A Calendar of the Letters of Willa Cather

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To Sigrid UndsetMay 20, 1946 [possibly incomplete] ; Oslo 

Has read her letter many times. It must be sad to find her little town so altered and so many young men killed. But to be home, where everyone had a common cause to work for together, must be important; that feeling of working together creates hope as nothing else can. Here in the U.S. things are in a sad way. Yes, she might well lament, "Oh, if Roosevelt were still alive!" Now it seems as if John L. Lewis, President of the United Mine Workers, has more power than anyone else in the country. Is able to stop wheels turning everywhere. Nothing gets accomplished in Washington, due to squabbles and mismanagement. Everyone feels bitterly disappointed. She is fortunate to be in a place where the only "bigness" is that of the spirit. Is glad she saw America when she did, and not as it is now. Now lives, not in the present, but in old histories and great books. Is so glad her Kristin Lavransdatter is out in three volumes again, as it ought to be, instead of jammed into one big one. Hopes she will never let Hollywood film any of her books. Sorry to write such a hopeless letter. Maybe if they can get up to the country again, to the forests and big tides of the Maine coast, can regain her spirits.   [Stout #1732]


To Professor HornbergerMay 1946 "DRAFT" is written across the top and the letter is unsigned; ; UNL-Rosowski Cather 

Will never allow Death Comes for the Archbishop to be in an anthology, as anthologies are ultimately shallow [Horberger published The Literature of the United States in 1946]. After speaking to many young people, is convinced that the college classroom is no place for modern books. When a man is in school, he ought to study the classics of the English canon. An energetic undergraduate will read current books for fun. When teaching school in Pittsburgh, was forced to use a set list of texts, which included Silas Marner, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Marmion, Quentin Durward, Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography, Macbeth, and the poetry of Robert Burns. Some students are still in contact. Would Prof. Hornberger consider Silas Marner—a rewarding if unhurried book, good for modern students—worthy of an anthology? Does not know who selected the list and was given no options, but was expected to read them and test the students on them. This is the limit of what a high school English class can be. If one hundred students read a great writer, about two of them will be affected deeply, and the other ninety-eight will not be injured by it. When reading the classics, there needs to be no distasteful argument of a writer's worth. All anthologies make this kind of argument, except for Field-Marshal Wavell's [ Other Men's Flowers: An Anthology of Poetry ], whose notes are sometimes better than even the selected work. Except for the glut of Browning's work, his selections are perfect. He loves The Hound of Heaven and expresses that. He fears neither Rommel nor erudition. PS: Please send a list of pieces in Volume One to aid in thinking about Volume Two.


To Douglass CatherJuly 8, 1916, from Taos, NM on letterhead of the Brown Palace Hotel, Denver, CO; ; UNL-Southwick 

Has returned to Taos with Edith after days in the heat of Denver. Taos has very mild evenings and only brief periods of heat during the day. Fine horses are available; Edith is an accomplished rider, and Cather can get along well enough to handle irregular terrain. Is Douglass still coming north this July? How far? To Albuquerque? If it is possible to see him, would like to, but otherwise won't travel far, though if Edith is up to it they might drive near Española around the Rio Grande pueblos. Edith has to return to New York by July 25, and her holiday, though fascinating, has not been relaxing. When she leaves, Cather might travel to Lander, and will get to Red Cloud as some point. Hopes to convince mother to spend some time in Denver with her, since Elsie reports that she isn't in good health. Would like to be in Red Cloud for several weeks, but won't do it if no one wants her around. Regrets coming home the previous summer. Her very being seemed to annoy everyone. Douglass shouldn't think her too smug, it's just that writers have to promote themselves or forget about it. Doesn't self-promote near as much as most. Doesn't believe it would do family any good for her to give up, though quitting is tempting sometimes. Had a difficult winter and wrote very little, just two short stories [possibly "The Bookkeeper's Wife" and "The Diamond Mine"], and one of them was really weak. The death of Judge McClung and the marriage of Isabelle were big blows and gave her the unsettling sense of losing a home. Will survive, but is not too enthusiastic. Maybe going on trying after losing interest is a sign of character. Doesn't want to dwell on depressing facts, though. Why can't she and Douglass have fun together more? Yes, is difficult to be around, but any woman who has made good money in a business is difficult and she's no different. Nevertheless, the two of them still ought to enjoy one another's company, as they did in Denver the year before. Likes Douglass more than nearly everyone else, except when he's grumpy; and when he's grumpy, will just leave and accept it with detachment. Will, however, relish all positive feelings from her family, all of whom she likes very much, even more so now than when she was young and tried to change everybody. Still tends to believe in her own way of thinking first, but now tempers it with the knowledge of past errors. Has mellowed since last year. Three close friends died [?], and the family's displeasure last summer may have helped too. Is drained of spirit now--but that's bad for writing. Will probably never write well again. One needs to be transfixed with the material to write well. Hopes at least to be able to support herself still. Two stories were rejected recently for being dull, and the editors were right. Please plan on meeting somewhere—really has gotten more easy going.   Willie 


