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My Mortal Enemy (Vintage Classics) Paperback – October 31, 1990


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Editorial Reviews

From the Inside Flap

First published in 1926, this book is Cather's sparest and most dramatic novel, a dark and oddly prescient portrait of a marriage that subverts our oldest notions about the nature of happiness and the sanctity of the hearth.

About the Author

Willa Cather (1873-1947) was born in Virginia where for generations her ancestors farmed land. She became a teacher and journalist and is one of the greatest American writers of the twentieth century. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Vintage Classics ed edition (October 31, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679731792
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679731795
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #113,649 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
5 star
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4 star
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I read through it like a thrilling page-turner.
One More Option
Using simple vocabulary and short, tight sentences, the author has written an intriging book.
D. Meyers
Willa Cather has written a great book as she usually does.
Josephine Briggs

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By D. Cloyce Smith on October 11, 2003
Format: Paperback
This short novella (about 20,000 words, close in size to a few of Cather's longer short stories) is a concentrated study of the decline and fall of a marriage. Cather herself agreed with the assessment offered by one of her contemporary reviewers: "there is the steady rhythm of the fundamental hatred of the sexes one of the other and their irresistible attraction one of the other."
The young and idealistic Nelly Birdseye describes the marriage of Myra Driscoll, her aunt's friend, to Oswald Henshawe. Their elopement incites Myra's uncle to disown her from a considerable inheritance, and the couple alternates between mutual bliss and impoverished misery. The fragility of their relationship is further imperiled by Myra's materialism and jealousy and Oswald's indolence and philandering.
"My Mortal Enemy" is, perhaps, one of Cather's most misunderstood novels, and the author seems to have intended that the title's meaning remain ambiguous. Most readers will assume, quite reasonably, that the "mortal enemy" who inflames Myra's inevitable disillusionment is Myra herself, and the text certainly supports such a reading. Yet in correspondence to friends and other writers, Cather admitted that she "had a premonition . . . most people wouldn't [understand]" that Myra's "mortal enemy" was Oswald, since he could never satisfy the excessiveness of her devotion, both to him and to others.
Although framed by the sparsest detail to be found in Cather's fiction, the story's forlorn perspective and memorable characterizations make this one of her most powerful works.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 12, 2001
Format: Paperback
Too often, popular knowledge of important writers is limited to one or two books which may be neither representative of the author's work as a whole nor the author's best. This is true of Willa Cather. Her early books, such as My Antonia and O Pioneers are widely read and widely praised as is, to a lesser extent a work from her final years, Death Comes to the Archbishop. There is a range of writing from Cather's middle years which may show her at her best, without the sentimintality of the earlier writings. These middle period books are, alas, not well known.
One of these books, My Mortal Enemy, is a short tightly-written tale which can be read in a single sitting or two. But its short length holds great complexity and pathos. The book is difficult to approach because it includes a largely unsympathetic heroine, Myra Henshawe.
Ms. Henshawe left small-town Illinois behind her as a young woman to marry the man she thought she loved. In so doing, she turned her back on a large inheritance. She lives the high life in New York City as the wife of a businessman. She knows writers, artists, but is incorrigibly jealous and has a sharp tounge and a biting wit.
The elderly couple find themselves in hard times and settle in San Francisco. Myra Henshawe, sharp tounged and critical as in her youth, says harsh, irrevokable things about her life and her marriage and modernistic art and culture. She returns for value to the ritualistic elements of the Catholicism of her youth, the religion of her uncle who disinherited her when she eloped.
The story is told by a third party narrator, as is My Antonia, who functions in varied ways throughout the story.
The story is about the well of bitterness, of lost sad lives, the limitations of romantic love and the tarnished heroine's view of religion as a possible source of redemption.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By KateW on May 30, 2007
Format: Hardcover
When I finished "My Mortal Enemy," I closed the book and said out loud to myself, "Wow!"

For the past year I've been reading all of Cather's novels in order. "O Pioneers" and "My Antonia" are rightly praised, but don't miss "A Lost Lady" and this gem. ("Death Comes for the Archbishop" is next on my list.)

To me, this book is a never-to-be solved mystery. What exactly went wrong between Myra and Oswald? Too passionate and dramatic a beginning?? Oswald's being stuck in work that didn't suit him? Not enough money? Pride? Materialism? Innate incompatibility? All of the above/none of the above/some combination of the above?

There are clues, but no definite answers. And that's what makes the book so lifelike, so thought-provoking, and, ultimately, so moving. Can we ever know exactly why a relationship fails? Aren't the people in the relationship as clueless (or worse) as outsiders like Nellie Birdseye, the narrator of "My Mortal Enemy"?

I don't understand exactly HOW Cather gives the reader so much in so few words. But that is part of her genius here.

A great work of literature - and there aren't many books I say that about.

Don't miss it.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By "dearmad" on September 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
This novel took me by surprise. I read itright after the rather poor novel Alexander's Bridge and didn't expect much out of this one. However, Cather remains focused on her characters and develops them steadily and with a deft ablity to sketch and leave the full details to develop in the reader's mind.
She's a pretty impressive writer here and this story of aging, marital love, and fulfillment was an eye opener to me about how one's life can slip away even as you are holding on to it and *trying* to live your honest and best self.
While not especially "moving," the story did attach tendrils of feeling to that place that connects my heart to my head.
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