The Bohemian Girl (short story)

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The Bohemian Girl is a short story by Willa Cather. It was written when Cather was living in Cherry Valley, New York, with Isabelle McClung whilst Alexander's Bridge was being serialised in McClure's.[1] It was first published in McClure's in August 1912.[2]

Plot summary[edit]

Nils Ericson gets off the train at his hometown. He gets a ride on a carriage to his family home, where his mother greets him after many years apart. He goes for a walk with his little brother Eric. The next day the two brothers talk about Lou Sandberg's suicide - Nils dismisses the old man for his folly.

Nils visits Clara, who asks him if he has the second will his father did, bequeathing him some land. His mother drives him home and expresses her disapproval of Clara's father, for being a saloon-keeper. Later, Clara meets Nils outside the saloon; he tells her he came back to see her because he loves her. She gallops off. Sometime later, her father invites her and Nils along for wine and music. Later, at the Ericsons's barnraising, Nils follows Clara down in the cellar, then dances with her and says they should run away. As she is on her way back home from her father's one night, the two lovers run away.

A year after their departure, Eric is on a train. He is supposed to take a ship in New York City and join his brother and Clara in Bergen - Nils has been corresponding with Joe. However, he decides to stop at Red Oak, Iowa and return home to his mother, as he doesn't want to leave her alone in the house. When he is back, she says she has been milking the cows instead of asking a local boy to do the job for her: she did not want people to talk. Mother and son are happily reunited.


  • Nils Ericson
  • The agent at the train station.
  • A driver in a carriage
  • Preacher Ericson, Nils's late father.
  • Lady Ericson, Nil's mother.
  • Olaf Ericson, Cousin Henrick's sons's guardian. He farms his land and 'puts the proceeds out at compound interest for them'.
  • Mrs Otto
  • Hilda
  • Eric, Nils's little brother.
  • Counsin Henrick
  • Peter
  • Anders
  • Lou Sandberg, a local who killed himself.
  • Clara Olaf, Olaf's wife. Her maiden name is Vavrika. She doesn't get out of bed until 8a.m., which is late under the circumstances.
  • Johanna Vavrika, Clara's aunt. fifty years old.
  • Joe Vavrika, a saloon-keeper.
  • Evelina Oleson, a girl who went to school with Nils and Clara.
  • Peter Oleson
  • Yense Nelson
  • Eli Swanson
  • Nick Hermanson
  • Fritz Sweiheart, the German carpenter.
  • Olena Yenson
  • Fritz Oberlie

Allusions to other works[edit]

Literary significance and criticism[edit]

It has been suggested that the story was influenced by Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary, as the barn-raising bears similarities to the wedding scene in Flaubert's novel[4]


  1. ^ Willa Cather's Collected Short Fiction, University of Nebraska Press; Rev Ed edition, 1 Nov 1970, 'Introduction' by Mildred R. Bennett, page xxiv
  2. ^ Willa Cather's Collected Short Fiction, University of Nebraska Press; Rev Ed edition, 1 Nov 1970, page 77
  3. ^ Giannone, Richard, Music in Willa Cather's Fiction, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1968, pp. 55-56
  4. ^ Brown, E.K., Willa Cather: A Critical Biography, New York: Knopf, 1953, p. 164

External links[edit]