A Calendar of the Letters of Willa Cather

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To Elsie Cather [1923?] fragment, starts on page three; UNL-Rosowski Cather 

. . . Can borrow money but doesn't want to.  Hopes Elsie will watch over things and get father to buy what is needed.  Doesn't want parents to deprive themselves in order to send her money—though he did give a lot to Jack and Jim.  Has warm affection for home, despite occasional irritation.  Will Elsie please show Margie snapshots of Isabelle's French home.  Will visit there soon.  [Cather sailed for France April 1, 1923.]  Margie kept asking to see them—so once again the family will cater to her whims.  The tower shown in the picture is for doves and rabbits.   Willa 


To Ethel Garber Cather [sister-in-law]July 23, 1930, from Paris; postcard showing the St.-Martin's Gate in Paris ; UNL-Rosowski Cather 
Image of postcard showing the St.-Martin's Gate in Paris, France
Front of postcard #1876

Going south soon to see friends near Marseilles. Sends love to Jim and children.   Willa Cather 


To James CatherJuly 12 [1934?]UNL-Rosowski Cather 

Is writing from a bank vault, where she is doing some business before leaving for Canada. Must tell Jim something: would not respect him more if he hit it big in the oil business. Chance and accomplishment are not the same thing. To work a steady job and support one's family is an accomplishment. That is what Roscoe has done. Making money in gold or oil or stocks is just chance. Real accomplishment is only achieved with persistent hard work. Doesn't mean to lecture, but Jim mentioned he would like to tell her of an accomplishment, and he needs to know that working, staying healthy, and raising children is enough. Jim's children [Helen and Charles Cather], who seem wonderful, would not value their father more if he was rich. Californians value chance too much. Tell the children if they begin to evaluate people based upon their wealth instead of their character she will stop loving them. Doesn't believe it will come to that, but is sincere.   Willie 


To Roscoe Cather, February 13, 1910 on McClure's Magazine letterhead ; UNL-Roscoe 

Has had a crazy winter too, but unlike Roscoe's it wasn't from weather. Has had to deal with all kinds of problems while Mr. McClure in Europe. Was ill with bronchitis in December, and Isabelle came to nurse her. Even then had to work on the magazine, for magazines, like sick infants, have to be constantly fed. Thankfully she had the Russian material and the Paoli article [Xavier, Paoli, "Recollections of the Shah of Persia," McClure's Magazine 24.5 (March 1910): 525-538] that she secured when in England. Is improved now, but still has to rest and consume milk like a child. Has had good success with the the magazine, however; profits up $60,000 from the previous year. Doesn't get any of that money herself, but does get praise. Do read the March issue, as she worked hard on it, and definitely read "A Joint in the Harness" ["Ole Luk-Oie" {pseudonym of Sir Ernest Dunlop Swinton}, "A Joint in the Harness," McClure's Magazine 24.5 (March 1910): 547-557], which she got in England. Would appreciate his telling her what pieces he likes and doesn't like; it's helpful when people tell her their reactions forthrightly. Certainly doesn't like everything that gets published herself! Has written Mrs. Goudy and Mrs. Fulton. Thanks for the silk stockings at Christmas. Has he seen darling Mary Virginia since she started talking? Has received a letter from Aunt Franc; enjoyed visiting with her, Auntie, and Bess last summer. Loves that far-off, quiet country. If health permits, will go to England in May, and wishes Roscoe could go, too, as she longs for a good talk with him. Wishes she could come out to Lander, but job is very demanding—more so than running Sandy Point. What has become of Jim Yeiser, anyway? Can't get into one letter all the interesting things she'd like to tell him. Will shrug off the office and catch a train west one of these days.   Willie 


To Roscoe CatherJuly 14, [1914] from Red Cloud, NebraskaUNL-Roscoe 

Had wonderful time in Maine, then spent a few days in Chicago for reasons of work before coming to Red Cloud. Plans to visit him in Wyoming, but doesn't know when. Affairs in Red Cloud are pretty messy. James has convinced father to invest in a lot of farm buildings and equipment, but has no interest in doing the work of a farm. All Jim cares about is bossing Jack around and worrying their parents. He persists in nagging father, and, of course, father can't refuse but is worried sick. Thankfully Douglass's work prevents the situation from absolutely crushing their father, but it feels like a return to the hard times of 1893 after so many better years. Isn't at all sure what actually belongs to Jim and what he has just claimed for himself.   Willa. 


To Roscoe Cather [June 1929] , from a Santa Fe train ; UNL-Roscoe 

Is going East and will be at the Grosvenor Hotel, 35 Fifth Avenue, New York, for ten days. After that, is going to New Haven, Connecticut, the Hotel Taft, to get an honorary doctorate from Yale University on June 19, only the second one given to a female author. Edith Wharton received the first one, and she traveled from Paris to get it. Hopes he can visit their mother this summer. If so, he'd better not bring the family, as any group of people will inspire their mother to use up her energy orchestrating everyone. Left to go north when Will Auld came to visit. It would be better for Roscoe to see mother now, while her mind is sound, than to wait and come to her funeral. She has good days and bad days, but overall has declined; hopes she doesn't have to suffer a long time. Will Auld agreed with that. But for now she remains mother, and the trip wouldn't be too long for him. Would have gone through Rawlins, but already had a round-trip ticket. Mother's sanitarium is quiet and attractive. Though she may last for a time, she's bound to fail in mind and personality. It is a terrible thing to see, but he would not regret a visit. As to herself may never be able to feel gladness about things again, though maybe for youthful people and youthful art. Enjoyed seeing Jim Yeiser and Marguerite in San Francisco.   Willa. 


