#1633: Willa Cather to Carrie Miner Sherwood, June 9, 1943

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⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ My dear Carrie1:

This is a luxury that I allow myself. I have been so snowed-under by letters from nice soldier boys who liked one book or another, that I have put off writing this letter to you for a long time. Do you realize that this autumn will be My AÁntonia’s3 twenty-fifth anniversary? So this letter must be for both4 you and Irene5.

For the first three years after publication the bookÁntonia had a rather small sale, but it had passionate admirers who kept writing and shouting and lecturing about it, and for the last twenty years its average sale has never been lower than four thousand copies a year and has often risen to six thousand. (Of course, the Archbishop6 consierably outstrips this, but both here and abroad it has a very special Catholic audience.) The Hollywood7 film people would have made me rich by this time, if I had permitted8 them to make the third (and complete) a talking picture of it.Antonia. Nobody there hadhas sense enough to see that it really would not and could not make a good movie without being completely rewritten and recast. I wish I had thought to send you some of the absurd love letters their script people have written me about my patriotic duty to let them film AÁntonia, to arouse sympathy for Czechoslovakia9! In reality the only reason they want it is because I won’t sell it, and they can’t get it. They firmly believe money will buy everything and everybody. This is incidental. I had a long and strenuous fight ⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩with Alexander Woollcott10, one of my best friends, to keep AÁntonia out11 of his anthology12. I just want people to let her alone. She does very well offor herself. This last year, of course, the sale of all books (except war books) has fallen off tremendously, and I expected that AÁntonia would share the fate of the others. The sale, indeed, has fallen off very much, but I send you the publisher’s letter13 to show you that on her twenty-fifth birthday she seems to have more kick in her than most other books that are of her very considerable age. In other words, she has weathered through. Several months ago I got a cable14 from London15, asking me to let the Readers’ Union publish an edition of twenty thousand copies of AÁntonia, bound in paper, for distribution to members of this union and their friends, and to accept for myself a royalty of only two cents a copy. Knowing so well what a fine thing the Readers’ Union really is, (its membership largely made up of men who served in the other World War and missed their chance at public school and higher education,) I was delighted to cable16 my consent. ¶ ¶You will see he The editorial manager of the Readers Union refers to the fact that the book has been out of print in England17 for many years: that means since 1931, when I left Heinemann, and Cassell became my English publisher. Mr. Heinemann18 had then been dead for five years, and I did not like the new men who ran the business, or the kind of books they published. At the same time, all of Alfred Knopf’s19 writers who had formerly published with Heinemann transferred their copyrights to Cassell. I didn’t imagine that there could be as many as twenty thousand members in any serious organization of this kind in England now. You understand, ⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩my dear, that this is not at all a commercial proposition like The Book of the Month Club20 or any of its imitators. That is just the reason why they cannot pay high royalties. But their short list of selections is so good, that one is glad to be included in it. Mr. Curtice Hitchcock21 delivered a very fine broadcast on Antonia in England last winter. He kindly sent me the text of his address, and I was very much pleased by it.

Now, you must not misunderstand me Carrie. I am not writing you all these publishing details because I want to brag a little, but because I am really proud (and touched) that the very young people still think so much of herÁntonia. Within the last two weeks I have written manythirteen short replies to letters about AÁntonia from young soldiers, forwarded to me by Houghton Mifflin. Though some of the young people, ((not so very young)!) well known to you, think it a very old-fashioned boodk indeed, you see it still has the power to make the really young and really brave write me letters like the one I enclose from Lieutenant Harrison Blaine22. And this young man’s letter is the only one of this collectionthe enclosed papers that I will ask you to return to me. I have marked “Please Return” on the envelope. I would send you some others equally precious to me, except that I don’t want to put too much over on you.

Now, take a morning off from your war work, dear Carrie, and consider the facts presented in these letters. Your name is in this book wherever it appears, and I think we can both feel satisfaction in our long and happy association with the book. Your lovely letter about your drives through the country in ⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩connection with your war work gave me a great sense of the farms we used to know. But don’t overtax your energy, my dear. You will live longer and do more good if you stop the moment you begin to feel tired.

Lovingly Willie