OLD JULES by Mari Sandoz (1935).
Updated: Feb 10, 2020
The sharp and profound story about the author’s father, Old Jules, who immigrated to Niobrara County in western Nebraska in 1884, from Switzerland. While there are similarities to Cather’s writing in terms of the challenges the land provided to these early white settlers, Old Jules is very different from most of Cather’s characters. First, Old Jules (RIP 1859-1928) is himself, the real father of the author – Mari Sandoz (RIP 1896-1966). Second, Old Jules is tough, harsh, tragic and resilient in his character and in the way the land and the times act upon him. In my opinion, this is the best biography of white settler pioneer life in the Great Plains, giving a realistic, direct look into the mythic American west of the late 1800’s and early 20th century. However, Old Jules is a bigot and a man of singular mind – that of building the business and infrastructure of this settled upon (and stolen) land. He is quoted by his daughter to have said to her “You know I consider writers and artists the maggots of society.” Yet, Mari persisted in her passion too and was a gifted and celebrated writer, while through her faithful narrative, Old Jules becomes understandable, forgivable and even lovable through his wild and rough ways.
Terry M Pace (2020)