"She would live for it, work for it, die for it; but she was going to have it; time after time, height after height. She could hear the crash of the orchestra again, and she rose on the brasses. She would have it, what the trumpets were singing! She would have it, have it--it!"
|Jules Breton's Song of the Lark|
And well, what then? She gets it.
Thea grows up in a small town in rural Colorado in the late 1800s. The big city is Denver--not that big at the time--and the bigger is Chicago. The family background is Swedish. Her father is a minister, rival to the Baptists across town, and she's in the middle of a mess of children. Her parents are good people and are good with her, but she needs to get out, to get to the big city, and even they recognize it. She takes piano lessons from the washed-up Wunsch, a drunkard, but once a solid German musician, who knows she has a gift; the town doctor, Howard Archie, saves her from pneumonia; Ray Kennedy, a brakeman on the railroad, plans to marry her when she gets older; the Mexican community in town--Spanish Johnny, Mrs. Tellamantez--loves to hear her sing.
Still the challenges are hard: she's a girl, in the 1800s, lower middle class at best, born in the back of beyond, 'hating a world that let her grow up so ignorant.' If she didn't have her gift--of a voice--even her intelligence, her solid grounding in music, wouldn't have been enough. And if she didn't have people looking out for her--Dr. Archie, Ray Kennedy, Wunsch, her parents--she wouldn't have made it either, she would have died on the way, either literally or figuratively. But she does, and she does.
So: it's the story of a girl becoming an artist, a Künstlerroman. (Or should it be Künstlerinroman?) What's the formula to success? (In case you wanted to know.) Early training--though her Hungarian piano teacher in Chicago tells her she didn't start the piano early enough to become a great concert pianist; support from those around her; luck; talent, naturally. Hard work, of course. Thea's considered a bit of a grind by most everyone around her:
"A growing girl needs lots of sleep, Ray providently remarked.Thea moved restlessly on the buggy cushions. "They need other things more," she muttered.