A Calendar of the Letters of Willa Cather

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To Ferris Greenslet,  Monday [Jan. 12, 1914] , from New YorkHarvard 

Is pleased to have the Adams book [prob. Henry Adams, Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres, 1904; reissued by Houghton Mifflin in 1913]. Tell Nancy Moore her serial will get a quick reading by Mackenzie [at McClure's].   Willa Cather   [Stout #273]

To Dorothy Canfield FisherOct. 14, 1940UVt 

Is unable to write by hand because of sprain. Now they are even on misquoting titles. Has regretted calling her last book "Seasoned Wood" [instead of Seasoned Timber]. Now Dorothy has called hers "Sapphira and the Slave Maid," which loses the doubling of the "r" sound. Glad she likes what she has read of it. Galley proofs need a lot of correction. Abandoned it in the middle when Douglass and Isabelle died, but had already written the epilogue, which was the target. Has overridden her reluctance to shift from third person to first because the incident such an important one in her childhood. Grandmother Boak a Confederate and lost two sons in the South's army, but cared about justice and actually did take Nancy across the Potomac. Postmistress was her great aunt, Sidney Cather Gore. Enjoyed hearing the southern speech in her mind as she wrote it, especially the black people's speech. Realizes their speech patterns are not consistent in the book, but house servants varied their speech. Might not have finished the book had it not been for the war, but writing it helped her escape the anxiety.   Willa   [Stout #1497]

To Ferris Greenslet,  Sunday [c. Nov. 24, 1940] Harvard 

Must scrawl a letter in spite of sprained right thumb because secretary out of town. Very much appreciated his and Mrs. Greenslet's letter. Many memories of Virginia went into the book. Wrote a great deal more, simply for the pleasure of recalling life there, but cut out all that didn't serve the plan for the book. Nancy was real, and her mother really a servant in the family. Books about slavery usually exaggerate one way or the other. Own family found its superficial aspects pleasant and didn't think much about what lay beneath. Material discarded from the book weighed six pounds. P.S.: Yes, may place the note on names [at end of Sapphira] where Knopf placed the note on design in the first edition, which will probably shift for the second. How important a thumb is!  W. S. C.   [Stout #1506]

To Alexander WoollcottDec. 5, 1942PM 

Has also been in the hospital recently, having her gall bladder removed. Wishes the surgeon hadn't insisted on Presbyterian Hospital. Appreciates his sending her the Nolans' letter. Glad to hear Robert located a church and served mass. Isn't a Catholic, but believes spirituality is helpful. Believes the anthology for soldiers should have lively material such as they liked reading themselves when they were eighteen or nineteen. Sarah Orne Jewett too quiet and subtle. Young people want to read something that seems like real life to them. Aren't interested in style and form. Hard to think of what would be good. Classic American literature too far removed from present-day experience, and new books often too preoccupied with social problems. They might like some of the early Robert Frost or even some of Longfellow's poems. Perhaps simply an edition of Huckleberry Finn would be best—the most thoroughly American book ever written. Glad he likes Sapphira and the Slave Girl, and particularly glad he liked the epilogue, which retells one of her most important actual memories. Still vividly remembers the moment when Nancy entered the room where her mother and Grandmother Boak and she were waiting, and remembers the afternoons she spent in the kitchen with Nancy, her mother, and Grandmother Boak. [Note: No mention of Cather's mother.]   Willa Cather   [Stout #1600]

To Miss MastersonMar. 15, 1943WCPM 

Her letter was marvelous, with a true sense of personality. People have been set traveling to Quebec by Shadows on the Rock and to New Mexico by Death Comes for the Archbishop, and now she to Virginia by Sapphira and the Slave Girl. Hasn't been back since completing it, or to Quebec since Shadows or New Mexico since Archbishop. Loses a place once she writes about it. Area around Timber Ridge and the Capon River is beautiful. Was very sad to see the double ess curve on the road up from Gore to the top of the ridge. Sorry to have seen Willow Shade in ruins; so pretty forty years ago, but then turned into an apartment house. Still remembers it as it was when Nancy came back. Grandmother really did take Nancy across the Potomac.   Willa Cather   [Stout #1622]