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#0101: Willa cather to Dorothy Canfield, [early January 1905]

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My Dear Dorothy1;

The proofs of the book3 were returned to the office some days before your letter came. The pages are now being made up, the story4 you ask me to withdraw occurs the third in the series and the whole collection is barely long enough to make a book. To withdraw the story would be to withdraw the volume. Perhaps that would not daunt you, but I scarcely know how one would proceed to withdraw a volume already in type. Even if one paid the cost of composition, there would still be the advertising arrangements, which I believe are already made.

I find that I had not really expected you to rise to the pitch of asking me to withdraw it. You write with such rapidity and facility yourself that you probably forget how slow and painful a process writing is for me. When one has spent some two months of Saturdays and Sundays on a story, one has a particular interest in it, and a rather secure sense of ownership.

Then I have another very potent reason for refusing to throw the book overboard, a reason which it is difficult to explain to anyone who does not understand it, and which may sount sound exceedingly fatuous. I am not the sole proprietor of this book. There are other people who have quite as deep an interest in it as I have myself. Isabelle5 and Francis Hill6 are two of them. They have both, as it were, invested capital in the venture. With Isabelle this lot of stories is the fruit of a thousand little personal sacrifices—some of them not so very little, either. To these several people, as to me, your reasons for asking what you ask seem inadequate, arbitrary and visionary in the extreme.

I very much doubt whether Miss Osbourne7 would take the matter half so seriously as you do, and I doubt still more that she will ever see it. She never buys books[?]. And I beg to differ with you about the resemblance. The scar is, to me, the only thing the two women have in common. I do not think I am doing anything wrong or brutal in publishing the story. I have never been convinced that I have a definite moral sense myself, but I know that Isabelle has one. I have lived beside it for four years, and I have never ceased to wonder at it. I have never known her to do one thing unkind or ungenerous or ignoble. Her opinion gives me absolute conviction. If I contemplated doing anything base on or ugly, she is the one who would detect it first and feel it most keenly. I cant help feeling that on such a question her feeling is trust trustworthy. I can see that this thing has worried and hurt you, and I think that you have fretted yourself into a exaggerated point of view and then forgotten that there may be such a thing as another opinion quite as sincere as your own.

For one thing I am heartily sorry, and that is that you should have been annoyed by it, for however mistaken your feeling may be, I know that your position seems the right one to you. It has been disagreeable enough on both sides. The whole thing, coming about as it has, has pretty effectually dampened my ardor and put a very bitter sting into a thing what I have for several years looked forward to as a pleasure. It seems to be paying a very heavy price for a book which in itself contains many keen disappointments. It must be a jar for you, too. Yet I cannot help feeling that my brother8 was right when I laid the whole question before him summer before last and he said "It will all depend upon where Miss Canfield stands with regard to you." I am sorry the issue could not have been avoided until after the book was published. It would then have been too late for any discussion and your own course would have shaped itself before you. I shall not send you the lengthy letter that I wrote you when I was ill at Christmas time, as it seems to me that the less there is said on the subject now, the better.

I hope you will not think me too unreasonable—for surely your request was equally so. I should not ask such a thing of anyone, not even my brother. It seems to me than when you know how much these stories have meant to me—it's not a question of what they mean to you or to anyone who will ever read them—when you know how long they have been in coming and under what disadvantages, that your asking me to demolish has its own satiric touch of inconsiderateness. You can scarcely be surprised that I am hurt by it, even though I anticipated your displeasure. I did not, however, in my most misgiving moments, imagine that you would take it in anything like the way or to anything like the extent that you have. The story that I discussed with you in London9, by the way, was quite a different story. That was personal.

I have read this letter over, and it sounds as though I were in a towering rage, the which I am not. But you have put the screws on rather hard and I seem to find it necessary to be savage to stand up against it. I think, of course, that you have considered me very little, and that never really flatters or pleases one. I certainly do know, however, that you must act as you feel. But you must see that I am acting in equally good faith. I dont expect other people to take the stories seriously, or to see why they should not be canceled recalled, but you will certainly admit my right to take them seriously.

Hastily Willa.

By the way, Dorothy, I once sent you a complete list of these stories and I remember well that I named the Profile, for I asked Isabelle whether she thought you would recognize it. I had no intention of hiding the thing, I only preferred to have it come to your eye with the others. There are at least two more which you have not seen.