- Text Analysis
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To Carrie [Miner
Sherwood], Elsie Cather, and
; ; copy at
Has to write a shared letter because of inflamed tendon, reason she did not come to for Christmas. Is trying to avoid surgery and trying to avoid hospital until after Christmas by resting the hand as much as possible. Doctors say it is a common problem among people who do repetitive small movements of the hand, and since she writes by hand she is subject to it. Hopes they understand why she can't travel. The last straw, putting the hand completely out of commission, was autographing 520 copies of a special edition of . [signed for her by "B," Sarah Bloom] W. S. C. [Stout #1511]
To Roscoe Cather, ;
Has been meaning to write about the delightful events of recent days. Finally had a luncheon with Margaret, Virginia, and at Sherry's, and afterwards watched the full-color movie of the twins on that Edith took. None of the girls had seen the movie before, and it is absolutely splendid at capturing the atmosphere of the . Had attempted to make room for a lunch date on fairly short notice with Margaret two weeks ago, but Margaret responded to her telegram with regrets that she had a bridge party, and that refusal was a little painful. Upon seeing Margaret, though, forgot the pain and enjoyed her company. After all, Margaret couldn't have understood her time constraints or what it took for her to clear that day. It is good to be humbled with a refusal now and then. Hopes enjoyed the long lunch at Sherry's as she did. Loved seeing West Virginia again—such a personable young woman. Agrees with in admiring her naturalness and self-assurance. Such attributes are unusual in the younger generation and will stand out more as Virginia matures. Margaret is as dear as ever and was wearing a hat that reminded her of the hats Grandmother Boak kept in her trunk. Appreciated Roscoe's letter from , which she stuck in her copy of , even though she was not aware of when writing it. Thought Mrs. Garber was from , and did not know until Douglass told her that her grandmother was Spanish. Glad she did not know that, for she might have been tempted, like , to add a little exoticism to , which would have revealed her immaturity as a writer. By just capturing Mrs. Garber as she knew her, though, she did provoke some French critics to remark that the character was reminiscent of Spanish women. Mustn't stetch this letter out any further as her right hand is wrapped in a sling from an injury to the thumb tendon: signed 500 de luxe copies of the in three days. May have to retreat to the French Hospital so the nuns can tend to her. Is going to Yehudi's concert on December 2, though, even if she has to wrap her hand in a white scarf. So long. Does love his daughters, especially Margaret. Willie.
To Roscoe Cather, ;
Loves the photographs of his family. Virginia has become very beautiful and is much admired by , who is no longer attractive but is getting her health back (weight up to 108 from about 90 pounds). Has lost weight herself, down to 124 pounds. Maybe the two of them will meet in the middle! Is still working through page proofs, but her toothache has finally been tended to. [Enclosed is a page from the "Books" (Section IX, Sunday, October 6, 1940), with the headline "The Books You May Be Reading This Fall," and featuring Cather and an announcement of .] Willie.
To Roscoe Cather, ;
Is embarrassed by the crazy letter she sent him from . Apologizes and wishes it forgotten. At the end of a big project, one often questions oneself. Also, was dealing with a terrible toothache and couldn't see a dentist without losing a week of precious working time. Took codeine for sleep, but that drug makes her groggy. It was a trying time, but the is done and seems to be good. Triumphs engender new difficulties, however, as the enclosed letter from Alfred Knopf indicates. Will receive payment from the Book of the Month Club at the end of January (the selection is still secret). Keeps a January 1 to January 1 fiscal year for income tax, which prepares for her. The took four years of work, but all the money will come in one year, 1941, when the tax rates on "unearned income" are to increase. Seeing the problem coming, Alfred has volunteered to advance half of the Book of the Month Club money so it will be on the 1940 return—did it entirely on his own, she didn't say a word. Wonders if Roscoe could do the same with the check for her from Ocean Front Oil that he mentioned. He said he was holding onto it until the lawsuit with the State of California was resolved. If he could send it to her before December 1, it would be counted in her 1940 income. Knopf is making the largest first printing of his life on ; previously his largest was , also a Book of the Month Club selection. The Club produces its own cheap copies of the book after purchasing the rights. Though this reduces Alfred's sales a bit, he believes the advertising is worth it. Plus, Book of the Month Club subscribers are people who probably wouldn't actually buy it otherwise; they just want reading material but don't know how to choose it. They aren't, as Alfred put it, her "natural audience." Doesn't understand it, but this subdued about times gone by has ignited the interest of the young members of Knopf's staff. Is proud enough of the overall design, but the brave epilogue (which she fears might put readers off) is what does it. Luckily, she wrote that part early on, as she likes to know ahead of time where her book is going. The epilogue is entirely accurate, down to the weather conditions. Has always felt the intensity of that real event propelled her out of infancy into awareness, and long wanted to put it down on paper, but did not see how to do it without writing a biography of herself—a dreadful idea! P.S. Is sending him a copy of a letter she wrote to Elsie, which explains a few other concerns of the moment. Is half done on page proofs. Willie.
