A Calendar of the Letters of Willa Cather

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To Zoë Akins,  Good Friday [Apr. 19, 1935] Huntington 

Has had various problems since she was there—appendicitis in mid-March, Mary Virginia's operation soon afterward, and Isabelle McClung Hambourg's arrival on March 27, very ill. Isabelle now in a hospital. Jan and his brothers away on concert tour to raise money. Has full responsibility for Isabelle. Also, Josephine Bourda and family returning to France in May to stay. (Josephine never received the dog she [Zoë] was sending her.) Another bout of appendicitis April 7. Sent her proofs of Lucy Gayheart last week; please read to see what the book is like, don't just go by the serial version. Glad to see splendid success of The Old Maid. Was progressing well on new work when all this trouble hit. So glad to have Alfred Knopf as a supportive friend. P.S.: Yes, early part of Lucy Gayheart resembles the mood of The Master Builder [ Ibsen ], but hopes she will agree the last part, which is the best, is very much in her own manner.  Willa   [Stout #1257]


To Zoë Akins,  n.d. [pm. May 10 or 20, 1935 (not clear)] Huntington 

People are very pleased about Zoë's Pulitzer Prize. Is still very stressed by daily attendance at hospital. Couldn't give any help in preparing for Mary Virginia's wedding except to write checks. P.S.: Try to read Lucy Gayheart in one sitting.  Willa   [Stout #1258]


To Irene Miner Weisz,  Friday [pm. July 19, 1935] , from New YorkNewberry 

No, not leaving on the Berengaria, but on an Italian ship a week later, to Genoa. Lucy Gayheart having good early sales.   Willie   [Stout #1268]


To Yaltah MenuhinOct. 23, [1935], from ParisPrinceton 

With Edith Lewis, is sailing in a few days. Glad to receive her letter from South Africa. Her visit to the cave interesting. As for herself, prefers to stay on the surface. Surprising that she found Lucy Gayheart so far from New York. Isabelle asked that they leave Paris without saying goodbye, and will do so. She is very ill. Must get home and get back to work, to keep a sense of reality. Sorry not to be in Paris for Yehudi's first European recital.   Willa Cather   [Stout #1276]


To Carrie Miner SherwoodDec. 9, [1935]WCPM 

Doesn't believe Lucy Gayheart is one of her best, though the Hambourgs and Myra Hess do. Glad Carrie likes it. Selling well comparatively speaking, but book sales are all slow. Health not very good, probably due to nervous strain during spring and summer. No, can't come home for Christmas. Maybe Carrie would send reviews on to Roscoe? No one else in the family would care.   Willie   [Stout #1281]


To Irene Miner Weisz, n.d. [pm. Dec. 18, 1935] Christmas card; ; Newberry 

Drawing on front [of New York skyscrapers] was done by the artist who did the dust jacket of Lucy Gayheart.   [Stout #1284]


To Carrie Miner SherwoodJune 28, 1939WCPM 

Is sending a book she meant to send at Christmas, about several modern writers [apparently including herself]. Recommends she read chapter in School of Femininity, by Margaret Lawrence. Only Carrie and Mary, among people in Red Cloud, would read it without feeling spiteful. Has heard someone in Red Cloud claims to be the original of Lucy Gayheart, but Carrie knows who the skater was. Does she remember for sure the color of Sadie Becker's eyes? Hasn't been writing letters; still can't get over grieving for Douglass. They had such a joyful time when he came for her birthday. Will never be the same since losing both him and Isabelle. Only the affection of the Menuhins cheered her this past year. Enjoys knowing Yehudi's wife P.S.: Sorry to have missed seeing Father Fitzgerald; was in New Hampshire. Leaving for Canada soon.  Willie   [Stout #1455]


