A Calendar of the Letters of Willa Cather

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To Ferris Greenslet,  Tuesday [Aug. 12, 1919] , from Jaffrey, N.H.Harvard 

Please try to find her a copy of Turgenev's letters. Tent has arrived.   W. S. C.   [Stout #472]

To Dorothy Canfield FisherJan. 26, [1922?]UVt 

A great pleasure to be back in touch. Might give a few lectures at the school in Middlebury [the Bread Loaf School]. Is reading proofs of the novel. It was a hard project. Relaxed by writing "Aphrodite" ["Coming, Aphrodite!," Youth and the Bright Medusa, 1920; as "Coming, Eden Bower!," Smart Set August 1920]. Admires newly translated Turgenev stories, especially "A Quiet Backwater." In seclusion now after having attended several miserable public dinners.   Willa   [Stout #574]

To Mr. MillerOct. 24, 1924Newberry 

Sorry he is irritated by her writing, but he will go on being irritated. Does not agree with his standard of judgment. Writes to suit herself. Reason she took the male point of view in Ántonia was certainly not to try to sound like a man. Narrator doesn't really matter anyway, but is only an angle of vision. A story of action doesn't need a clearly defined narrator, but a story of feeling, designed to create a mood, does. Two greatest modern writers were Tolstoi and Turgenev, and they are utterly dissimilar.   Willa Cather   [Stout #750]

To Stephen TennantJan. 6, [1937]Yongue 

The debate over Joseph Conrad is endless. Prefers a more direct, unadorned sentence style. Few writers can give themselves up to baroque emotionalism and succeed. Turgenev could. Conrad becomes artificial or decadent. Listened to the king's abdication speech on the radio [Edward VIII abdicated on December 11, 1936] and found it plausible and distinguished. An example of rhetorical control. What does he think of the people close to the king? [letter breaks off]   [Stout #1350]

To Norman FoersterJanuary 14, 1931UNL-Cather Collected 

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 

To Ellery SedgwickJune 7, 1944UNL-Cather Collected 

Enjoyed his letter, but his memory failed him: "A Chance Meeting" was republished in Not Under Forty, and Sedgwick wrote a very pleasant review of it in the Atlantic Monthly. He understood Mrs. Fields and her milieu more than most. Van Wyck Brooks, who is usually so careful, even credited Cather with editing a book of Mrs. Whitman's letters; Miss Jewett was the one who did that. Had not heard the story of Henry James encountering Flaubert before, but recalls that James said he used to send Flaubert and Turgenev copies of his books and never got a response. It was big of James to divulge it.   Willa Cather