A Calendar of the Letters of Willa Cather

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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 Elsie CatherSeptember 19, [1923], from Aix-les-Bains, FranceUNL-Southwick 

Those were just typographical mistakes and they got by both her and Edith. Should have read the first printing [of A Lost Lady] for such mistakes, but has not been well and did not suppose it would sell so fast. Did wonder about using the telephone in the novel, but no specific date was given and the events take place over a rather long stretch of time. The final section was meant to be set in 1900 or so, but it could be 1903 or 1904, and telephones were available at that time. Time was tricky in the book, as about fifteen years preceding and following the action had to be dealt with. The actual incidents of the plot took about a decade, but the reader had to feel the alterations brought by about thirty years, so was not too specific. Has Elsie seen the large advertisement in the Atlantic and the kind pieces in the Bee and World-Herald? Judge Vinsonhaler says it is fine for Mary Virginia to make the presentation of the portrait if mother is unwilling. Vinsonhaler is very kind; Shotwell, that friend of Nell McNeny's, is the problem. Bakst had beautiful photographs taken with her in his studio; would Elsie like one? Will send one to Carrie for sure. Risked illness and ventured up to cold Mount Revard, and it was marvelous. The new snow on Mount Blanc made the scene breathtaking. Paris newspapers have been printing glowing pieces on her recently. She stumbled across them by chance and sent to her publisher. Has a secret: the Figaro editor told her that she nearly received the French Legion of Honor for Claude, and would've gotten it if the full committee could read novels in English. Since it will be translated into French soon, the editor believes she will eventually get the honor. All of the French who have read the book seem to be transformed into her publicists. Would enjoy the attention very much if she were only feeling better. No, did not use Margie's knife as an ice-pick, but damaged it cutting soup bones. Is pleased Sambo's alligator is no longer living; the Mathenys have become ridiculous. Recently had word from Isabelle that her Italian cook delivered a stillborn girl and nearly died in the process. Is very saddened, as Bagina and her husband were so excited about the pregnancy. Did not see the interview mentioning Hochstein, as it appeared in the New York Herald when she was home for Christmas, and all the papers were sold out. Wonders how the Hastings paper got it. [The article, entitled "Fiction Recalls Violinist Lost In War: An Interview With Willa Cather," appeared in the New York Herald, 24 December 1922, sec. 8, p. 4, cols. 1-4; p. 12, cols. 3-4. It was reprinted in the Commercial Advertiser, 3 September 1923, p. 2, cols. 1- 4; p. 3, col. 1.]   Willa