#1572: Willa Cather to Mary Miner Creighton, February 19, 1942

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⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ My dear Mary1:

This must be a hurly-burly letter. The unanswered letters have piled up on my desk until I am nearly distracted.

Please tell Carrie3 I cannot answer her dear letter until I have worked off a reply to some that have lain here for three weeks. I merely write this to explain some books I am sending you.

When I was weeding out my bookcase for about a hundred books to send to the soldier camps I came across this book on Prague4, sent me long ago when Bohemia5 had a consul generalship here. Many of the books I sent the soldiers were books presented to me with inscriptions, and I went through the lot tearing out the personal dedications. Just as I had torn the inscription from this one, I bethought me that either you or Carrie had been in Prague. I, alas, have never been there. I do not suppose the text of this book is very interesting, but on glancing through it I think some of the drawings are very interesting, and I am sure that whichever one of the Miner sisters has been in Prague will find the book entertaining.

Several days ago I ordered from the Channel Book Shop one of the first copies of Sigrid Undset's6 book7 about her escape from Norway8. I think the title most unfortunate (Why wouldn't she call it simply, "My Escape From Norway"?). But Fru Undset is one of the most absolutely truthful women I have ever known, so she is equally one of the most unpersuadable.! But once you get past the title, I find the book absolutely thrilling. A good deal of her journey across Russia9 she told me last winter with many interesting details which she omits here, but they were all of the same kind. I don't know whether a whole people is willing to live in such degrading filth and poverty for an idea or whether, against their will, they ⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ are forced to live like pigs because the Government took everything for the army and munitions. Fru Undset doesn't know, either. She doesn't pretend to explain it in conversation. She simply tells what she saw. She really had a jolly time in spite of all the dirt, and was so amused by two nice Princeton boys who had the compartment next hers on the "luxury" train to Vladivostok10. They had got on the train believing all the fairy tales that American Communists tell them about "efficiency" in Russia. She always shared with them her sticks of chocolate, and every morning gave them a little mug of her precious store of bottled water to brush their teeth with.! You see, she had started from Sweden11 well provisioned with bottled water, chocolate, dried fish, etc. All the food on the train was either spoiled or full of dirt.

One thing you may be sure of, Undset never exaggerates anything. As I say, there are some details of the disgusting conditions she encountered in Russia which simply could not be printed in this country. I am afraid for her, that there will be an awful row because she tells how much she admired12 Japan13 and such natives as she saw. I am telling her that I fear the women's clubs of the U. S. A.14 will come back at her. But they could not make her take back a line of her story if they put the thumb screws on her. Alfred Knopf15 and I would have liked to make some suggestions and to persuade her about the title, but neither of us was bold enough to do so. When I urged him to make suggestions about the title, he chuckled and said: "Fine! You try first."

Affectionately Willie