A Calendar of the Letters of Willa Cather

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To Bobbie [nickname for Elsie Cather] [October? 1913] , from 1180 Murray Hill Avenue, Pittsburgh, PAUNL-Rosowski Cather 

Is working hard after two weeks in Virginia, and Isabelle is preparing for her sister Edith's wedding.  Pleased Elsie is doing some horseback riding.  Wishes to get back to beautiful Nebraska.  Sending a review from the Nation [97 (4 Sept. 1913): 210-211].  Likes beating out Norris and Phillips [Nation reviewer compared O Pioneers! to their work].   Willie 


To Elsie CatherDecember 20, 1939UNL-Rosowski Cather 

How nice it must be that Helen Louise is in Lincoln.  As Josephine used to remark when the Menuhin children were coming to the apartment, children are pleasant to have around.  Has heard about Carrie's golden wedding anniversary, especially from Annie Pavelka, who enumerated the cakes, flowers, and guests. Good of the Miners to invite people from the neighboring farms.  Wishes she could have attended.  Hopes Elsie and Helen Louise will plan something fun for Christmas.  Yehudi and his wife gave her happiness on her birthday by bringing their baby, nearly three months old, to visit.  Likes Nola; Scotch but born in Australia.  Admires the honest, forthright Scotch.  Yehudi has been flattered so much that he needs someone who is plainspoken.  She and Edith will think about Elsie on Christmas Eve, and she will remember her last Christmas in Red Cloud. P.S.  Enclosing letter to Helen Louise for forwarding.  Willie 


To Elsie CatherAugust 23 [1932?]UNL-Rosowski Cather 

Is pleased that Elsie had a fulfilling summer, but hopes she will relax now and revel in accomplishments. Appreciated Bessie's lengthy letter—read it several times—but wishes she would use a soft lead pencil. Elsie was kind to welcome Ethel [Garber Cather, sister-in-law] and her children; Helen Louise and Charles Edwin surely had a fine time. Is very glad Charles got on with Jess and her sons [William Thomas Auld and Charles Auld]; he is very sensitive. Used the incorrect name [in the short story "Two Friends"] to describe the astrological phenomenon which she saw in 1893 from the Wieners' porch, and scientists are in a tizzy. Proper description is "occultation" of Venus, not "transit." The second printing [of Obscure Destinies] is revised. Heard about it first not from an astronomer but from the omnipresent Professor Phelps of Yale University. Enclosed is his response to Cather's acknowledgment, which Elsie may destroy after reading. 


To Elsie CatherJune 22, 1935UNL-Rosowski Cather 

Elsie ought to have received letter about Virginia's wedding by now. Was aware of the engagement all along, but kept quiet until Virginia was brave enough to write her father. Doesn't trust her own wisdom at present, what with two sick people to look after and many professional concerns, so will have to consider Elsie's living situation in the fall. For the time being, please think about this: hire Lizzie Huffman of Stratton, Nebraska, to care for the house. She would do it for $10 a week. Her son could stay with his father, and her daughter could come with her. She could do everything and Elsie could just relax for once—and have breakfast in bed. Would very much like to pay Lizzie this summer, and will send a check as soon as Elsie writes. Doesn't like to give cash that people simply put in a bank account, but does very much like to provide a little luxury and satisfaction for those she loves. Why is Elsie acting like she is going to work until she is an old woman? Did Will Auld lose her money? Had thought Elsie was on verge of retirement. Please don't sell the Red Cloud house. Considered buying it the last time she was in town, but interpreted Elsie's behavior to mean that she wanted to buy it. Thought Elsie wanted to stop teaching and live in the house. Needs to go autograph 870 copies of Lucy Gayheart, but please be strong, hire Lizzie, and let her pay for it. This will be Elsie's first real shot at a relaxing vacation in Red Cloud.   Willie 


