A Calendar of the Letters of Willa Cather

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To Charles F. Cather [October 27, 1913] [with letter from Mrs. D. A. Brodie to Cather] ; UNL-Rosowski Cather 

Just received unfortunate news [death of Lillian Gore in Paris] from Mrs. Brodie (also known as Lizzie Potts). Has contacted Howard, and father should, too.   Willa 

To Virginia CatherJuly 11, [1922], from 5 Bank Street, New YorkUNL-Rosowski Cather 

Isn't mother excited to be mentioned in what friends say is the finest American novel? [One of Ours is dedicated "For my mother Virginia Cather."] Feels like Mary Virginia who says she's beginning to believe her hair is pretty since everybody tells her so. Wasn't Hetty Skeen's pompous letter funny? Sorry to keep her beaded purse, but had it fixed up and now it is practical as well as beautiful. Is traveling to the Bread Loaf Inn in Vermont tomorrow for a few weeks. Has no regrets about delaying surgery until the fall even though it was originally planned for July 5. Won't be coming to Nebraska until she feels better, though a group in Omaha wants her to speak October 10 and is willing to pay $300. Ought to write to father and to Elsie about quilt.   Willie 

To Charles CatherSeptember 25, [1913], from the train ; UNL-Southwick 

Visited Mary Smith with Isabelle yesterday and brought roses. Though Mary looked bettered and is still sore, she was lively and talkative. She's much older now, but is still herself, and she sends greetings. Saw Walter Gore at the bank. He was civil, but not too friendly; did not invite her to visit his wife a block away. Father will recall that when Aunt Lillian Gore arrived from Europe with silver for Walter and his new wife, she was not treated very cordially, and she left for Washington very angry. Walter is fine: he isn't too concerned with his extended family and doesn't behave otherwise. Enjoyed seeing Jennie Smith, now Mrs. Garvin, in Gore [Virginia]. She's heavy and has hardly any teeth, but manages to seem distinguished nonetheless. She has seen many weddings and funerals, the most recent being Aunt Mary (Liza) Trone, who was a housekeeper for Captain Mure. Saw the old Captain—complete with fine white beard—on horseback as straight as ever. Spent a gorgeous day hiking to Anderson's Cove, seeing the wonderful view there for the first time. Talked with Ellen Anderson near her well-kept house and garden; she was eager to talk, and so serious about her claims to like city living that they dared not smile. Later, Ellen came down on horseback for another visit together. Saw Giles and Dorothy leave for the North River on their ancient boat; they returned dressed for winter, complete with fur cap and veil. They drove a fat, drowsy horse and carried some watermelons. Did not get to eat any before leaving. Giles will be pleased to see the seeds father sent; saw them in the post office. Sends love.   Willie 

To Mary Virginia CatherSeptember 6, [1922]UNL-Southwick 

Is going back to New York on Monday the 11th unwillingly to sign five hundred first edition books [ One of Ours ] for Knopf. Has had a restful and productive time here [on Grand Manan Island, New Brunswick]. Mother should decide if she should come to Red Cloud from mid-October to mid-November or if she should wait and come during parents' Golden Wedding anniversary in December. May have appendix out, but should be fine by October 15, so either time works. If mother requests December, then she must make sure father doesn't remark upon her old age [Cather's birthday is December 7; she'd have turned 49 in 1922]. Remind him of the Woodman's dinner when Judge Yeiser embarrassed "Miss P.D." by revealing her age. Is mother missing Elsie? Enclosed is a letter from Dorothy Canfield. PS: Loves the woolen scarf mother sent her and wears it often while looking at the sea from a cliff—is even wearing it now! [Pictures with scarf enclosed.]  Willie 

To Earl and Achsah Barlow BrewsterJuly 1, 1934Drew U (Brewster 22) 

Injured hand has kept her from writing to express her admiration for their book on D. H. Lawrence [D. H. Lawrence: Remembrances and Correspondence, London: M. Secker, 1934]. The book reveals a kinder aspect of Lawrence and is much more truthful than the rest, though Brett's was sincere in its way [Lawrence and Brett: A Friendship, Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1933]. Isabelle Hambourg writes that she feels it is the best book about Lawrence. Is going with Edith to Grand Manan the second week of July. Has been stuck in the city finishing her book which was, unfortunately, interrupted for months when her hand was so poor. Hopes to see them soon.   Willa Cather 

To Edward D. McDonaldFebruary 21, 1923 from Number Five Bank Street, New YorkUNL-Cather Collected 

Doesn't know much about how her books are made physically, but remembers that the first edition of O Pioneers! was covered in a displeasing yellow cloth and was improved in the second issue with a darker cloth. Does not have a copy around to look at, though. Song of the Lark was covered in blue cloth, but doesn't have one of those either. Has only the handsomer British editions. Believes that only 1,200 copies of The Troll Garden were printed, and has no control over the high cost of the new edition of April Twilights [April Twilights and Other Poems, published by Knopf in 1923]. But really isn't that interested in the first editions. Cannot see eye to eye with Professor Phelps on any book. Upset him by pointing out the mistakes in his work on Russian literature, but, honestly, he does not even know the Russian language! Sorry this letter has been so long in coming. P.S. Yes, the second issue of O Pioneers! was brown with orange stamping.  Willa Sibert Cather 

To Roscoe Cather, February 13, 1910 on McClure's Magazine letterhead ; UNL-Roscoe 

