A Calendar of the Letters of Willa Cather

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To Father TalbotJune 26, 1931, from Grosvenor Hotel, New YorkGU 

Was pleased by his letter about Shadows on the Rock. Found it difficult to get a balanced view of the early historical figures of Quebec. Has long admired the quality of loyalty to a tradition and religion that she found there. Believes the France of two hundred years ago was a nobler place than the France or the United States of the present. Tried to be as accurate as possible, though did make some deliberate changes, such as the placement of the King's warehouse at that time. Appreciates his interest. P.S.: Some serious errors in Catholic observance in the first draft were corrected by Mrs. Garret McEnerny, of San Francisco.  Willa Cather   [Stout #1059]

To Thomas MasarykDec. 1, 1923 [error for 1936?] ; Berkeley 

Is sending him a book of essays including one he may especially enjoy about Boston before World War I, "148 Charles Street," which begins on page 52. Thinks of the years before 1914 as a pleasant time in Europe and America when one could travel without passport to so many wonderful places that it was hard to choose. Always remembers his good words to her.   Willa Cather   [Stout #1334]

To Allan NevinsMar. 18, 1939Columbia 

Doesn't care to join clubs. Has lived in eight different states, each with its own writers' club, state historical society, and so on. Has friends in each. Only way not to offend is to keep from joining any. Did weaken and join the Mark Twain Society on the understanding that her name would not be on the letterhead, and it was put there anyway.   Willa Cather   [Stout #1443]

To Sigrid UndsetMay 20, 1946 [possibly incomplete] ; Oslo 

Has read her letter many times. It must be sad to find her little town so altered and so many young men killed. But to be home, where everyone had a common cause to work for together, must be important; that feeling of working together creates hope as nothing else can. Here in the U.S. things are in a sad way. Yes, she might well lament, "Oh, if Roosevelt were still alive!" Now it seems as if John L. Lewis, President of the United Mine Workers, has more power than anyone else in the country. Is able to stop wheels turning everywhere. Nothing gets accomplished in Washington, due to squabbles and mismanagement. Everyone feels bitterly disappointed. She is fortunate to be in a place where the only "bigness" is that of the spirit. Is glad she saw America when she did, and not as it is now. Now lives, not in the present, but in old histories and great books. Is so glad her Kristin Lavransdatter is out in three volumes again, as it ought to be, instead of jammed into one big one. Hopes she will never let Hollywood film any of her books. Sorry to write such a hopeless letter. Maybe if they can get up to the country again, to the forests and big tides of the Maine coast, can regain her spirits.   [Stout #1732]

To Elsie Cather [?] [May 1937?] partial letter; first page(s) missing, with May 3, 1937, letter from Frederick P. Keppel to Willa Cather; UNL-Rosowski Cather 

. . . So cannot travel to Red Cloud this year. Has been forced to give up a lot. Enclosed is a request from the Carnegie Corporation [the letter invited Cather to represent the United States on the Permanent Committee on Arts and Letters of the League of Nations], which she declined; it would be too exhausting. Suggested that Mr. Keppel invite Thornton Wilder instead, and Wilder agreed. Wilder is fluent in French and Italian and is both scholarly and gregarious. Keep this quiet. Would like Wilder to think he was the top pick. Tell Carrie and Mary, however. Hopes Red Cloud won't have too much heat and that Elsie will enjoy another summer there. Hopes Elsie will use check to pay for household help. Likes the nieces very much and will write more about them soon. Also loved Mary Creighton's wonderful letters.   Willie 

To Professor HornbergerMay 1946 "DRAFT" is written across the top and the letter is unsigned; ; UNL-Rosowski Cather 

Will never allow Death Comes for the Archbishop to be in an anthology, as anthologies are ultimately shallow [Horberger published The Literature of the United States in 1946]. After speaking to many young people, is convinced that the college classroom is no place for modern books. When a man is in school, he ought to study the classics of the English canon. An energetic undergraduate will read current books for fun. When teaching school in Pittsburgh, was forced to use a set list of texts, which included Silas Marner, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Marmion, Quentin Durward, Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography, Macbeth, and the poetry of Robert Burns. Some students are still in contact. Would Prof. Hornberger consider Silas Marner—a rewarding if unhurried book, good for modern students—worthy of an anthology? Does not know who selected the list and was given no options, but was expected to read them and test the students on them. This is the limit of what a high school English class can be. If one hundred students read a great writer, about two of them will be affected deeply, and the other ninety-eight will not be injured by it. When reading the classics, there needs to be no distasteful argument of a writer's worth. All anthologies make this kind of argument, except for Field-Marshal Wavell's [ Other Men's Flowers: An Anthology of Poetry ], whose notes are sometimes better than even the selected work. Except for the glut of Browning's work, his selections are perfect. He loves The Hound of Heaven and expresses that. He fears neither Rommel nor erudition. PS: Please send a list of pieces in Volume One to aid in thinking about Volume Two.