To Alfred A. Knopf,
[Written in margin of a letter from Ferris Greenslet dated October 8, 1940, next to a short paragraph describing sale of a Library Edition of Cather's books.] Is Alfred aware of this? Approves if he does. W. S. C.
To Bishop George Allen
Appreciated his letter about dedicating the altar rail at Grace Church, a place she loves as she loves few others. Remembers the evening of her and confirmation, which meant so much to them all. Glad to hear Molly Ferris was able to be there for the dedication. Hopes to visit this winter and talk with him about the things that have kept her away. Willa Cather [Stout #1493]
To Elsie Cather,
Knows a lot about the young [Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother] discussed in enclosed article. The is friends with Myra Hess and . The is a poor Scottish landowner, and another daughter of a poor Scottish landowner, , married into the and is very economical. was raised on a farm that adjoined the before there was any thought that she would be Queen. The royal family summered in the Scottish Highlands and [George VI, Albert Frederick Arthur George Windsor] liked to play tennis with . As Duke of York he had no hope of ascending the throne, so could marry a poor girl. [Victoria Mary Augusta Louise Olga Pauline Claudine Agnes, Princess of Teck], being Scottish, did not object. a natural queen. She did lovely things in ; ordinary people are full of stories about her visit. Had heard a great deal about her from Myra and , so was not taken by surprise.
To Roscoe Cather, ;
His granddaughter is delightful! Everyone at Whale Cove Cottage enjoyed seeing the photograph of Elizabeth's daughter, and all send their best to her. Completed the final chapter of last week. Had written it by hand three times, but now typed it in and let Alfred Knopf know by telegram. His reply is enclosed, but wants it back. The name is pronounced "Sapph-i-ra" with a short "i", like Mediera or Zamira, not like the biblical "Sapph-eye-ra." It is an English name based on the biblical name. When she is back at her good typewriter, will write more. The old one she has at is the one she got for $30 from a man in who was hard up for money when she was there with Roscoe and Douglass. Used it for all her early novels. Always writes a first draft by hand. Has handwritten twice; some parts of it were even handwritten three or four times. Technically, it is the hardest novel she ever attempted, and plagued by bad luck. There is a formal experiment in it that many will not appreciate, one which does reveal the whole enterprise. Most won't even notice, but there is a hidden performance beneath the main one. That hidden performance appears in the epilogue, where the motivation and authority for the entire novel is contained. Had to provide a factual narrative of a real childhood experience or the whole novel would be made-up fake like so many other fictions of the slave-holding South, full of fancy clothes and houses, pretentious talk, and Uncle Remus speech. Has written the honest language of black Virginians, which is not much like Uncle Remus dialect. Could hear that language playing in her imagination and just wrote it down. Took a trip to Virginia at one point in the writing to make sure she had it right, using no notebook but her ear. Hopes he will save this letter until the comes. Has not explained all this to a single other person. No one else in the family gives a damn. Wasn't always bothered by that, but in older stages of life one does want someone in the family to care. Still, it is better to have uninterested relatives than to have the kind D. H. Lawrence has. Barrie and Thomas Hardy left only their books to speak for them, and that is how it should be. Is exhausted and scratching out nonsense. Please excuse. W.