To Mary Virginia CatherSeptember 6, [1922]UNL-Southwick 

Is going back to New York on Monday the 11th unwillingly to sign five hundred first edition books [ One of Ours ] for Knopf. Has had a restful and productive time here [on Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick]. Mother should decide if she should come to Red Cloud from mid-October to mid-November or if she should wait and come during parents' Golden Wedding anniversary in December. May have appendix out, but should be fine by October 15, so either time works. If mother requests December, then she must make sure father doesn't remark upon her old age [Cather's birthday is December 7; she'd have turned 49 in 1922]. Remind him of the Woodman's dinner when Judge Yeiser embarrassed "Miss P.D." by revealing her age. Is mother missing Elsie? Enclosed is a letter from Dorothy Canfield. PS: Loves the woolen scarf mother sent her and wears it often while looking at the sea from a cliff—is even wearing it now! [Pictures with scarf enclosed.]  Willie 


To Elsie Cather, written at end of copy of a letter to Roscoe Cather [see #1263] , June 12, 1935UNL-Southwick 

Thought Elsie would like to learn about Mary Virginia's wedding, which was very nice. PS: Is astounded that Mary Virginia selected such a sober man [ Richard Mellen ] for a husband!  W. 


To Sister [probably Elsie Cather]August 27 and September 4, [1923], from Aix-les-Bains, FranceUNL-Southwick 

[Opening section dated August 27.] Keep mother from getting worried about the portrait nonsense. It won't arrive in Omaha until January at earliest. Knows mother can be awfully stressed by such things, so tell her she [Cather] thinks it is silly. If mother wants to be involved, that's fine, but don't let it be a point of worry. Mary Virginia can certainly handle the presentation of the portrait without a problem. The whole thing is ridiculous. [Second section dated September 4.] Is in Aix-les-Bains getting treatments for worsening back. Dr. Litchfield, whom she saw in Paris when he came for his daughter's wedding, encouraged her to come, as have McClure and Bakst. Bakst even rearranged his schedule to give her more sittings when she returns to Paris (now is going to have 15 sittings instead of the expected 10). Doctor diagnosed her with intercostal rheumatism and said three weeks of treatment will provide a cure. If "friend" interrupts the treatments, it will take longer. Misses lovely Paris, but relief from backache is worth it. Has a wonderful room and excellent food for a small price—much less expensive than the awful accommodations in Lakewood, New Jersey, last winter. Doctor and treatments are costly, though. Treatments are hot sulfur baths accompanied by underwater massages. Took trip from Paris on the impressive Paris-Rome Express, and, thanks to exchange rates, it was not expensive at all. It is still very expensive for local people, who must hate the foreigners that tour in a luxury no natives can afford, especially since so many of their men died to make it worth touring. Loves the pictures of Helen Louise and the baby [probably Charles Edwin Cather, nephew], as does Isabelle and her pregnant Italian cook. The cook and her husband have been preparing for the baby throughout the summer, and Jan is to be the godfather. The baby will be named Jan if it is a boy, and Giovanna if it is a girl. [Note in margin requests that all mail be directed to Ville D'Avray.]   Willa 


To Earl and Achsah Barlow BrewsterFebruary 21, [1923], from Number Five Bank StreetDrew U (Brewster 22) 

Has been wanting to respond to their letter about One of Ours, but was away at parents' Golden Wedding. They are right about Howard Pyle. The reception of the book has been unusual for her. Those who dislike it dislike it intensely, and many critics disparage it as sentimental, but former military men love it and are purchasing it. Has hired a secretary just to keep up with large and tiring amount of correspondence. Is pleased that the Hambourgs selected the "Blue Nigger" so she might see it another time. Appreciates the photograph they sent, but misses the color. Loves the paintings she and Edith have; "The Scallops" is now her favorite. Is leaving for France at the beginning of April and would love to see them in Paris. Hopes they write regularly to Edith. Must confess something delicate: Edith dislikes the Hambourgs, especially Isabelle. She was probably jealous that they were able to see the Brewsters when she could not. The Hambourg topic has been difficult for her and Edith, for they are wonderful friends of hers but upset Edith so. It is not Edith's fault; their characters simply clash. Edith believes the Hambourgs are condescending to her, but Cather doesn't see it. Hopes Edith can spend time with the Brewsters when they come to the United States in the summer, for that will ease the difficulty of Cather being away. Edith has experienced a difficult winter due primarily to family hassles. Will they do an exhibition in the United States? They should. Hope they received Edith's gift, one of which Cather also received in Red Cloud. Can't wait to talk to them soon and thinks often of their time together in Naples. Has been a trying and unproductive winter for her. Hopes they are well and that they can all be together soon.   Willa Cather 


