A Calendar of the Letters of Willa Cather

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To Elsie CatherAugust 23 [1932?]UNL-Rosowski Cather 

Is pleased that Elsie had a fulfilling summer, but hopes she will relax now and revel in accomplishments. Appreciated Bessie's lengthy letter—read it several times—but wishes she would use a soft lead pencil. Elsie was kind to welcome Ethel [Garber Cather, sister-in-law] and her children; Helen Louise and Charles Edwin surely had a fine time. Is very glad Charles got on with Jess and her sons [William Thomas Auld and Charles Auld]; he is very sensitive. Used the incorrect name [in the short story "Two Friends"] to describe the astrological phenomenon which she saw in 1893 from the Wieners' porch, and scientists are in a tizzy. Proper description is "occultation" of Venus, not "transit." The second printing [of Obscure Destinies] is revised. Heard about it first not from an astronomer but from the omnipresent Professor Phelps of Yale University. Enclosed is his response to Cather's acknowledgment, which Elsie may destroy after reading. 

To Helen Louise and Charles CatherJanuary 2, [1935], postcard ; UNL-Southwick 

Is grateful for the handkerchiefs from them and the fruit from their parents [James and Ethel Cather]. Had a joyful Christmas with lots of music, but unfortunately Aunt Elsie has not had such a nice holiday. Sends much love and wishes them both a Happy New Year.   Aunt Willie 

To Elsie Cather and Helen Louise Cather [niece]July 13, [1939]UNL-Southwick 

Sending fond wishes and affection to two who are making the aging house vibrant again. Remembers when Helen was a young girl and had been to visit—just before leaving she voiced a goodbye to the house. Hopes when she leaves this time she will do the same. Give best wishes to Helen's Garber grandparents. They [Cather and Edith Lewis] are not leaving for ten days, and will not be going to Grand Manan.   Willie 

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 Leonard Charles Van NoppenJanuary 26, 1900, on "Editorial Rooms, Pittsburgh Leader" letterhead ; Drew U (Adams 141) 

Congratulations and welcome back. Does not think they can find an audience for a lecture on Dutch literature in Pittsburgh; cannot even find enough interested in English literature. Zangwill can't attract a dozen people. Has refused to let cousin Dr. Gore even try. Stedman has done nothing with the manuscript [unpublished Player Letters], but Ladies Home Journal has published a piece ["The Man Who Wrote 'Narcissus,'" Ladies Homes Journal (November 1900): 11], a story will be out soon in the New England Magazine ["El Dorado: A Kansas Recessional," New England Magazine 24 (June 1901): 481-488], a poem in the Critic ["Grandmother, Think Not I Forget," Critic 36 (April 1900): 308], and poems in the Criterion [?], and McClure's [?], as well as several minor periodicals [the Pittsburgh Leader and Lincoln Courier both published poems by Cather in 1900]. Clearly she has not been lazy. R. H. Russell and Co. of New York now has the Player Letters; does Van Noppen know anyone there? If so, please put in a good word for her. Rupert Hughes of the Criterion thinks they have a future. Hopes everything is going well. Mr. Couse and the others send greetings.   Willa Cather 

To Roscoe Cather April 18, [1908] on letterhead of Royal Mail Steamship "Carpathia" ; UNL-Roscoe 

Saw Cape St. Vincent, Portugal, this afternoon, a place sacred to all with ties to England, and soon will see Trafalgar Bay, the site of Nelson's victory over Napoleon's navy. The sea floor here is covered with the skeletons of French, Spanish, and Italian sailors, thanks to Nelson. A British captain onboard commented that he thinks of Nelson's victory every time he passes this place. Is thinking of Nelson atop the column in Trafalgar Square, London, and his letter to Lady Hamilton [Nelson's mistress] in the British Museum, written the night before he died. "If Blood be the price of admiralty" [line from Rudyard Kipling's "Song of the Dead"]. Enjoys thinking of Nelson and the dead on the sea floor and the glory of the English navy and of his statue in Trafalgar Square protected by Landseer's lions, and the people's affection for Lady Hamilton. Wishes Roscoe could see these things with her. 

To Roscoe Cather,  Sunday [January 5, 1919] UNL-Roscoe 

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. 

