A Calendar of the Letters of Willa Cather

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To Helen Louise and Charles CatherJanuary 2, [1935], postcard ; UNL-Southwick 

Is grateful for the handkerchiefs from them and the fruit from their parents [James and Ethel Cather]. Had a joyful Christmas with lots of music, but unfortunately Aunt Elsie has not had such a nice holiday. Sends much love and wishes them both a Happy New Year.   Aunt Willie 


To Ethel Garber Cather [sister-in-law], Sunday [October 21, 1928] from the Grosvenor Hotel, New York CityUNL-Southwick 

The coat is in the mail. Thinks it's lovely. If it doesn't fit, send it back to Lord and Taylor with instructions for Miss Dust in the cloak department. Lord and Taylor is a dependable store. Consider a hat to match the coat. She and Edith deliberately selected a classic style; idiosyncratic styles will soon look foolish. Helen Louise will love Ethel's getting the coat more than she would getting anything of her own—so the gift is from her, too!   Willie 


To Mary Virginia CatherFebruary 21, [1919]UNL-Southwick 

A British journalist from the London Daily Mail is coming to do an interview, someone she met at Lady Spyer's, so doesn't have much time. He says she is well-liked in London. Doesn't have the flu and doesn't expect to get it, since didn't catch it from Edith. Was planning to have operation this week, but Dr. Patterson's treatments may be enough. Sees that the baby [Helen Louise Cather?] is in Red Cloud, so know she is busy. Received many flowers for Valentine's Day from boys who like her writing. Had an excellent Friday tea with many British people, a Spanish tenor, and many youthful writers. Is very proud that so many young writers respect her work. Josephine cooks wonderfully, and really appreciated the fresh butter from Bess and Auntie at Christmas. During the blizzard last week went for a walk in Central Park. Story about Mrs. Meyers was something! Loves her and Miss Blumer's dresses and wears them often. Give regards to Ethel and the baby. PS: Enclosed letter is for Virginia.  Willie 


To Mary Virginia and Charles Cather [parents] [September 1923] UNL-Southwick 

Aix-les Bains is around one hundred miles south of Lake Geneva and next to small Lake Bourget. McClure always insisted she should come her to treat her aching arm, as it is world-renowned for treating rheumatism. The first week was no help and she could barely write, but in the second week of treatment she has seen much improvement. Is treating the same backache that she has long struggled with, which Dr. Litchfield and the physicians in France agree is intercostal rheumatism. Carrie Sherwood can ask Dr. Creighton to put it in plain words for her. Each morning at nine o'clock two large women rub her under a hot water stream, and then she wraps up and remains in bed until midday. Afternoons are spent exploring the surrounding mountains by car and train. Cottonwoods and chestnuts grow next to one another; it's like an intermingling of Virginia and Nebraska. The car and hotel are both quite inexpensive. Publisher sends word that A Lost Lady has very good early sales, but is more satisfied that her parents like the book, and hopes one day the grandchildren enjoy it, too. Will sail in early November, as she has been advised not to spend the winter in the drafty, cold houses of France. Even Isabelle's is quite cold, and Cather hates to demand warmth with coal so costly. Will end this letter to respond to Elsie, who has written her many wonderful letters all summer. Has written letter on firm manuscript paper so that it is neat and legible.   Willie 


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 Roscoe Cather,  Wednesday [December 28, 1927] UNL-Roscoe 

Have all been enjoying the roses, which have remained lovely for Elsie's party today. Their parents are doing well. Helen Louise is still in the Methodist Hospital in Omaha, where Ethel took her on December 23, but she is not going to have the terrible mastoid surgery the doctor in Kearney suggested. She is exhausted after such a rough experience. Love to him and Meta. PS: Aunt Elsie is serving the nuts at her party.  Willie. 


To Roscoe Cather [July or August, 1931] , with stamp of Whale Cove, Grand Manan, New Brunswick, Canada ; UNL-Roscoe 

Hopes he reads the review in the "Atlantic Bookshelf" section of this month's Atlantic Monthly [Ethel Wallace Hawkins, "The Atlantic Bookshelf" {review of Shadows on the Rock}, Atlantic Monthly 148 (August 1931): 8, 10]. Has turned down so many offers from the Atlantic. The editor was gracious to give her such a long review. Though the review is a bit cloying, it does basically catch her main idea: the novel was meant to feel like a translation from French. If readers get that, they will get the novel. The initial sales have been terrific—the best of her career. Has sent copies to Roscoe. Would send a copy of the Atlantic Monthly, but can't get hold of American magazines on Grand Manan. The Saturday Evening Post is now thirty-five cents!   Willie. 


To Roscoe Cather [August? 1936] UNL-Roscoe 

Is forwarding a letter from Isabelle that mentions him and the twins. Though she is sick, she is still as engaged with life and people as much as ever. Any news from Virginia? [Enclosed is a letter from Isabelle Hambourg dated August 5, [1936?] that includes kind words about Cather's happy time with her nieces, and a good deal about Isabelle's time with Ethel [Litchfield?] .]   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 CatherMay 19, [1937], from Jaffrey, N.H.UNL-Roscoe 

If she were a better writer, she could fully express how much she valued his thorough letter. Feels as though she has been with him throughout the ordeal. Is very happy that he and Meta will finally be free of the bad Wyoming winters, and that they will be in the beautiful northern part of California. Though the move may not make him rich, it will make his life easier and more satisfying. Thinks Colusa sounds like exactly the kind of town she finds inviting herself. The only negative about northern California is the number of lazy, superficial people who live there, people who remind her of Jim's wife. But he and Meta are certain to find people they can enjoy knowing even there. Glad he spent time with Douglass, and agrees that Doug is more like Father than any of the rest of them—he has that youthfulness. Strangely enough, it's herself whose hands look like Father's). Again, is delighted that he and Meta will be in less harsh climate and near Douglass. When she visits the Menuhins in Los Gatos, will be able to see him, too. PS: Will leave for New York in one week.  Willie. 


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