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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
BOOK 3 - LENA LINGARD
At the university, Jim comes under the mentorship of Gaston Cleric, a romantic Latin scholar with ruined health. He has been sent to Nebraska for his health. Jim has to stay in Lincoln after his first terms at school so he can finish a yearís worth of Greek. He finds this time of mental awakening one of the best times of his life. The university is only a few years old. The students and the professors are a mixed lot. Some are students who came straight from the farms with very little money who work extraordinarily hard on their studies. The professors are a mix of fresh graduate school graduates, "stranded ministers of the Gospel," and "wandering pioneer school teachers. There are no college dormitories, so Jim rents rooms from an old couple on the edge of town. He sets up his room carefully and buys a comfortable plush chair so that when Gaston Cleric comes to see him, he will stay a long time. Jim thinks Gaston Cleric could have been a great poet, but wasted all his poetic energy on intense conversation. He remembers one night when Gaston Cleric stayed up with him talking about Danteís relationship with Virgil and quoting the Paradiso. Though Jim admires his mentorís scholarship, he is sure he wonít be one himself since he canít get his mind away from his friends and acquaintances in Black Hawk.
Book 3, tantalizingly named after Lena Lingard, begins not with her but with Gaston Cleric, the romantic Latin scholar who is Jim Burdenís mentor at the university in Lincoln. The first chapter of Book 3 seems to be out of place in a book about the prairie of Nebraska, but at the end, Jim admits that despite his love for the stories of the Aeneid, he cannot forget people like Jake and Otto, Russian Peter and Pavel. In some sense this is a self-reflexive moment in the novel, a time when Cather can write about novel writing. She seems to open a space for the kind of novel she is writing, one not about the great heroes like Aeneas, but about the every day heroes like Antonia.
One evening in his sophomore year, Jim is surprised by a visit from Lena Lingard. She is dressed very smartly so he hardly recognizes her. . Jim had just been reading his homework for the next day. It is the "Georgics" which has it that "the best days are the first to flee." Then he goes back and reads the third book which reads "for I shall be the first, if I live, to bring the Muse into my country." Cleric had explained that here Virgil didnít mean country as the nation of Italy, but as his own small home countryside. Cleric had said that as Virgil was dying years later, disappointed that he had not been able to finish the Aeneid, he had probably thought of that line of the "Georgics" in which "the pen was fitted to the matter as the plow is to the furrow." Cleric guessed that he must have been thankful that he did in fact bring the Muse to his home country. As he was pondering these thoughts, Lena knocked.
She comes in and tells him about her new business in Lincoln and her chance to build her mother a house finally. He tells her she must be very proud to have accomplished her goal. She tells him Antonia is always bragging about him, saying he will be richer than Mr. Harling. She says Antonia is back in Mrs. Harlingís good graces and is still dating Larry Donovan about whom she will hear nothing bad. She says, "Thatís Antoniaís failing, you know; if she once likes people, she wonít hear anything against them." Jim says he must go home and look after her. Lena agrees that he should. She says Larry Donovan is held in check by his fear of the Harlings who have so much influence with the railroad people.
They agree to go to the theater sometimes and then she leaves. Jim thinks about her visit and how she has brought to him all the feeling of the hired women whom he cares so much about. He realizes that if there werenít "girls like them in the world, there would be no poetry." He feels very happy with this insight and then remembers the line that the best things in life are the first to pass.
Chapter 2 introduces the new Lena Lingard, a business owner who is soon to reach her goal of building a house for her mother. It brings the two spaces of the novel together, home on the prairie and in Black Rock and Lincoln and studies of Virgilís Latin.