To Norman Foerster,  undated [1920-1934?] from Grand Manan, New BrunswickUNL-Cather Collected 

She and Knopf cannot allow reprinting something from the new book. Has he considered "The Diamond Mine"? Has heard a rumor that he wants a story that demonstrates a moral; stories ought not to demonstrate anything but an emotion or a response.   Willa Cather 


To Roscoe CatherJuly 8, [1916], on letterhead of the Brown Palace Hotel, Denver, Colorado, but written from Taos, New MexicoUNL-Roscoe 

Received Roscoe's letter just as she and Edith Lewis were starting out from Denver for Taos. Wanted to come to Lander, but Edith was intent on coming back here, where they had such a wonderful week last year. Hopes that after two weeks in Taos, she can stop by Lander on the way back east. At some point, will make it to Red Cloud. Hopes Mother, whom Elsie reports as being unwell, can be convinced to spend some time in Denver. Does long to meet young West Virginia [her nickname for Roscoe's oldest daughter, Virginia]. May remain in Nebraska until well into autumn. Felt so overwhelmed by deaths and marriages of friends this past winter that she only managed to produce two pieces of short fiction the entire winter and spring. He likely noticed the one in The Century—not of much merit ["The Bookkeeper's Wife," The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine, 92 (May 1916): 51-59]. McClure's bought the second one, which is considerably more successful ["The Diamond Mine," McClure's Magazine, 47 (October 1916): 7-11; 66-70]. Would like to discuss her conception for a new novel—not striking in itself. Hasn't had a really striking idea since Sandy Point [a play town Cather constructed out of packing boxes with her brothers and friends as a child in Red Cloud, Nebraska]. The challenge of the new novel, an especially difficult challenge for a woman writer, is that it must center on a man. Gets a lot of credit for her male characters, but they are successful only because a woman is always at the center of the story and the men are seen only through them. Can manage that much quite well, but is nervous to go beyond that strategy. Nevertheless, a boy and a man must be at the center of this new book. Wishes she could discuss it with him; he could give her some guidance. If only he had written a diary on his trip to Yellowstone. The book she has in mind is somewhat similar. Apologizes for the bad penmanship, but there are five Jewish salesmen in line for the hotel's one bottle of ink. Is staying at a comfortable hotel run by a dignified Mexican woman and her French-speaking parrot (her dead husband was a Frenchman). Taos is wonderful, if one is up to crossing forty miles of canyons to reach it. The population is completely Mexican and there is a lovely Indian pueblo nearby. Would be wonderful if Roscoe could come along on these adventures. Life is so unforgiving: remain independent and one feels unanchored; get bound up and, well, that's it. Isabelle's new husband is a terrible Jew that nobody likes. It's a dilemma. Plans to remain less encumbered from now on. Goodbye and hopes to see Roscoe and Meta soon.   Willie. 


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