The daughter of a Swedish minister growing up in Colorado, Thea Kronborg’s adolescent ability on the piano is encouraged by her eccentric German music teacher, Professor Wuncsch, and by the kindly but unhappily married Dr. Howard Archie. Set apart from the townspeople by her talents, Thea’s friends are far from conventional. At 17 she leaves them and her mother’s influence to go to Chicago where she studies with the pianist Andor Harsanyi. Having overheard her singing in a church, he is the mentor who discovers the potential of Thea’s singing voice and sends her to study with the chill and selfish Madison Bowers, whom she dislikes. Her story moves to Arizona when she and a wealthy young brewer, Fred Ottenburg fall in love. A tension between her relationship with him and the driving artistic impulse that has always ruled her develops and becomes the novel’s compelling central theme. Cather’s lyrical, atmospheric and moving novel is a thinly veiled autobiography of a female artist in America at the turn of the century. A mature work filled with memorable characters all of whom influence Thea in different ways, The Song of the Lark deserves to be read alongside O Pioneers! and My Antonia and fully justifies Cather’s status as one of America’s greatest twentieth-century writers.
Dr. Howard Archie had just come up from a game of pool with the Jewish clothier and two traveling men who happened to be staying overnight in Moonstone. His offices were in the Duke Block, over the drug store. Larry, the doctor’s man, had lit the overhead light in the waiting–room and the double student’s lamp on the desk in the study. The isinglass sides of the hard–coal burner were aglow, and the air in the study was so hot that as he came in the doctor opened the door into his little operating–room, where there was no stove. The waiting room was carpeted and stiffly furnished, something like a country parlor. The study had worn, unpainted floors, but there was a look of winter comfort about it. The doctor’s flat–top desk was large and well made; the papers were in orderly piles, under glass weights. Behind the stove a wide bookcase, with double glass doors, reached from the floor to the ceiling. It was filled with medical books of every thickness and color. On the top shelf stood a long row of thirty or forty volumes, bound all alike in dark mottled board covers, with imitation leather backs.
As the doctor in New England villages is proverbially old, so the doctor in small Colorado towns twenty–five years ago was generally young. Dr. Archie was barely thirty. He was tall, with massive shoulders which he held stiffly, and a large, well–shaped head. He was a distinguished–looking man, for that part of the world, at least.
There was something individual in the way in which his reddish–brown hair, parted cleanly at the side, bushed over his high forehead. His nose was straight and thick, and his eyes were intelligent. He wore a curly, reddish mustache and an imperial, cut trimly, which made him look a little like the pictures of Napoleon III. His hands were large and well kept, but ruggedly formed, and the backs were shaded with crinkly reddish hair. He wore a blue suit of woolly, wide–waled serge; the traveling men had known at a glance that it was made by a Denver tailor. The doctor was always well dressed.