INTRODUCED BY A. S. BYATT
‘Willa Cather makes a world which is burningly alive, sometimes lovely, often tragic’ Helen Dunmore
‘She is undoubtedly one of the greatest American writers’ Observer
On the eve of his move to a new, more desirable residence, Professor Godfrey St Peter finds himself in the shabby study of his former home. Surrounded by the comforting, familiar sights of his past, he surveys his life and the people he has loved: his wife Lillian, his daughters and, above all, Tom Outland, his most outstanding student and once, his son-in-law to be. Enigmatic and courageous – and a tragic victim of the Great War – Tom has remained a source of inspiration to the professor. But he has also left behind him a troubling legacy which has brought betrayal and fracture to the women he loves most . . .
Marian Forrester brings delight to her husband, an elderly railroad pioneer; to the small town of Sweet Water where they live; and to Niel Herbert, the young narrator of her story, who falls in love with her as a boy and later becomes her confidant. He witnesses this vibrant woman in all her contradictory facets: by turns faithless and steadfast, dazzling and pathetic, invincibly charming yet dangerously vulnerable to the men she charms. All are bewitched by her charisma and grace – and all are ultimately betrayed.
‘This classic has the striking economy of Hemingway, and is as poignant an elegy for the pioneer West as I have read. The vivacious Marian Forrester stands as a romantic paean to the pioneer’s reckless abandon, counterpointed by the narrator’s prim decency’ The Times
In 1851 Bishop Latour and his friend Father Valliant are despatched to New Mexico to reawaken its slumbering Catholicism. Moving along the endless prairies, Latour spreads his faith the only way he knows – gently, although he must contend with the unforgiving landscape, derelict and sometimes openly rebellious priests, and his own loneliness. Over nearly forty years, they leave converts and enemies, crosses and occasionally ecstasy in their wake. But it takes a death for them to make their mark on the landscape forever . . .
Fanny Pye’s London house, bought for a song many years earlier, is now worth a small fortune. When she intervenes in a street brawl and is hospitalised, her children tactfully suggest that she move to the suburbs, coincidently releasing some useful ‘family money’. Fanny has different views about inheritance and property and is anyway more concerned that she cannot properly remember the events of that night which ended in the death of a stranger. Then, as her amnesia clears, she is overwhelmed by a terrible sense of danger.
First published in 1905, THE HOUSE OF MIRTH shocked the New York society it so deftly chronicles, portraying the moral, social and economic restraints on a woman who dared to claim the privileges of marriage without assuming the responsibilities.
Lily Bart, beautiful, witty and sophisticated, is accepted by ‘old money’ and courted by the growing tribe of nouveaux riches. But as she nears thirty, her foothold becomes precarious; a poor girl with expensive tastes, she needs a husband to preserve her social standing and to maintain her in the luxury she has come to expect. Whilst many have sought her, something – fastidiousness or integrity- prevents her from making a ‘suitable’ match.
On a cruise ship between Algiers and Venice Martin Boyne, a bachelor in his forties, befriends a band of ebullient, precocious children. The seven Wheater stepbrothers and sisters, grown weary of being shuttled between mother and father ‘like bundles’, are eager for their parents’ latest reconciliation to last. They are kept together as a ‘family’ by the eldest, Judith, who takes on the role of protector. Genuinely outraged at the plight of the ‘homeless’ and fought-over children, Boyne finds himself increasingly drawn to their enchanting, improper and liberating ways. Among the colourful cast of characters are the Wheater adults, who play out their own comedy of marital errors; the flamboyant Marchioness of Wrench; and the vivacious fifteen-year-old Judith Wheater, who captures Martin’s heart. With deft humour and touching drama, Wharton portrays a world of intrigues and infidelities, skewering the manners and mores of Americans abroad.
Edmund Carr is at sea in more ways than one. An eminent journalist and self-made man, he has recently discovered that he has only a short time to live. Leaving his job on a Fleet Street paper, he takes a passage on a cruise ship where he knows that Laura, a beautiful and intelligent widow whom he secretly admires, will be a fellow passenger. Exhilarated by the distant vista of exotic islands never to be visited and his conversations with Laura, Edmund finds himself rethinking all his values.
A voyage on many levels, those long purposeless days at sea find Edumnd relinquishing the past as he discovers the joys and the pain of a love he is simultaneously determined to conceal.
