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#0096: Willa Cather to Dorothy Canfield, [March 1904]

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My Dearest Dorothy1;

I think it is fine of you to accept the will for the deed in taking my incoherent letter to mean something—it did mean a good deal, but things that were impossible to say in ink. It sounded a good deal like an absurd sentimental apology for pure grouchyness, but if those and the causes you mention do not explain my heaviness of spirit, then this phase must just be natural and inevitable. I think you are right about the toilsome ways of respectable labor not being conducive to hilarity, and though "prudent cautious self-control"3 may be wisdom's root, one grows very stupid under a prolonged regieme of it.

Now about the New England boy story4. I think the first part the best. The atmosphere was convincing and one felt the characteristics of a people in it. There was something to lay hold upon besides words, sentiment, I mean,—the kind that is not spoken but which permeates. I think that is what I've missed in the other stories, there was a sort of dryness about them, I dont mean dry in the sense of dull, far from it, but a facility that dexterously avoided feeling. It isn't so with this one, it strikes a note that vibrates and the tone is true and clear, and there is something in the phraseology that makes it stick in the memory. The latter part seemed to me to have just a bit of forced—I don't just know the word, hysteria is too severe, but I dont believe a male child would tell the whole thing out like that. I'd have liked it better if you could have suggested it, and had him just indicate his motive in a few words rather than give a full statement of the case. But that is incidental. I think it much the best thing of yours I've seen. I like the sustained tone. Please do some more like it and get away from the hard, light, staccato touch I've felt in the others—a quality of mere expression rather than matter. I felt it in the New England-Italian story5 you sent me, too. It's curious that one should write a style at once so facile and easy and spontaneous and yet so hard. It was plausible and elastic and, in a way, sympathetic enough, but there some how was not any glow in it. It seemed to be all head sympathy; a case understanding reasoned out. It's just the b absence of all this that makes this story convincing to me, and gives it tone and dignity.

The Wagner Matinee6 has simply stirred the yellow jackets! The e enclosed clipping7 is Will Jones'8 outburst9, and I have been pelted 8 with irate letters from Red Willow10 county, and my poor family feel that I have eternally disgraced them. I really dont mind much except on their account. Of course the merits of the yarn are neither here nor there with them—its very quietness makes them roar the louder. Jones wrote me that Mariel11 was red headed about it! Cant you hear her - - - - "Italian skies." Oh Lord, I'll do another to make them madder still.

Goodnight dear Dorothy, I am dead tired and I am in bed every night at ten now-a-days. Willie

P.S. We worry very much about the Macphersons12—we've done all we can—sent clothes and viands and even money. I wish we could do something that would count. It just broke Isabelle13 all up to see their misery. She got home with just fifty cents. She surely did what she could, like the woman14 in the New Testament15.