To Roscoe CatherJune 29, 1938UNL-Roscoe 

Wants to tell him of few things confidentially: 1) Is sending a letter from Mary Virginia with a marked passage he should read. Did not, nor did Edith hear Douglass mention a will that time, but they perhaps missed it amid the laughter and conversation. Certainly Mary Virginia would not make it up, so she must have heard something. He could have been speaking only figuratively, though, to explain his concern. Must be honest in recalling the speech of a man who can speak no more. 2) Went with Douglass to Tiffany's to pick out a bracelet for Miss Rogers, but not one in the case was attractive. Suggested Douglass consider one of the lovely rings, but he thought it a little too committal. While at the sanitarium, saw Miss Rogers often, and she seemed inoffensive enough. She wasn't dumb, could do her job well, was polite, and was prettier than Douglass's other sweethearts. Douglass was coming on strong with her, and she seemed to like him, too. He told her the spring before their mother died that he was thinking about marrying Miss Rogers. Did not object. It is difficult for a young working woman to bear six or seven years of courting. Believes she lost her job at Las Encinas because of gossip about her and Douglass. Never considered Miss Rogers as someone who was after Douglass's money; she behaved like a woman who believes she is in love with a man and wants to please him. In the subsequent six years or so Miss Rogers may have worsened; such an unsettled relationship is wearing for a woman her age. She is definitely worse off now than when Douglass first met her: she's lost several jobs, been gossiped about, and is now past thirty (which makes it harder to get a job and get married). Hopes Douglass was openhanded with her when he was alive, for his will does not repay all she's lost. Jessica and Elsie, who are now so upset, were a burden to Douglass in the years Miss Rogers was a comfort. Does not mind if Douglass treated her lavishly, as she did more for him than his own family did. They should look at this from her perspective. Wouldn't Roscoe be troubled if one of his own daughters was treated like that? The letter from Elsie, which she has enclosed, speaks for itself. Miss Rogers was a decent young woman in those years, and she trusted Douglass's devotion even if it did not profit her. 3) Doesn't want to write about the next topic, but feels obligated to: all of Jim's letters since he left Nebraska to work with Douglass reek of betrayal except the one since Douglass's death. He complains endlessly that Douglass duped him out of his share of their father's estate! Has told Jim that she would trust Douglass with her own money at the drop of a hat. The few recent ones—maybe two a year—also whined that he was treated like an underling when he understood the oil industry perfectly well. He didn't believe the oil industry took any expertise, just luck, and he planned to speculate independent from Douglass. Roscoe would be affected by these letters as much as she. She thought they were so spiteful, she only kept them a few days before destroying them. Jim has positive qualities and she is very fond of him when he is near, but he is arrogant and provoked by a malicious wife full of cheap aspirations. Knows that Ethel was understanding with Jim for a good while, but when she soured, she turned to poison. It is Roscoe's duty to prevent these angry, self-centered women from harming Miss Rogers any further. Their father would have been kind toward her. If Miss Rogers has a different version of the will that is fully legal, it must be honored. Elsie's theory that Miss Rogers goaded Douglass into drinking is silly. All knew his heart was weak, and he wasn't the kind of man that retired to his bed. He liked a drink, as it allowed him to feel more lighthearted about his future. He was pushing away his fears with his drinking. 4) Usually does not reveal the secrets of others, but thought Roscoe needed to understand Jim's character. Neither he nor Jack should be trusted very far. Better to place confidence in Douglass's business partners. Jack is sweet, but careless and now too old to change. Jim never could handle serious men; his type is Roy Oatman or Russell Amack. Douglass's partners aren't sophisticated men, but they understand the oil business. Will not write about this any more. Is soon going to Grand Manan with no typewriter or secretary. Knows that Roscoe wants to support Jim and Jack, but he should keep in mind Jim's disloyalty to Douglass while Douglass lived. Jim treats his children well, but he doesn't seem to love them more than Douglass did. When acquainted with Miss Rogers, did not think she was pursuing men, but her career. During the trip to Caliente, she never behaved vulgarly, but was a straightforward, smart Western woman. She didn't moon over Douglass, and was always well-behaved. Is grieved to see her life ruined. Roscoe should act as their father would have. P.S.: After reading Elsie's letter, get rid of it.  Willie. 

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