Major Works Data Sheet

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Major Works Data Sheet

Title: A Lost Lady____ Jasmine Ong

Hendrick Hui

Author: Willa Cather_____ Tiffany Zhang

Band 8

Date of Publication: 1923____

Genre: Historical-Fiction
Biographical information about the author: Willa Cather was born in 1873 in Back Creek Valley, Virginia. Her early years left a memorable impression on her and it was the basis for many of her stories and characters. In 1891 Cather entered the University of Nebraska originally setting her sights on science. However after a professor submitted one for her essays to the school newspaper, she rethought her career plans. She began to write a column for her school paper the Nebraska State Journal. In 1895 Cather graduated and became the editor of a Pittsburgh paper. In 1903 her first book, a collection of poems, April Twilights was published. After Alexander’s Bridge, her first novel, was published in 1912, Cather devoted herself to full time writing. In 1923 Cather won the Pulitzer Prize of One of Ours. She died in 1947.

Historical information about the period of publications:

The 1920s, also known as The Roaring Twenties, was an age of dramatic change, socially and politically. The twenties was a time of growing prosperity and a stimulated interest in leisure activities. There was mass produced entertainment and movies reached all social classes. One of the most familiar symbols of the twenties is the flapper; a fashionable young women intent on enjoying herself and flaunting her unconventional conduct and dress. The “Roaring Twenties” is also known for the birth of mass culture, prohibition, the jazz age and the “cultural civil wars”.

Characteristics of the genre:

Fiction is a genre of literary work which deals with events and people based on the author’s imagination and not necessarily on fact. Fiction has three main elements: plot, character and setting.

Plot Summary:

 A Lost Lady is set in Sweet Water, a small railroad town on the Western plains. Captain Forrester and his wife, who is known for being an enchanting hostess, are a wealthy family that lives there. In the beginning of the novel, the narrator of the story Niel Herbert is introduced. Niel spends a lot of time with the Forresters as he matures into a adulthood. Marian Forrester became his ideal image of what a perfect woman should be. However he soon begins to see the her imperfections starting beginning with him catching her cheating on her husband. This destroys his image of her purity and innocence.

Niel later decides leaves to go to the MIT and study architecture. After Mr. Forrester’s death, Mrs. Forrester becomes weak as well and started to associate herself with the younger men in the town. Niel becomes weary of her and leaves for college again. A few years later, he meets a childhood friend and hears about Mrs. Forrester’s death. Instead of feeling resentful towards her earlier actions, Niel feels relieved that she was able to have a comfortable life with another husband before she passed away.

Describe the Author’s Style:

The fragmentation in plot, characters, theme, images, and overall story line showcases Cather's use of modernism in this novel. Many modernist works are not in the typical linear sequence and loss is also a huge theme. The “truth” in a modernist novel is questionable, as a common theme; thus the reader can’t always trust the narrator to tell the truth. An ambiguous ending is also incorporated by Cather which often leave a lot of questions to be considered by the reader.

An example that demonstrates the style:

"Long, long afterward, when Niel did not know whether Mrs. Forrester were living or dead, if her image flashed into his mind, it came with a brightness of dark eyes, ... When he was dull and tired of everything, he used to think that if he could hear that long-lost lady laugh again, he could be gay." (page59)

This quotation not only shows an example of fragmentation because it is separate from the rest of the chapter which focuses on the past events, but it also shows the author's use of modernism because it is not written in the typical linear sequence.

In addition...

  • The ending is ambiguous because Niel hears about what happens to Mrs. Forrester in the last years of her life from someone else

  • The narration is very biased as it is seen through Niel’s point of view.

Memorable Quotes:

“Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds."

This quote showed Niel's disappointment in Marian, who represented the his ideal woman. When he discovers that she was having an affair, he was more disgusted than he would be for other women because of his high and almost unrealistic expectations for her.