To Sister [Elsie Cather]June 17, 1937, partial letter; only first page extant ; UNL-Southwick 

Yesterday mailed a check and now is compelled to write again after reading Elsie's nice letter. Has been very busy with details surrounding Houghton Mifflin's publication of a new edition of all her works [the Autograph Edition, the first volumes of which were published in 1937]. Bruce Rogers is designing them. He is the finest designer in the United States or England and has recently gone to England to design the Oxford Bible. There will be limited sets for the U.S., library, and English markets. Knopf agreed to this arrangement, and this edition will correct many of her lapses in taste and the mistakes of proofreaders. Knopf will still publish future books first. Not much money to be made in this endeavor, but Knopf thought she should do it. The work involved has been tedious. . . . [part of letter missing]. 

To Earl and Achsah Barlow BrewsterFebruary 21, [1923], from Number Five Bank StreetDrew U (Brewster 22) 

Has been wanting to respond to their letter about One of Ours, but was away at parents' Golden Wedding. They are right about Howard Pyle. The reception of the book has been unusual for her. Those who dislike it dislike it intensely, and many critics disparage it as sentimental, but former military men love it and are purchasing it. Has hired a secretary just to keep up with large and tiring amount of correspondence. Is pleased that the Hambourgs selected the "Blue Nigger" so she might see it another time. Appreciates the photograph they sent, but misses the color. Loves the paintings she and Edith have; "The Scallops" is now her favorite. Is leaving for France at the beginning of April and would love to see them in Paris. Hopes they write regularly to Edith. Must confess something delicate: Edith dislikes the Hambourgs, especially Isabelle. She was probably jealous that they were able to see the Brewsters when she could not. The Hambourg topic has been difficult for her and Edith, for they are wonderful friends of hers but upset Edith so. It is not Edith's fault; their characters simply clash. Edith believes the Hambourgs are condescending to her, but Cather doesn't see it. Hopes Edith can spend time with the Brewsters when they come to the United States in the summer, for that will ease the difficulty of Cather being away. Edith has experienced a difficult winter due primarily to family hassles. Will they do an exhibition in the United States? They should. Hope they received Edith's gift, one of which Cather also received in Red Cloud. Can't wait to talk to them soon and thinks often of their time together in Naples. Has been a trying and unproductive winter for her. Hopes they are well and that they can all be together soon.   Willa Cather 

To Thornton WilderOctober 9, 1938 from 570 Park Avenue, New YorkBeineke 

Has been meaning to write for a year to tell him that she believes Our Town to be the most wonderful and honest production in the United States in a long while. It is technically accomplished, of course, but its real value is in its ability to communicate a more intangible sacredness, one that requires multiple encounters with the play. Having spend a good deal of time in Jaffrey, New Hampshire, over the last fifteen years, she recognizes the spirit of that area in the play. Like Mount Monadnock's persistent presence in the life of the villages which surround it, a dignified solidity is at the foundation of the play. Americans living abroad long for home upon reading it. Though she has enjoyed all of his work, Our Town is his biggest triumph, and she is grateful for it.   Willa Cather 

To Bobbie [nickname for Elsie Cather]May 4, [1917]UNL-Roscoe 

Has been embarrassed to write after so long. Has put off writing everyone but mother and Jack, who was ill. Is mortified that she even neglected writing Mrs. Deland, for now her sick husband has died. It is the war that is causing the problems: it even makes writing books seem trivial. Can't make progress on the new book, and will probably have to rewrite or abandon it. Houghton Mifflin people are very displeased that it will not be ready for fall publication. There are good things in the new book, but it does not seem to be working. Is going to put it aside for a while and write some short stories—needs the money. Has Elsie heard that Rudyard Kipling's son, the prototype for Dan in the Puck tales, is missing in action? It has been over a year now, and hope seems lost. Mr. Greenslet, who just returned from England, said Kipling is devastated. What a shame, as Kipling has given so much joy to so many. Edith's health was good this winter. Helps Edith with eye treatments. They plan to go to Washington tonight. The war and resulting rise in costs have hurt the magazine publishing business. Has had many wonderful musical get-togethers with the Hambourgs, and had dinner with the recently-married Olive Fremstad and her husband [Harry L. Brainard and Fremstad were married November 4, 1916]. They had a fine evening. Has already written mother describing it. People she knows in the British war department say the war will go on at least two years. When Greenslet was in London, he had trouble getting decent food and enough of it, and many buildings had to go without heat. Newspapers aren't really providing the whole story: if not for the entrance of the United States, the allies would have been defeated, for the submarines prevented proper food from getting to the army. Germany's food supply is much better than that in England and France. If the U.S. can produce enough ships and men, the allies may yet win in two years. If not, we will all be Prussian. The Russians can't hold the eastern front unless the allies keep Germany tied down in France. If not, St. Petersburg will soon fall, and then the German army will be fed from the vast agricultural output of Russia. The U.S. has a unique opportunity: we can protect or lose Democracy for the entire planet. And yet a letter from her Mesa Verde guide claims the war is taken as a joke out west. Like Russia, the U.S. is so enormous we can't get things together. Believe it: dark times are ahead. Needs to stop now, but hopes to be better about writing in the future.   Willie.