To Roscoe CatherJuly 2, [1934?]UNL-Roscoe 

His kind letter needs a quick reply. Planned to pay for the trip all along, and only wanted him to give it some study. His grand offer, though, shall be accepted in the noble manner with which it was offered. He reminds her of their father. All her brothers have a portion of father's graciousness, even Jim, which makes them more gentlemanly than average. Is certain Roscoe's daughters have noticed. Weather in New York is very hot, but must stay until mid-July. Has remained in the city in order to finish the book, and did so. Moreover, the Woman's Home Companion paid a fine price for the serial rights, and it will run there between April and September of 1935. [Lucy Gayheart appeared in the Woman's Home Companion in five parts, from March to July 1935.] The book will have to wait for publication until September 1935, of course. [Lucy Gayheart was published on August 1, 1935.] Scribners made an offer, too, but it was only half the Crowell company's offer, since their circulation is so limited. Money is the only reason to publish serially. There used to be clout in getting items placed in quality magazines, but there are no magazines of quality left.   Willie. 


To Roscoe CatherJune 29, 1938UNL-Roscoe 

Wants to tell him of few things confidentially: 1) Is sending a letter from Mary Virginia with a marked passage he should read. Did not, nor did Edith hear Douglass mention a will that time, but they perhaps missed it amid the laughter and conversation. Certainly Mary Virginia would not make it up, so she must have heard something. He could have been speaking only figuratively, though, to explain his concern. Must be honest in recalling the speech of a man who can speak no more. 2) Went with Douglass to Tiffany's to pick out a bracelet for Miss Rogers, but not one in the case was attractive. Suggested Douglass consider one of the lovely rings, but he thought it a little too committal. While at the sanitarium, saw Miss Rogers often, and she seemed inoffensive enough. She wasn't dumb, could do her job well, was polite, and was prettier than Douglass's other sweethearts. Douglass was coming on strong with her, and she seemed to like him, too. He told her the spring before their mother died that he was thinking about marrying Miss Rogers. Did not object. It is difficult for a young working woman to bear six or seven years of courting. Believes she lost her job at Las Encinas because of gossip about her and Douglass. Never considered Miss Rogers as someone who was after Douglass's money; she behaved like a woman who believes she is in love with a man and wants to please him. In the subsequent six years or so Miss Rogers may have worsened; such an unsettled relationship is wearing for a woman her age. She is definitely worse off now than when Douglass first met her: she's lost several jobs, been gossiped about, and is now past thirty (which makes it harder to get a job and get married). Hopes Douglass was openhanded with her when he was alive, for his will does not repay all she's lost. Jessica and Elsie, who are now so upset, were a burden to Douglass in the years Miss Rogers was a comfort. Does not mind if Douglass treated her lavishly, as she did more for him than his own family did. They should look at this from her perspective. Wouldn't Roscoe be troubled if one of his own daughters was treated like that? The letter from Elsie, which she has enclosed, speaks for itself. Miss Rogers was a decent young woman in those years, and she trusted Douglass's devotion even if it did not profit her. 3) Doesn't want to write about the next topic, but feels obligated to: all of Jim's letters since he left Nebraska to work with Douglass reek of betrayal except the one since Douglass's death. He complains endlessly that Douglass duped him out of his share of their father's estate! Has told Jim that she would trust Douglass with her own money at the drop of a hat. The few recent ones—maybe two a year—also whined that he was treated like an underling when he understood the oil industry perfectly well. He didn't believe the oil industry took any expertise, just luck, and he planned to speculate independent from Douglass. Roscoe would be affected by these letters as much as she. She thought they were so spiteful, she only kept them a few days before destroying them. Jim has positive qualities and she is very fond of him when he is near, but he is arrogant and provoked by a malicious wife full of cheap aspirations. Knows that Ethel was understanding with Jim for a good while, but when she soured, she turned to poison. It is Roscoe's duty to prevent these angry, self-centered women from harming Miss Rogers any further. Their father would have been kind toward her. If Miss Rogers has a different version of the will that is fully legal, it must be honored. Elsie's theory that Miss Rogers goaded Douglass into drinking is silly. All knew his heart was weak, and he wasn't the kind of man that retired to his bed. He liked a drink, as it allowed him to feel more lighthearted about his future. He was pushing away his fears with his drinking. 4) Usually does not reveal the secrets of others, but thought Roscoe needed to understand Jim's character. Neither he nor Jack should be trusted very far. Better to place confidence in Douglass's business partners. Jack is sweet, but careless and now too old to change. Jim never could handle serious men; his type is Roy Oatman or Russell Amack. Douglass's partners aren't sophisticated men, but they understand the oil business. Will not write about this any more. Is soon going to Grand Manan with no typewriter or secretary. Knows that Roscoe wants to support Jim and Jack, but he should keep in mind Jim's disloyalty to Douglass while Douglass lived. Jim treats his children well, but he doesn't seem to love them more than Douglass did. When acquainted with Miss Rogers, did not think she was pursuing men, but her career. During the trip to Caliente, she never behaved vulgarly, but was a straightforward, smart Western woman. She didn't moon over Douglass, and was always well-behaved. Is grieved to see her life ruined. Roscoe should act as their father would have. P.S.: After reading Elsie's letter, get rid of it.  Willie. 


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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