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#0125: Willa Cather to Harrison G. Dwight, January 12 [1907]

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Dear Mr. Dwight1:

I don't believe God owed you Italy4. You just went and took it. And I am sitting here this tepid rainy day envying you. I'm sure you're working and happy—but perhaps it will make you even more satisfied with your destiny to hear what I am doing. Perhaps you dont know it, but we are publishing a series of articles5 on Christian Science and Mrs. Eddy6 which have made a great sensation and run our circulation up into incredible thousands. They are the work of a thorough investigator7 but a very untrained writer and it is necessary to work them over very thoroughly in the office. Mr. McClure8 tried three men9 at this disagreeable task, but none of them did it very well, so a month ago it was thrust upon me. You may imagine me wandering about the country grubbing among newspaper files and court records for the next five months. It is the most laborous laborious and sordid work I have ever come upon, and it takes every hour of my time and as much vitality as I can put into it. When it is over I am promised six months abroad on full salary, but I doubt whether what is left of me by that time will be worth taking across the Atlantic10. You cant know, never having done it, how such work does sap your poor brain and wring it dry of anything you'd like to pretend was there. I jump about like a squirrel in a cage and wonder how I got here and why I am doing it. I never in my life wanted to do this sort of thing. I have a clear conscience on that score. Then why am I hammering away at it, I'd like to know? I often wonder whether I shall ever write another line of anything I care to. It seems rather improbable that I shall. I do not believe people often get out of this sort of coil, once they are in it. My mind is so full of other things that notions have simply stopped coming my way. I don't feel any impulse to work—or to do anything except grind and "edit." All this should make you feel that cheerful sense of being alive that we have when we hear that someone we know is dead. I hope you'll go for a walk and have a gay dinner after you read this—I want you to appreciate your good luck.

Tell me, why do you so scorn Loti11? If anyone told me they saw a trace of Loti in anything I had done, I'd swoon with joy. And here you are indignant at such a suggestion. I don't know the new one you read but "Le Pecheur d'Island,"12 "Le Desert,"13 "Le Roman d'un Spahi"14 and a dozen more are surely among the most beautiful things in the world. They stir one up like music and steal your senses away in the same fashion. Why do you scorn him? I cant make you out. Why are you afraid to touch the poetic aspect of things when you all the time want to. Take that story "Mortemain."15 If you'd thrown away what smelt of slang and Kipling16 and kept what was really your own story—which happens to be like Loti's own—I dont see why it might not have been a very perfect thing. But it seemed like a compromise—a purely imaginative and poetic conception tricked out with a little slang and a few colloquial phrases to disguise it from the eyes of the scoffer. Are you afraid of being called serious and imaginative? Why do you have to make friends with the college boy and the cub reporter by throwing in a good-fellow phraseology! Why do you go in for any disguise, whether smart or jaunty? Why are you such a mortal coward about fine writing? I wish you'd try hitting out squarely—give an imaginative subject a treatment in the tone of the conception, build up your mystery and illusion instead of hinting at it in a curt colloquial remark. I doubt whether the colloquial ever really suggests your kind of thing anyway. It may serve in stories of violent action, but I dont believe it is effective where the point of the story is a perception, or a feeling. I have it now! You are afraid of being sentimental. Yes, I believe that is the solution. So you try to compromise by being slangy. I wish you'd try the other way—Loti's way, and not try to crawl out through Kipling's expedient.

Now I have something to tell you which I hope will please you—supercilious though you are. We have sent "The Valley of the Mills"17 to London18 to Frank Brangwyn19 (the best painter of oriental subjects alive) and have squandered five hundred dollars on him, for which sum he is to lavish colored pictures upon you in his best manner. Of course our color reproductions are usually very poor because we have to print 500,000 copies while Scribners20, for instance print only 80,000. Hurried printing is ruinous to color work. Still, we shall do our very best with these. We are planning to use the story in the August fiction number. It would fair turn my head if Brangwyn were to illustrate a thing of mine. I think he does the most glorious work of the decorative sort that appears now-a-days.

I was in Pittsburgh21 two months ago and had a delightful glimpse or two of the Willards22.

Of New York there is little to say. It is as big and raw and relentless as ever and grinds one up into little bits every day. Hideous literature is produced as fast as the presses can grind it out. Safonoff23, the new conductor of the Philharmonic, and the opera are the only things that save my soul from death. Here's hoping all the good in the world for you, and do let me know about what you are doing. I'm eager to see some work from you. Please ask Mr Reynolds24 to send it to me personally, or otherwise it might be merely ground in the mill and never get to me at all.

Faithfully always Willa S. Cather