To E. K. BrownOct. 7, 1946Beinecke 

Reply has been delayed by repairs of apartment. Greatly appreciates his insightful reading of her work and generally agrees with his judgments. Is not writing much nowadays because low in spirits since the deaths of her brothers Douglass and Roscoe. Yes, Death Comes for the Archbishop is her best. It was hard to find a structure to pull together so many disparate elements in the Southwest. It simply came to her one day when watching the sunset color the Sangre de Cristo Mountains that the essence of the early Southwest was the story of the missionaries from France. Devoted herself to research on it from that day. Mary Austin claimed the book was written in her house, and now a woman named Wheelwright claiming it was written in hers. Actually, mostly written in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. Has always felt disappointed with O Pioneers!. Tried to put together the Norwegian and the French settlers, and they never mixed. Once, not long after it was published, met Louis Brandeis on the street and he told her that what he most liked about the novel was its sincerity of feeling for the place and people. Said that one of the writers in whom he did not find that sincerity was Edith Wharton. Never saw him again. Probably he didn't find her own next two books sincere either. Kept working and trying to learn. Believes Brown underestimates the early railroad builders; Jim Hill, for example, a person of great imagination and personal quality. Never gave great care to language per se in her books, but tried to let the language come to her that would express feeling for the subject. Is pleased by his praise of My Mortal Enemy. Agrees that Lucy Gayheart isn't very good, except in the last part, after the Gayhearts themselves are dead and the book centers on the effect they have in the businessman's memory. Wishes she'd had a better sense of form earlier in her career.   Willa Cather   [Stout #1741]


To Elsie CatherMay 7, 1934UNL-Rosowski Cather 

Is sorry to learn Elsie has not been well.  Hopes she won't let herself be distressed by Auld's actions. They may cause some financial problems but won't affect the family's honor. Has been dealing with her own hand injury—a big problem for a writer, not to mention her publisher.  Won't be able to finish book in time to come out this fall.  Has had treatments every day for two months.  Splints are off but hand not yet flexible.  Even so, can write some in mornings.  Alfred Knopf has read early part of the book and greatly likes the central character, called "Lucy Gayheart."  It has romance, a contemporary western setting, and is not Catholic.  Has been sending books to the Red Cloud library, but should have sent them to Elsie to read while she was sick.  Elsie shouldn't be shy of going to Red Cloud for summer; people there are Cather friends, not friends of J. W. Auld. P.S.  Check enclosed to help with yard upkeep.  A neat yard will remind people to think well of mother and father.  Willie 


To Elsie CatherJuly 14, [1934]UNL-Rosowski Cather 

Appreciates Elsie's letter from Hastings and is pleased to learn that Bess does not have cancer. The heat is terrible. Has been hoping to see a cooler, wetter forecast when reading about the Midwest's weather in the [New York] Tribune, but it never comes. Feel pity for all, particularly the elderly. Would say it's punishment for the world's latest ideas and ways if she were a Catholic. Very hot in New York when she was finishing the book [Lucy Gayheart], but didn't really mind thanks to cool mornings and Josephine's good nature and creative housekeeping. The typist [Sarah Bloom?] could not keep the purple ink from running and smearing the manuscripts. Had to send dirty manuscripts to both the magazine [Woman's Home Companion] and Alfred Knopf. Both are thrilled with the book. Sent draft to Jan Hambourg to check musical material and received cable in return declaring the book to be her finest one. Not true, but it has good form. All directed toward the end. Had to put it down for four months when it was going well or it would be even better. Is sending a check now in case Elsie needs something for medical expenses, since getting to Grand Manan will put her out of touch for a while. Virginia cried at news of Bess's illness and has fond memories of her. Paper says that Charles is in Red Cloud. How has the town reacted to Will Auld? Does Elsie ever see the Aulds? Amazed that Bess gave Tom money for school—cannot respect him. Elsie should use part of enclosed money to buy electric fans—was a great relief to have them in the Grosvenor Hotel. Feels guilty going where it's cool, but could not read proofs in the heat of Red Cloud. Fears Elsie thinks her selfish, but the many letters she receives indicate her books serve a purpose for many readers and give others something to gossip about. No matter how strong and charitable she was, she could not do more for people than that. Not that she writes them for that reason, but that is their effect. Integrity is always positive, regardless of the form it takes. With love and sympathy.   Willie 


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