It was Paul's afternoon to appear before the faculty of the Pittsburgh High School to account for his various misdemeanours. He had been suspended a week ago, and his father had called at the Principal's office and confessed his perplexity about his son. Paul entered the faculty room suave and smiling. His clothes were a trifle out-grown, and the tan velvet on the collar of his open overcoat was frayed and worn; but for all that there was something of the dandy about him, and he wore an opal pin in his neatly ...
It was Paul's afternoon to appear before the faculty of the Pittsburgh High School to account for his various misdemeanours. He had been suspended a week ago, and his father had called at the Principal's office and confessed his perplexity about his son. Paul entered the faculty room suave and smiling. His clothes were a trifle out-grown, and the tan velvet on the collar of his open overcoat was frayed and worn; but for all that there was something of the dandy about him, and he wore an opal pin in his neatly knotted black four-in-hand, and a red carnation in his button-hole. This latter adornment the faculty somehow felt was not properly significant of the contrite spirit befitting a boy under the ban of suspension.
Paul was tall for his age and very thin, with high, cramped shoulders and a narrow chest. His eyes were remarkable for a certain hysterical brilliancy, and he continually used them in a conscious, theatrical sort of way, peculiarly offensive in a boy. The pupils were abnormally large, as though he were addicted to belladonna, but there was a glassy glitter about them which that drug does not produce.
When questioned by the Principal as to why he was there, Paul stated, politely enough, that he wanted to come back to school. This was a lie, but Paul was quite accustomed to lying; found it, indeed, indispensable for overcoming friction. His teachers were asked to state their respective charges against him, which they did with such a rancour and aggrievedness as evinced that this was not a usual case. Disorder and impertinence were among the offences named, yet each of his instructors felt that it was scarcely possible to put into words the real cause of the trouble, which lay in a sort of hysterically defiant manner of the boy's; in the contempt which they all knew he felt for them, and which he seemingly made not the least effort to conceal. Once, when he had been making a synopsis of a paragraph at the blackboard, his English teacher had stepped to his side and attempted to guide his hand. Paul had started back with a shudder and thrust his hands violently behind him. The astonished woman could scarcely have been more hurt and embarrassed had he struck at her. The insult was so involuntary and definitely personal as to be unforgettable. In one way and another, he had made all his teachers, men and women alike, conscious of the same feeling of physical aversion. In one class he habitually sat with his hand shading his eyes; in another he always looked out of the window during the recitation; in another he made a running commentary on the lecture, with humorous intent.
His teachers felt this afternoon that his whole attitude was symbolized by his shrug and his flippantly red carnation flower, and they fell upon him without mercy, his English teacher leading the pack. He stood through it smiling, his pale lips parted over his white teeth. (His lips were continually twitching, and he had a habit of raising his eyebrows that was contemptuous and irritating to the last degree.) Older boys than Paul had broken down and shed tears under that ordeal, but his set smile did not once desert him, and his only sign of discomfort was the nervous trembling of the fingers that toyed with the buttons of his overcoat, and an occasional jerking of the other hand which held his hat. Paul was always smiling, always glancing about him, seeming to feel that people might be watching him and trying to detect something. This conscious expression, since it was as far as possible from boyish mirthfulness, was usually attributed to insolence or "smartness."
As the inquisition proceeded, one of his instructors repeated an impertinent remark of the boy's, and the Principal asked him whether he thought that a courteous speech to make to a woman. Paul shrugged his shoulders slightly and his eyebrows twitched.
Willa Cather (1873-1947) was born in Virginia and raised on the Nebraska prairie. She worked as a newspaper writer, teacher, and managing editor of McClure's magazine. In addition to My Ántonia, her books include O Pioneers! (1913) and The Professor's House. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for One of Ours.
Wilella Sibert Cather was born on December 7, 1873, in the small Virginia farming community of Winchester. When she was ten years old, her parents moved the family to the prairies of Nebraska, where her father opened a farm mortgage and insurance business. Home-schooled before enrolling in the local high school, Cather had a mind of her own, changing her given name to Willa and adopting a variation of her grandmother's maiden name, Seibert, as her middle name.
During Cather's studies at the University of Nebraska, she worked as a drama critic to support herself and published her first piece of short fiction, "Peter," in a Boston magazine. After graduation, her love of music and intellectual pursuits inspired her to move to Pittsburgh, where she edited the family magazine Home Monthly, wrote theater criticism for the Pittsburgh Daily Leader, and taught English and Latin in local high schools. Cather's big break came with the publication of her first short story collection, The Troll Garden (1905). The following year she moved to New York City to work for McClure's Magazine as a writer and eventually the magazine's managing editor.
Considered one of the great figures of early-twentieth-century American literature, Willa Cather derived much of her inspiration from the American Midwest, which she considered her home. Never married, she cherished her many friendships, some of which she had maintained since childhood. Her intimate coterie of women writers and artists motivated Cather to produce some of her best work. Sarah Orne Jewett, a successful author from Maine whom Cather had met during her McClure's years, inspired her to devote herself full-time to creating literature and to write about her childhood, which she did in several novels of the prairies. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for her novel about World War I, called One of Ours.
She won many other awards, including a gold medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Prix Femina Americaine. On April 24, 1947, two years after publishing her last novel, Willa Cather died in New York City of a cerebral hemorrhage. Among Cather's other accomplishments were honorary doctorate degrees from Columbia, Princeton, and Yale Universities.
Author biography from the Barnes & Noble Classics edition of O, Pioneers!.
Good To Know
When Cather first arrived at the University of Nebraska, she dressed as William Cather, her opposite sex twin.
Cather was the first woman voted into the Nebraska Hall of Fame, in 1961.
She spent forty years of her life with her companion, Edith Lewis, in New York City.