|Cather took an active interest in the design of
her books. For My Ántonia, she commissioned line drawings
from the Bohemian-born artist Wladyslaw Theodor Benda. Cather
requested that the illustrations be simple pen and ink drawings
that resembled old woodcuts. The pictures in the first edition
of My Ántonia are not just simple decorations however, but an
essential part of Cather's text. Cather hints that W. T. Benda's
series of drawings is her most important addition to the
"substance" of the book. Ironically, the Benda illustrations,
which Cather independently commissioned, received strong
opposition from her publishers at Houghton Mifflin.
Wladyslaw Theodor Benda, was born in Pozan, Poland on Jan.
15, 1873 and died on Nov. 30, 1948 in Newark, N.J.
He studied at the Art Academy in Kraków, Poland and in Vienna
before coming to the United States in 1899. He also studied in
San Francisco before settling in New York City and becoming a
U.S. citizen in 1911. In addition to decorative works and many
illustrations for magazines and books, he created modern masks,
which were used in theatre and dance performances throughout the
world. The masks premiered in Greenwich Village Follies
(1920). Benda also wrote the book, Masks (1944).
Shortly after Jim tells Ántonia that she is "a part of
my mind," they walk home across the fields. Jim
describes the sunset:
"The sun dropped and lay like a great golden
globe in the low west. While it hung there, the moon rose in the
east, as big as a cart-wheel, pale silver and streaked with rose
colour, thin as a bubble or a ghost-moon. For five, perhaps ten
minutes, the two luminaries confronted each other across the
level land, resting on opposite edges of the world.
In that singular light every little tree and shock of wheat,
every sunflower stalk and clump of snow-on-the-mountain, drew
itself up high and pointed; the very clods and furrows in the
fields seemed to stand up sharply. I felt the old pull of the
earth, the solemn magic that comes out of these fields at
nightfall. I wished I could be a little boy again, and that my
way could end there."