Alexander’s Bridge by Willa Cather

February 3, 2012

Plot summary (from the publisher): Willa Cather’s first published novel, set in Boston, London, and Paris, is the story of a man unable to resolve the contradictions in his own nature. The central figures are Bartley Alexander, a world-famous engineer; his wife; Winifred, a Boston society matron; and his former love, Hilda Burgoyne, a London actress. Long considered an uncharacteristic production, in the light of recent scholarship Alexander’s Bridge is seen to be closely linked to the body of Cather’s work, thematically as well as in its use of myth and symbol.

Warning: Spoilers below!

Liked:

  • This was a short, quick read that took no more than a few hours to get through.
  • Although this book was in no way, shape, or form up to typical Willa Cather standards, it should at least be somewhat appreciated as having contributed to the author’s overall experience as a writer.

Disliked:

  • The heavy-handed, transparent symbolism found throughout the novel was one of the clearest indications of Cather’s inexperience.
  • Bartley wasn’t a sympathetic character at all. While I guess I can understand wanting to recapture his youth, he really had no reason to cheat on Winifred and try to resume a relationship with Hilda. It was unfair to both women, actually.
  • The death scene was sort of melodramatic. It was rather convenient that the bridge held up just long enough for Bartley to arrive, and then started crumbling. And of course Winifred was waiting around until the body was pulled out of the water, completely unaware of her husband’s recent infidelities.

Rating:

Well, what is there to say about a book that the author herself basically disowned? Alexander’s Bridge is only noteworthy because it was written by Willa Cather. Others have called it “Edith Wharton lite,” and I tend to agree with that assessment. Still, because it was so short and to the point, I think it deserves at least 3 stars out of 5.

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