“The people, the very country itself, were changing so fast that there would be nothing to come back to. He had seen the end of an era, the sunset of the pioneer.”

This quote showed how Niel finally accepted that the times had changed. He tried to grasp the remains of the old era, but to no avail. Niel has finally come to accept that Sweet Water and its people are no longer the same due to modernization. As much as Niel wishes to stay in the past, everyone has moved on to different ideals.



Role in Story



Marian Forrester

Wife of Captain Forrester

She represents the change from the Old world to the New World.

-Respectable (at one point)




Captain Forrester

Niel Herbert

A pioneer who made his fortune building track for railroads.

A boy who grows up with the Forresters, whom he admires greatly.

Captain Forrester represents the very essence of the Old world and its dying nature.

He witnesses the changes that take place in Sweet Water. He represents the person stuck in the ways of the Old world.

-very dependable


-strong spirited





Ivy Peters

An older boy who grows up along side Niel and his friends. He becomes a successful lawyer and takes over the Forrester’s estate.

He, unlike Niel, represents the New world. He is the “American” character of the story.




Frank Ellinger

Mrs. Forrester’s lover. He eventually marries Constance Ogden.

Because of Ellinger, Niel’s idealistic image of Marian is tarnished.

-largely built

-“gives off manly, cruel energy”

Judge Pommeroy

Niel’s Uncle and a friend of the Forrester’s.

He was a dear friend of the Forrester’s but after the death of the Captain, Marian broke off all ties with him. This shows that she has chosen to change with the times.



The novel takes place in a western town of Sweet Water. The town resides by the Burlington railroad, which is why everyone in town is “connected” to it. The story is being told by Niel, who refers back to the 1880s: the pioneer era up to the early 1920s: the capitalist era.

Significance of Opening Scene:

In the opening scenes, the Forrester’s home was a welcoming place where visitors would come and go freely. The Captain attracted many visitors and Mrs. Forrester always greeted them on the porch. The Forresters at this time were highly respected people and took great care in preserving their pasture and marsh land. In the opening scenes, Mrs. Forrester had the upper hand when dealing with others, for example Ivy Peters. In the beginning she is able to keep Ivy from entering their home, but this changes by the end of the book signifying the end of the pioneer era and the beginning of era dominated by wealth.

Significance of Closing Scene:

In the closing scene of the novel, the Forresters and other homesteaders have lost all their wealth and status. All of the pioneers have gone back to the east and Captain Forrester is dead. Marian, left with no money, decides to rent Ivy Peters the meadow. The land which the Captain once worked so hard on to preserve is completely depleted by Ivy, signifying his shift in power. Ivy is now allowed to enter the house as he pleases and when put his arms around Marian, she has no objections. Eventually Ivy becomes wealthy enough to buy the Forrester property. Niel is himself has also left the west to become an architect in the east. Marian becomes Niel’s “lost lady” because of the fact that she refused to die with the old world and instead moves out of Sweet Water to marry an Englishman, notably upsetting Niel. She then becomes her own “lost lady” in the sense that is lost between the Old West and the New West with her refusal to accept her decline in society.



Ivy Peter slits her eyes and causes her wanders aimlessly, foreshadowing Marian's loss of direction after the downfall of the Captain.


She symbolized the end of the era of the pioneer as she tried to move into the new world after the Captain's death.


The marsh is a potentially lucrative piece of land that is kept for aesthetic values. It is eventually drained for profits, symbolizing for changing ideals of America.


The sundial is an emblem of the of past. When the sun-dial placed on the Captain's grave, it symbolized the death of the pioneer era and its ideals.

Possible Themes – Topics of Discussion:

  • Loss – How does Niel deal with the loss of old ideals as new, capitalistic ideals take over?

  • Change – As a new era approaches, should people change along with the times or keep their tradition?

  • Values – As America industrializes, the ethics of the pioneer era are bypassed for greed and power. Does the change of an era come at the expense of morality?

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