A Calendar of the Letters of Willa Cather

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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 


To Sidney FloranceJune 30, 1945Drew U (Caspersen 54) 

Is pleased to have Mr. Foe assume her $1000 farm mortgage on the North half of Northwest Quarter of Section 22, Township 2, Range 12. For now, please just put Mr. Foe's payment in People-Webster County Bank. After July 5 will be at the Asticou Inn in Northeast Harbor Maine working on a new story. Is surprised at Will Auld's treatment of Mrs. Damerell. Thought he esteemed her, but supposes that once honor begins to be lost, eventually it is lost entirely. Father liked Will's uncle, Tom Auld, and both Tom Auld and father were fooled into thinking Will respectable because he neither smoked nor drank. From what the newspaper says, the weather in Webster County looks good for the corn. Appreciates his kindness, which has given her good feelings about Red Cloud again.   Willa Cather 


To Roscoe Cather,  Sunday [August 20, 1916] , on 5 Bank Street letterhead, but written from Red CloudUNL-Roscoe 

Hasn't had a minute to herself until now. Had to give a talk at Gertie Coon's Institute. Loves to play with West Virginia—such a lovely, fascinating child. Virginia's grandmother pretends to be a disciplinarian, but really spoils her. Virginia has seemed to want to go home only once, when she saw father without his dentures and started crying. Virginia will be a challenge to raise as she is headstrong and doesn't have a good sense of priorities: will ruin an entire picnic because she couldn't wear a particular ribbon in her hair, though in fact she is indifferent to hair ribbons and loves the idea of the picnic. She seems unable to give in. However, after a big fight with her grandmother about whether it is acceptable to play in the rain barrel while wearing a nice white dress, she is pleasant and not bitter. And Douglass agrees that she has such a delightful voice. Roscoe ought to be firm with her when she gets passionate over small matters. People who lack proper perspective live muddled lives. However, that's really the only improvement she needs. Otherwise, she is very appealing: a smart girl, who will likely respond to guidance. Her grandmother won't be any help, though, as so many of her days have also been spoiled over trifles. Mary Virginia and Tom, despite their upbringing, know they can't be bothersome or they won't be tolerated by their adult aunts and uncles. Doesn't have any idea what Jim's plans are—who could?—, but they should let Virginia stay awhile. Everyone enjoys her company. Loves seeing the way their unsentimental mother keeps looking in on Virginia after she is asleep. Misses Margaret and Elizabeth very much and wishes they could read letters. Please get copies of the photographs of her with the twins made soon so she can mail them to people like Jack and Isabelle. Felt so bleak when she first went to Lander and left feeling revived. The twins took her mind off problems, and taking horseback rides with Roscoe was invigorating and heartening. Had secretly feared that she and Meta would not get along, but found it a real pleasure to become friends with her. Was so relieved, and really feels now that she and Meta could be companionable even on a long trip with the twins. Should have come to Lander long ago. Misses the twins terribly. Wonders if they enjoy Isabelle's gift of a stuffed bear? P.S. Remember to send the pictures!  Willie. 


To Meta Schaper Cather,  Tuesday [Aug. 29? 1916] , on 5 Bank Street letterhead, but written from Red CloudUNL-Roscoe 

Elsie is leaving on Friday and is now packing, or trying to. Cather is relaxing on the upper porch and going through the newly-purchased "Rocky Mountain Flowers" book. Virginia has the remarkable ability to recognize familiar shapes and instantly identified flowers she knows from Lander. She can perceive forms so soundly that she sees, in an instant, the difference between snapdragons and peas. Challenged her to distinguish among the pine trees in the yard, and she did it quickly and confidently. Mary Virginia and Tom cannot manage nearly as well. When the others went to the Bladen Fair, she and Virginia shared tea in the upper porch, which they imagined was Wendy's tree house [from J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan]. The summer days are devoted to the porch, where they each have a hammock. Wishes the twins were there. [Note in top margin:]In our botanical craze, we should call the baby Virginia occidentalis. Happy to receive the photographs of Margaret and Elizabeth.  Willa. 


