Sunday, May 15, 2011

Back to the Books! My Mortal Enemy/Cather

I'm finally forcing myself to post the backlog of "Books Read" that has been steadily growing larger.  I am indeed keeping up with my New Years resolution to read more books this year, but I haven't been as diligent about writing up my plot summaries and opinions.
I've owned this hard bound 1926 edition of My Mortal Enemy by Willa Cather for several years.  It's not a true first edition but a "First, second, or Third printing Before Publication".  However, it was printed in the same year as a true first and has a detailed cover, dainty headers on each page and a sunny yellow drawing to start each of the short chapters.

AND it has the first owner's nameplate on the inside cover.

Because I'm the Queen of Googling, on a total whim as I was thinking about what to write, I typed in her name and lo and behold Mrs. Calvin Fentress (aka Mary Frances Wood Fentress) was right there on my computer screen... or at least her obituary from the Chicago Tribune was there.

Mrs Fentress (can I call you Mary Frances?) was a "prominent social and civic figure in Chicago" and passed away at the age of 85 in 1996.  She was active on many boards and charitable organizations, her husband was President and chairman of the board for AllState Insurance and even her father has a Wikipedia page as he was a Brigadier General and then was the head of Sears for many years.  According to her daughter, she had a "great zest for life and was the ultimate people person....."

I can't help but think that it's a little wink and nod to me that her son is quoted in the obituary as saying,
"Like her father, she was extremely energetic and very bright," her son, Robert, said. "She devoured books--novels, biographies, plus four or five newspapers a day."

So Mary Frances while I can't remember how your copy of My Mortal Enemy came to reside on my shelves in Louisiana, I'm taking good care of your book and I wonder if you enjoyed it as much as I did?  

~~My standard book review disclaimer:  I'm not writing reviews for anybody's benefit other than my own.  I'd love it if you see a book that strikes your fancy but I've no pretense of being a literature expert....this type of post falls into the journal aspect of the blog.  Nothing house or family oriented here.... just a book report to help me remember the details of what I've read. 

Myra Henshawe is the talk of her small hometown in Illinois.  As a young person she eloped with husband Oswald fully aware that  marrying him would mean being cut out of the will of her doting guardian uncle.  She gave up millions and a life of ease for what at the time of the elopement seemed like true love.  After her marriage, she returned only once to her hometown and so that added to the mystery and legend surrounding her.  

When she is first met by Nellie (the narrator), Myra is in her 40's and only moderately happy with her life.  She is flashy and materialistic as well as a bit of a self-centered social climber, but her life in New York City is mesmerizing to adolescent Nellie.  

When Nellie, Myra and Oswald meet again years later the hints of marital discord and complacency visible years before have grown immense plus Myra and Oswald are nearly destitute.  Myra is ill with cancer and at one point before her death says, "Why must I die like this, alone with my mortal enemy?"  Has Oswald, who without complaint tends to her needs, become her "most mortal enemy"?  Or is she referring to herself?  

Another quote that highlights the bitter undertones of the book is, 
"People can be lovers and enemies at the same time..... A man and woman draw apart from that long embrace, and see what they have done to each other... In age we lose everything; even the power to love."

A brief novella, that despite the ending and the bitter, jaded view of marriage, was actually a pleasure to read although I know that sounds hard to believe!


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