Has had a crazy winter too, but unlike Roscoe's it wasn't from weather. Has had to deal with all kinds of problems while Mr. McClure in Europe. Was ill with bronchitis in December, and Isabelle came to nurse her. Even then had to work on the magazine, for magazines, like sick infants, have to be constantly fed. Thankfully she had the Russian material and the Paoli article [Xavier, Paoli, "Recollections of the Shah of Persia," McClure's Magazine 24.5 (March 1910): 525-538] that she secured when in England. Is improved now, but still has to rest and consume milk like a child. Has had good success with the the magazine, however; profits up $60,000 from the previous year. Doesn't get any of that money herself, but does get praise. Do read the March issue, as she worked hard on it, and definitely read "A Joint in the Harness" ["Ole Luk-Oie" {pseudonym of Sir Ernest Dunlop Swinton}, "A Joint in the Harness," McClure's Magazine 24.5 (March 1910): 547-557], which she got in England. Would appreciate his telling her what pieces he likes and doesn't like; it's helpful when people tell her their reactions forthrightly. Certainly doesn't like everything that gets published herself! Has written Mrs. Goudy and Mrs. Fulton. Thanks for the silk stockings at Christmas. Has he seen darling Mary Virginia since she started talking? Has received a letter from Aunt Franc; enjoyed visiting with her, Auntie, and Bess last summer. Loves that far-off, quiet country. If health permits, will go to England in May, and wishes Roscoe could go, too, as she longs for a good talk with him. Wishes she could come out to Lander, but job is very demanding—more so than running Sandy Point. What has become of Jim Yeiser, anyway? Can't get into one letter all the interesting things she'd like to tell him. Will shrug off the office and catch a train west one of these days.   Willie 

To Roscoe Cather [June 1929] , from a Santa Fe train ; UNL-Roscoe 

Is going East and will be at the Grosvenor Hotel, 35 Fifth Avenue, New York, for ten days. After that, is going to New Haven, Connecticut, the Hotel Taft, to get an honorary doctorate from Yale University on June 19, only the second one given to a female author. Edith Wharton received the first one, and she traveled from Paris to get it. Hopes he can visit their mother this summer. If so, he'd better not bring the family, as any group of people will inspire their mother to use up her energy orchestrating everyone. Left to go north when Will Auld came to visit. It would be better for Roscoe to see mother now, while her mind is sound, than to wait and come to her funeral. She has good days and bad days, but overall has declined; hopes she doesn't have to suffer a long time. Will Auld agreed with that. But for now she remains mother, and the trip wouldn't be too long for him. Would have gone through Rawlins, but already had a round-trip ticket. Mother's sanitarium is quiet and attractive. Though she may last for a time, she's bound to fail in mind and personality. It is a terrible thing to see, but he would not regret a visit. As to herself may never be able to feel gladness about things again, though maybe for youthful people and youthful art. Enjoyed seeing Jim Yeiser and Marguerite in San Francisco.   Willa. 

To Roscoe Cather[December 1938 or January 1939?]UNL-Roscoe 

Was not worried about business matters when she asked where to find him in January. Occasionally just wants to communicate with him on personal matters. With the loss of Isabelle, she has no one with whom she can share gratifying moments of acclaim. Alfred Knopf likes to know about them, but he is so sure of his own favorable estimate of everything she does that the estimates of others don't really matter to him. To her, however, the opinions of certain others do matter. Cares about Tweedsmuir's opinion, for example, if only because he is a true scholar and his Augustus Caesar book is so fine. Really likes the Swedish review, too, because it understands precisely why her book has the subdued, distant tone it has. This reviewer is also insightful on Lawrence, whom she knew well. Hopes Roscoe doesn't mind receiving such things now and then. Like Knopf, the Menuhins don't really understand that elaborate praise feels unnatural to her. Yehudi once said in an interview that his preferred writers were Victor Hugo and Willa Cather! It takes a long time to get anywhere from Red Cloud. Hopes he and Meta will read over the enclosed items at leisure, and then return them to her.   Willie. 

To Roscoe CatherAugust 26, [1940]UNL-Roscoe 

His granddaughter is delightful! Everyone at Whale Cove Cottage enjoyed seeing the photograph of Elizabeth's daughter, and all send their best to her. Completed the final chapter of Sapphira and the Slave Girl last week. Had written it by hand three times, but now typed it in and let Alfred Knopf know by telegram. His reply is enclosed, but wants it back. The name is pronounced "Sapph-i-ra" with a short "i", like Mediera or Zamira, not like the biblical "Sapph-eye-ra." It is an English name based on the biblical name. When she is back at her good typewriter, will write more. The old one she has at Grand Manan is the one she got for $30 from a man in Cheyenne who was hard up for money when she was there with Roscoe and Douglass. Used it for all her early novels. Always writes a first draft by hand. Has handwritten Sapphira twice; some parts of it were even handwritten three or four times. Technically, it is the hardest novel she ever attempted, and plagued by bad luck. There is a formal experiment in it that many will not appreciate, one which does reveal the whole enterprise. Most won't even notice, but there is a hidden performance beneath the main one. That hidden performance appears in the epilogue, where the motivation and authority for the entire novel is contained. Had to provide a factual narrative of a real childhood experience or the whole novel would be made-up fake like so many other fictions of the slave-holding South, full of fancy clothes and houses, pretentious talk, and Uncle Remus speech. Has written the honest language of black Virginians, which is not much like Uncle Remus dialect. Could hear that language playing in her imagination and just wrote it down. Took a trip to Virginia at one point in the writing to make sure she had it right, using no notebook but her ear. Hopes he will save this letter until the book comes. Has not explained all this to a single other person. No one else in the family gives a damn. Wasn't always bothered by that, but in older stages of life one does want someone in the family to care. Still, it is better to have uninterested relatives than to have the kind D. H. Lawrence has. Barrie and Thomas Hardy left only their books to speak for them, and that is how it should be. Is exhausted and scratching out nonsense. Please excuse.    W. 

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