Shocked by Mr. Sherman's death. Can't do an article for her; has too many unkept promises already. Willa Cather [Stout #1789]
Easter was very cold after some warmer weather. Decorated the altar with Elsie in father's memory. Gave lilies to Molly and Hazel Powell and took daffodils to father's burial place. He always loved them; daffodils in Virginia are the earliest flower in her memory. Went to dinner with Will and Charles at the hotel, then saw Mrs. Turnure and Clifford. Had supper with Molly. Since the weather was poor, was glad Elsie did not travel. Odd to get a card from the Peggs. When that young man's wife and baby died, sent him snapdragons like those sent to father. It was very sad. His wife had a tumor within her when she was pregnant, and the tumor choked the baby. With proper medical care, she could have been saved. For many days the baby within her was dead. Dr. Stockman did not call Creighton until it was too late. Albert is devastated. Lizzie is now at the Macs [McNenys], though she comes by and lights the fire in the kitchen every morning. Has been to dinner there. Helen has the grippe. Has put silk curtains up in the dining room. The old bed is painted, and old "walnut" table mended and painted. Molly came over for dinner on Good Friday and Saturday and complimented her cooking. Has polished father's oak furniture, but will have it painted if mother wishes. Please write. Willie
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
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
The critic who authored the significant review [Bourne, Randolph, "Morals and Art from the West," Dial, 65 (14 December 1918): 557] of My Ántonia she recently sent has just died of influenza. He was among the best critics in the U.S., and she worried about his review of the book. He didn't like Song of the Lark very much, except for the first section. Appreciates his favorable comparison of her with William Allen White. Has always disliked the way White and Graham Phillips wrote about life in the West. Sensed all along that there was a better, truer way of presenting it. Naturally Ántonia could have been written in the same folksy, rolicky way White prefers. He thinks he's being realistic, but he is really only showing off his commonness. Sure, White sells far more books than she does, but she is not trying to connect with the same readers. Doesn't worry about sales too much while she still has the money she saved from her days working at McClure's. Received an encouraging letter a few weeks ago from Edwin Winter, who used to be president of the Missouri Pacific. Winter had earlier worked for Union Pacific in Nebraska and built the first bridge over Dale Creek canyon—actually a wooden bridge! He wanted to visit with her, and he came over on Friday. He is a very impressive person! It's better to have one admirer like him than to sell a thousand copies. He found the book stirring and felt compelled to meet her after reading it. He wondered if she were actually Swedish, as he thought the novel was too literary to be the work of an American. What a vibrant, wonderful new friend to have! Please return the issue of the Dial and other clipping about Bourne, and inform Meta that she continues to enjoy the wonderful jam Meta sent: the scuppernong is gone and the pineapple is next. Would like to have been with them over the holiday.