To Roscoe CatherJune 12, 1935UNL-Roscoe 

Is sending Virginia's letter back for him to keep. Clearly she is thinking through matters herself, and that is preferable to Roscoe's or Cather's doing the thinking. Thanks for the interest check. Did he get Mary Virginia's notification of her wedding? It was a beautiful ceremony in the "Little Church Around the Corner," the same church father liked to rest in when he visited. Both Mary Virginia and Adelaide looked lovely. Isabelle Hambourg insisted on going to the wedding in spite of her illness and even to the reception afterwards in Donovan's [Albert Donovan?] apartment. Has known Dick Mellen, the groom, since Mary Virginia's engagement last autumn. He is from a fine Vermont family. Liked to read the letters from his mother to Mary Virginia, which were so loving and gracious. Mellen is a smart, somewhat withdrawn graduate of Harvard Medical School and was Thomas Auld's roommate in Amherst. He even has met Mary Virginia's mother and father! Thinks it is a good match, and Mary Virginia will certainly be helpful to him as he develops a medical practice. For the next two years, however, he will be interning at Bellevue Hospital, which will be trying for them. Mary Virginia will continue to work at the library and will have to be alone often. Did not get involved with the decision, but once they determined to be married immediately, tried to be of help to them. Please forward letter to West Virginia if she is not with Roscoe. Will inform him of her own intentions later. Will stay in New York with ailing Isabelle for now.   Willa. 


To Roscoe Cather [1938?] UNL-Roscoe 

Was consoled by his letter, both because it contains good news about his health and because he admitted his vulnerability. She is vulnerable herself: has not written to him more often because whenever she does—or writes to other family members—is overwhelmed by guilt over her negligence through the years: she should have shown more care to their parents, should not have spent an evening of Douglass's brief visit to New York meeting with her British publisher. Her life is full of such failures. But did not so much try to build a career as try not to have to ask her father or any other member of the family ever to send money to support an endeavor so foreign to them. Wasted a lot of time that way. During three long summer visits, witnessed Jim pressing father so hard to start him in business that he hid in the bathroom. Hated to see that, but perhaps avoiding such nagging cost her something more important. To answer his question: her health is improving. Was having trouble sleeping, had shaking hands, and hair falling out in clumps. Apparently, such things can come from anxiety. Is now sleeping better and hands not trembling, but still feels down. Surprisingly, Alfred Knopf, such a wonderful friend and colleague, gave her the only recent snapshots of Douglass she has. He took them with his small Leica without Douglass even realizing it. They're not of high quality, so Alfred didn't give them to her until after Douglass died. Please share one with Elsie and send a copy of the account of its origin. Retain a copy, and send one to Jack and another to Jim. Elsie reports that he has books of hers that belonged to Douglass. He can send one to Jack and one to Jim, but only ones with inscriptions to Douglass. Wants to avoid their use by club women. Please keep the others. Please inform Margaret that she is glad for her happiness. Only a year ago was invigorated by the presence of five young playmates—twins in summer, Menuhins in winter. Now all have married. Has to keep at the new book begun last fall, even though the energy has drained out of it. But consistent work hours are the one way she may get to feeling like herself again. Both Alfred and Dr. Garbat concur on that point. Correspondence is difficult. Will send Margaret a wedding present soon. Is leaving after September 15, but does not yet know where she is going. Is writing on the old typewriter Douglass got for her thirty years ago when the three of them were all in Cheyenne. It has been damaged by the ocean air, though Ralph has tried to fix it up with mechanic's tools.   Willie. 


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