Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
A Lost Lady is Cather’s elegiac portrait of the spirit of an earlier age. In her depiction of Marian Forrester, the much-admired figurehead of culture and society in the town of Sweet Water, Cather evokes a quality of life that began, for her, to vanish sometime around the beginning of the twentieth century. To Cather, much of what was wrong with twentieth century life was the absence of those qualities that Mrs. Forrester embodies: charm, warmth, and a certain graciousness of manner that has no place in the harsher climate of an industrialized society.
The novel traces the fortunes of the Forresters from their position in the book’s opening chapters as wealthy and prominent citizens who divide their time between Sweet Water and the more sophisticated society of Denver, to their financial ruin and the decay of spirit that it precipitates. As in My Ántonia, the title character is seen through the eyes of a young man, Niel Herbert, although the voice here takes the form of a third-person narrator. From the time he is twelve and is nursed by Mrs. Forrester after a fall from a tree, Niel regards Marian as the standard against which all other women are measured. His devotion to her continues throughout his teenage years until the morning when he becomes aware that she is involved in an affair with a friend of her husband. For Niel, the shock is overwhelming. As Cather phrases it, “It was not a moral scruple she had outraged, but an...
(The entire section is 649 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
The Forrester home at Sweet Water is a stopping-off place for railroad magnates riding through the prairie states along the Burlington line. Old Captain Forrester likes to drive his guests from the train station and watch them as they approach his estate. He enjoys their praise of his stock farm and their delight when his charming wife meets them at the front door. Everyone from railroad presidents to the village butcher boy and the kitchen maids likes Mrs. Forrester; her manner is always one of friendliness and respect.
Niel Herbert’s acquaintance with Mrs. Forrester began when he was twelve years old, when he fell from a tree while playing with some village boys on the Captain’s property, and Mrs. Forrester summoned a doctor. The boy who caused Niel’s fall was Ivy Peters. Ivy had winged a woodpecker and then had slit its eyes. The bird had fumbled back into its hole, and Niel was trying to reach the creature to put it out of its misery when he lost his balance and fell. He did not know it at the time, but Mrs. Forrester had already singled him out from the others because he was Judge Pommeroy’s nephew. After his recovery, Niel began to be invited to the Forrester home often with his uncle.
Some years later, during a period of hard times, Niel’s father goes out of business and leaves Sweet Water. Niel stays on to read law in his uncle’s office. A few days before Christmas, Mrs. Forrester invites Niel to her home to help entertain...
(The entire section is 1222 words.)