To Roscoe CatherDecember 8, [1918]UNL-Roscoe 

Started this letter a long while ago. New York is brimming with soldiers back from the war. Has been trying to see them often. They enjoy speaking about France to anybody who is interested. Is mailing a copy of a terrific review [of My Ántonia]—complete with a large photograph—from the Sunday Sun. ["My Nebraska Antonia," [New York] Sun (6 October 1918) section 6, p. 1] Had to special order the copies, for extras aren't readily available due to paper shortages. Is stunned by the popular response. Doesn't everybody in the U.S. have such a tale? Has never cared for tales herself, and less so now that she is so conscious of their construction. In My Ántonia, didn't intensify the drama of life one bit, yet people really enjoy it. Professor Geoghegan [possibly linguist Richard Henry Geoghegan?] tells her that he believes it is the greatest American novel; father also says it is as good as any he has read. How delightful to reach such different readers! Hopes she can do it again. Is pleased Virginia likes her coat. Sorry to hear about the whooping cough going around in his family. Was in Red Cloud when Trix Mizer's children were suffering from it. Please write soon. Enjoys hearing about his life. Ask Meta to write, too. Is working some on the Blue Mesa story [a version of "Tom Outland's Story," which later appeared in the novel The Professor's House], but is struggling with it mightily. Does not want to write it conventionally, but the alternative is very hard.   Willie. 


To Virginia Cather [December 6?, 1926] , on W.S.C. letterhead ; UNL-Roscoe 

Can't decide what books to get for the twins, as she doesn't know what they have. Do they have Kipling's Jungle Books or Louisa May Alcott's novels? How about Little Lord Fauntleroy, Hans Brinker, Pilgrim's Progress, Black Beauty, Tom Sawyer? Please send a list of what they would like. Won't be able to buy them for this Christmas, but would like help for the future. Just received her pleasant letter. Is pleased not to be an embarrassment to her nieces. Hopes Virginia will write when she's read the first installment of Death Comes for the Archbishop. That is her real holiday gift for her family: the Archbishop can't be purchased; one needs a crafty aunt to invent him.   Willa Cather. 


To Roscoe CatherNovember 16, [1930], on letterhead of The Grosvenor, 35 Fifth Avenue, New York, NYUNL-Roscoe 

The new pure gold medal is good-looking and quite big: a great paperweight! Will have it appraised at the bank. It's one kind of praise that actually has value! [In the fall of 1930, Cather received the Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters for Death Comes for the Archbishop.] Is sending a New York Times editorial that correctly explains why Sinclair Lewis received the Nobel Prize ["Mr. Lewis's Nobel Prize," New York Times, 6 November 1930, p. 24]. Americans seem that way to Europeans, and those we've bullied like to read a critical account. They are probably right about us. Wrote Lewis and confessed that though she would have rather received the award herself, she's glad that if she didn't, he did. Many of the paper's readers mistakenly believe she won, and are sending requests for a share of the prize money. Is mailing a copy of the speech made by Judge Grant when she got the [Howells] award. Maybe he could consider sending it and clippings on to Elsie. Is so busy with other letters that she won't have time to write Elsie herself. George Whicher was going to bring Virginia and Tom up to Jaffrey to see her the first weekend in December, but her schedule has been changed by the medal ceremony. Will spend Thanksgiving with friends in Philadelphia, where she expects only a dinner, a room of her own, and privacy.  Please send check to Grosvenor address.  Willie. 


To Roscoe CatherJuly 29, [1939?]UNL-Roscoe 

Appreciates his advice about Jessica's real assets. Doesn't want her to be hard pressed financially, but Tom needs to live up to his commitment. Elizabeth shouldn't be apologetic about the photograph of the baby—hardy babies should be fat! Thanks for the letters from his daughters. Will take the photograph to Grand Manan so Elizabeth's friends may see it. Dick took Mary Virginia to a country hotel today. Is leaving for Grand Manan Monday.   W. 


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