To Roscoe Cather, ;
Just returned home yesterday from , where she was recovering her strength after a serious health problem in May. Was in the French Hospital for a week then. Did not tell him about it because she did not want to worry him and the doctor said it would take a while to recover. Had meant to be at the University of Pennsylvania on June 12 to accept an honorary degree, but was not able to go. Received the degree anyway. Is now working regularly, which hasn't happened for a while. Is set on giving the to Alfred Knopf by the fall; the title shall be . After missing so many deadlines, feels honor bound to meet this one. Not sure what made Roscoe think she was reading proof. At the time she went to about a month ago, two crucial chapters were not even written. In her old room in the country, though, was able to write two and a half hours each morning, then rest in bed in the afternoon, on doctor's orders. Drafted the chapters in pencil in two weeks, so will need to revise extensively, and then go through the entire manuscript and pull it together. The writing was going well when Douglass died; had to stop for four months. Then after Isabelle's death, found she scarecely cared about the book. Tried to write again, but felt like an altered woman. As a result, the book broke apart, and despite patching it together the fracture will remain. Found a letter from Margaret waiting in and will write her soon. Margaret does not have a telephone, so can't call; must wait until time permits writing. Has started a two-hour-a-day writing schedule without even unpacking, and will maintain it every day until Knopf has the book, even if it means spending the whole summer in . Please read her about Knopf ["Portrait of the Publisher as a Young Man," in Alfred A. Knopf Quarter Century (New York: Plimpton Press, 1940), 9-26.] to see why she is so committed, and it doesn't even tell half of the considerate things he has done. Must not let him down. No reason not to read proof at , but nowhere near that point. , when she is in , is always helpful with routine needs, but she is on a month's vacation now. Has a lot on her hands, but the will be finished before she goes anywhere again. Sorry for burdening him with all this. Hypertension causes troubling side-effects, especially a fogged short-term memory. Misses her former keen memory. P.S. Hears devastating news from English and French friends. [New note written on back:] July 12. Just received his good explanation of Ocean Front vs. the State of California. Doesn't believe a process server could bother her. Wishes she were already hiding out at . Hopes he has a fine time with his family. W. Willie.
To Roscoe Cather, ;
Needs his advice on a sensitive subject. Her recent statement from shows she has taken quite a loss on the property he manages, due to taxes and all. Doesn't have letter handy—Mr. Knopf's kind has it, as he keeps track of all her tax papers—but believes her loss was around $500 or $600. also said that he and his son took the boards from the destroyed chicken house on the old Henderson farm to build one at his place, and that he would take that lumber as his payment for looking after various properties! That's silly, of course, and so she sent him a $40 check. The check was cashed, but he did not remark upon it until the enclosed letter. Fears thinks that $40 was shabby recompense for his efforts. Doesn't remember how she settled on $40. At the end of a long letter-writing session, is often tired and makes poor decisions. Was it not a proper amount? Doesn't wish to be cheap with . The property has been nothing but a hassle; should have given them up for the taxes. The energy drain of dealing with them is more than they are worth. Was pleased to get his recent note. Has just returned home after a rest at the French Hospital to regain her strength. Had promised Knopf the by May 15, and still has several weeks of work to do on it. Circumstances not ideal for getting it done; Miss Lewis has been sick the last three weeks. Willie.
To Roscoe Cather, , on W.S.C. letterhead ;
Thanks for the beautiful Easter flowers. They were on her desk throughout the day and will be on her bedside table to enjoy during breakfast in the morning. Particularly enjoys flowers at breakfast and with afternoon tea. He was kind to remember her. Their rendezvous has not been cancelled, just put off. Willie.
To Roscoe Cather, ;
has informed her that Roscoe paid $152 in taxes for her property in , but doesn't provide section and township numbers. Needs this information for income tax deductions. also wrote that he paid taxes on land in , and . As if that were all the tax people required! Has repeatedly told she needs descriptions and receipts, which he could certainly get from the county treasurer. Has a March 4 deadline for both state and federal taxes, as in Knopf's office leaves after that date. Would appreciate Roscoe's advice if he has any. Willie.
