A Calendar of the Letters of Willa Cather

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To William V. Alexander,  at Ladies Home Journal Jan. 11, 1899UVa 

Has interviewed Nevin for the article she is doing. He told her about his writing of Narcissus. Is returning photographs.   Willa Sibert Cather   [Stout #56]


To Norman FoersterJanuary 14, 1931UNL-Cather Collected 

Does not lecture anymore, so must refuse his invitation. Has been meaning to write an extended letter to him about his book, which she read closely. Concurs with him generally, but feels he inflates the importance of many of the New York critics. Only Randolph Bourne and, to a degree, Mr. Canby had the essential innate sense of quality needed by critics. Consider, for example, Stuart Sherman (nothing personal to Sherman, as he always treated her well), who did not have such a sensibility. He could research a writer and say many valid things about him or her, but it was an external product of scholarship. To put it another way: if she mixed up a few pages of Nigger of the Narcissus with some of Joseph Conrad's respectable imitators (like Francis Brett Young), Sherman wouldn't know the difference. A critic must be more than idealistic and hardworking. In fact, a good deal of first-rate criticism was done by non-professional critics like Henry James, Walter Pater, and Prosper Mérimée (particularly his essay on Gogol). Not all good writers are good critics; Turgenev was not. That said, writers are the best at evaluating new writing and composers are the top critics of new music, or at least they are better than scholars. Since she wants to say this and so much more, she knows that his book was successful, as a reader's fierce engagement with a book's ideas is always a mark of accomplishment. P. S.: [dated January 20] After writing letter, was asked not to send it by secretary, who thought it would needlessly offend people. Secretary is now on vacation in Cuba, and has decided to risk sending it. Feels that he won't be indiscreet with the letter, even to his talkative publisher.  Willa Cather