks like a brilliant, vital, intelligent, shocking, ironic, jovial and apparently never bitter to the choice made, but with time Nellie also knows the least pleasurable aspects, discovering it jealous, against her husband), selfish and with the conviction of living economically as if she were rich. Oswald seems desolate, good, cautious and remissive of his wife, so that he almost never reacts to its nuances (but still sensitive to the compliments and worries of younger women). The two, though having the merits and defects that emerge more markedly at each encounter with Nellie, appeared as a couple who love themselves, despite the bists resisting time and economic storms remaining united.

But when Nellie starts collecting Myra's confessions, she becomes older and becomes more compliant with her health condition, but also economic and social, she realizes things that undermine her knowledge of the couple. Myra infatuation is badly endured by her poverty, and even if she does not say openly, she blames her choice (even not her husband directly) for her wrong. Myra has always helped people in distress and rising artists, she has always had a lot of friends to talk and have fun in the golden age, but now, confined to the bed of a studio and forced to endure noisy neighbors (they drive she crazy) she feels lost and now agrees with his grandfather, but he can no longer change his fate.

And it's just when the disease gets worse with her, and her most rebellious (sometimes even more violent and impetuous) soul comes out that leaves the reader the phrases that persecute me in thinking. Because Myra fights with that love, that crazy passion that now sings with her, causing her a pain she would never have imagined ... to call her "my deadly enemy." And while Oswald lives in the memory of a brave young Myra, full of hopes and vitality, Myra abandons any certainty, even goes away from the Church (and then returns with the soul of a naufray in the storm) and discovers in his nemesis what he believed to be his strength. And it all starts to crash and collapse under the blows of rage and regret.

"My mortal enemy" perfectly encapsulates all the work that faces as "forever" does not lead to constant happiness and sentimental and economic bliss. Explain in a few words how (for charity, sometimes) love with capital L - the one for which we feel the feeling of leaving behind important things and which we believe may not be at that moment - let us give up discounts for the future , security that we would find ridiculed later. Because love is an important feeling that makes us good, makes us strong ... we would last forever (as it is) and we would also like to change our condition by dragging us into the most complete happiness but sometimes, as in this case, unfortunately, it collides strongly with everyday life, the economic needs and the imperatives of illness and old age. And then perfection is chipped by necessity, need, and change, but not as we would like. What do we become then? Who blames?

Willa Cather with this story takes away the veil of "the fairy" tale for a moment, of love, and tells us that sometimes love - the pure and totalizing - is not always destined to be realized in the formula of "happy and forever" but consumes, transforms itself and changes, transforming also the protagonists of that love. Love is joy, passion, strength, happiness, union, but it can transform and be able to destroy, to change in anger, regret and even become ... our greatest enemy.

"My Deadly Enemy," in 90 pages, is able to get you under your skin and make you shiver for the power and strength he is capable of. It left me shaken and in a sense more aware of the nuances of a feeling that too often is overlooked and perhaps not enough. This novel is to be read.

Willa Cather
Wilella Sibert Cather was born in Back Creek Valley (Gore), Virginia, in December 7, 1873. Her novels on frontier life brought her to national recognition. In 1923 she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her novel, One of Ours (1922), set during World War I. She grew up in Virginia and Nebraska. She then attended the University of Nebraska, initially planning to become a physician, but after writing an article for the Nebraska State Journal, she became a regular contributor to this journal. Because of this, she changed her major and graduated with a bachelor's degree in English. After graduation in 1894, she worked in Pittsburgh as writer for various publications and as a school teacher for approximately 13 years, thereafter moving to New York City for the remainder of her life. She traveled widely and often spent summers in New Brunswick, Canada. In later life, she experienced much negative criticism for her conservative politics and became reclusive, burning some of her letters and personal papers, including her last manuscript. She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1943. In 1944, Cather received the gold medal for fiction from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, an award given once a decade for an author's total accomplishments. She died of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 73 in New York City.

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