To Roscoe Cather, ;
Hasn't he figured out that Elsie is always sullen and relishes her own martyrdom? Used to get upset by her letters, but has learned she always exaggerates. Mollie is actually doing quite well. Received a letter from the local doctor, , who explained that her fracture is a sort that requires no cast. Showed the letter to two surgeons in , and both thought it an extraordinary letter to come from a country doctor, better and clearer than most letters written by doctors. Shouldn't have forwarded the letter to Elsie, but she did. Called Carrie Sherwood in immediately upon learning of Mollie's accident, and it was Carrie who asked to write. Has sent Mollie $100 to help with the bills—the first $50 she sent to Carrie, thinking Mollie might not be up to handling money matters, but the second $50 she sent directly to Mollie. Note that Carrie's letter, enclosed, is very unlike Elsie's and both Mary Creighton and have been consistent with Carrie. Why is Elsie more down about it than Mollie herself? Is quite at ease about it. Mollie's expenses aren't much, and will send her $50 more in March. If Roscoe, as the executor of the estate, wishes to make Mollie a gift in Douglass's or their mother's name, that would be very nice. But contrary to what Elsie writes in her annoying letters, Elsie is definitely not being imposed upon. Mollie's old age can easily be made happier by their friendship, not their martyrdom. Willie.
To Roscoe Cather, ;
A good, forthright lad like this will get a response from her, but the duplicitous professors, who only want to sell poems, will not. Miss Bloom must deal with hundreds of letters from schools annually, and passes along only those with the ring of genuineness. W.
To Roscoe Cather, ;
Doesn't understand this; it sounds like a scam. Hates bank stocks anyway. PS: Doesn't want the money or the uncertainty. Willie.
To Roscoe Cather, , on W.S.C. letterhead;
Finds it difficult to convey to him what her life is really like. Doesn't like to forward fan mail, but the relationship between a writer and her publisher is fundamental to the writer's well-being. Nonchalantly told Alfred last spring that it was kind of Jan to return a copy of an unpublished story Isabelle had when she died. Alfred was surprised such a thing existed and was very interested in seeing it. Told him it was too short to publish as a book and had only sent it to Isabelle to entertain her during her illness. It is called " ." Sent it to him and he replied in two letters, the second of which is especially pleasing. Still has a letter he sent years ago that he wrote early on Christmas morning. Had taken along the manuscript of when going to his home for a party on Christmas Eve and he read it overnight and sent this letter by courier on Christmas day. It started like this: "Christmas morning, Four o'clock. My Dear Miss Cather. I think you are a very great writer." The meant something to him, and he was there when she needed him. Is writing from bed: has bronchitis. Sorry handwriting is so poor. Please return Alfred's two letters. PS: Don't forget, they will get together soon, when weather turns warm. If the hadn't been such a hassle, would be free now. But must finish for Alfred's sake, if only because he never tries to rush her. Willie.
To Roscoe Cather, ;
Received the beautiful violets on Christmas Eve shortly after dinner with Yehudi, Nola, and the baby. The lovely scent and card ended the day beautifully. Flowers from Roscoe recall so much. Wants to talk it all over, and they will one day. Might meet in secret at a hotel on the or another railroad. Maybe in ? PS: Margaret II is so full of life. Elizabeth sent a picture at Christmas. Willie.
To Elizabeth Cather Ickis, ;
A fine baby! So full of life and cheer! Is so pleased she sent the photograph at Christmas. Enjoys winking at it. Another grand-niece is only four blocks away, but she's not big enough to be a distinct person like baby Margaret. Means Yehudi's daughter Zamira. Though they don't bring the baby when they come for dinner, on her birthday marched in and laid the baby on the bed with her while she was enjoying her tea there. More tea was brought in, and it was like a surprise party. Didn't even worry about the old bed-jacket she had on. Had been fussing with all the flowers, and just decided to lie down for a nap before tea—to enjoy a little undisturbed quiet time. Tell her sister Margaret but no one else, and let Margaret II know she is already loved. Aunt Willie.