Alexandra Bergson is the eldest child of a Swedish immigrant family newly arrived in the harsh untamed landscape of the American West. An original, determined child, she is driven by two forces: her fierce protective love for her younger brother, and a deep love of the beautiful country she has come to regard as her own. When her father dies, it is she who becomes the head of the family and struggles to soften the wild overgrown soil that surrounds her, nurturing it until, finally, it rewards her with a richness beyond measure..
A Surrealist novel in the vein of Angela Carter, about love and beauty and dark secrets.
Played out like the command of an oracle are the events that stain one night in the improbable setting of this desert tale. Rearing its impudent architecture like insult on a landscape of quiet beauty is Windcote, “its very name a masquerade,” where inhabitants and guests find themselves driven by obsessions and confusions they have never faced before. Here doors open and close and open again. They hide, release, reveal, and ruin. In this web of tangled imperatives is the child, Destina, untouched by the fevers and failures around her. Her own world is outside in the mystery-locked canyon where, for the time of this story, she seems to find her own truth
With a new introduction by JESMYN WARD
Born on the wrong side of the creek, John Buddy Pearson, the son of a slave, has come a long way since his shoeless days. With some schooling, a job and marriage to clever Lucy Potts, his fortunes are looking up. But, unable to resist the lure of women or a fight, he’s forced to flee town or face life on the chain gang.
John finds himself in Sanford, Florida, and sends for Lucy and the children. There, he discovers a talent for preaching, and, with the support of his wife, becomes pastor of Zion Hope Church, rousing his congregation with his fervent sermons. He is now a pillar of the community, respected and popular. Before long, though, he is praying for his own sins – for his powers of persuasion aren’t limited to the pulpit – and the town won’t stand for his philandering ways.
Originally published in 1934, this is Zora Neale Hurston’s first novel.
With a new introduction by JESMYN WARD
‘Zora Neale Hurston was a knockout in her life, a wonderful writer and a fabulous person. Devilishly funny and academically solid: delicious mixture’ MAYA ANGELOU
First published in 1942 at the height of her popularity, Dust Tracks on a Road is Zora Neale Hurston’s candid, exuberant account of her rise from childhood poverty in the rural South to a prominent place among the leading artists and intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance. As compelling as her acclaimed fiction, Hurston’s literary self-portrait offers a revealing, often audacious glimpse into the life – public and private – of an extraordinary artist, anthropologist, chronicler and champion of the black experience in America. Full of the wit and wisdom of a proud, spirited woman who started off low and climbed high: ‘I have been in Sorrow’s kitchen and licked out all the pots. Then I have stood on the peaky mountain wrapped in rainbows with a harp and a sword in my hands.’
‘One of the greatest writers of our time’ TONI MORRISON
‘No novel about any black woman could ever be the same after this’ TONI MORRISON
‘Corregidora is the most brutally honest and painful revelation of what has occurred, and is occurring, in the souls of Black men and women’ JAMES BALDWIN
Upon publication in 1975, Corregidora was hailed as a masterpiece, winning acclaim from writers including James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and John Updike. Exploring themes such as race, sexuality and the long repercussions of slavery, this powerful novel paved the way for Beloved and The Colour Purple. Now, this lost classic is published for a new generation of readers.
Blues singer Ursa is consumed by her hatred of Corregidora, the nineteenth-century slave master who fathered both her mother and grandmother. Charged with ‘making generations’ to bear witness to the abuse embodied in the family name, Ursa Corregidora finds herself unable to keep alive this legacy when she is made sterile in a violent fight with her husband. Haunted by the ghosts of a Brazilian plantation, pained by a present of lovelessness and despair, Ursa slowly and firmly strikes her own terms with womanhood.
AS HEARD ON THE BACKLISTED PODCAST
‘A literary giant, and one of my absolute favourite writers’ TAYARI JONES, author of AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE
Also new to the VMC list: Eva’s Man and The Healing by Gayl Jones.
‘An American writer with a powerful sense of vital inheritance, of history in the blood’ JOHN UPDIKE
‘Gayl Jones’s first novel, Corregidora (1975), was both shocking and ground-breaking in its probing of the psychological legacy of slavery and sexual ownership through the life of a Kentucky blues singer … it predated Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and Toni Morrison’s Beloved, revealing an unfinished emancipation and the power of historical memory to shape lives. It also marked a shift in African-American literature that made women, and relationships between black people, central’ MAYA JAGGI, Guardian
‘Corregidora‘s survey of trauma and overcoming has become even better and more relevant with the passage of time. It remains an indispensable point of entry into the tradition of African American writing that Gayl Jones reshaped and enriched’ PAUL GILROY