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#0242: Willa Cather to Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant, September 12 [1912]

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⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ Dear Elsie1;

I am just back from two very busy weeks in New York5, where I made very satisfactory arrangements for my winter’s work. I am to stay here and write until January first, then go back to the office for five or six months. I’ve agreed to deliver two stories to the magazine6 between now and Christmas. I’m afraid, in the nature of the case, they can’t be very good ones, but I shall give only part of my time to them. I did not send you the Swedish story7 because I have been moved to do her over and lengthen her by half, thus making a two-part “pastoral”8,–the most hopeless proposition under Heaven–quite enough to offset my doing two stories to order. So much for plans–you asked about 'em.

I went to see Mr. Burlingame9 last week and told him how much I had enjoyed your paper10 in the July number11. But words of mine weren’t needed. I found him a captive, bound hand and foot. As Tooker12 would say, you “have him buffaloed.” He said he was so sorry not to be in town when you sailed, which, for Mr. B.– I thought going some. He asked if you had done anything for McClures and listened with great interest when I told him. He ended by saying “Besides being a brilliant woman, she seems to have all the mark of being a really first-rate person,” from which I infer that he has not always found [illegible] the other that he could safely postulate the latter in the former.

I saw almost no one in New York, and was scarcely out of the office. The ⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ Arlisses13 were there, very happy over the success of “Disraeli,”14 rich and prosperous and flaunting a motor car. I spent several evenings with them.

If you happen to think of it when you are in the marts of trade, do take a look at the English edition of Alexander15Hinemann16–it’s so much better looking than the Houghton Mifflin. And do, in mercy, tell me whether there is any new French worth reading. I’ve gone back to Balzac17 in sheer desperation and have just run through “Histoire des Treize”18 and a French translation of Dostoiefsky19's “L’Idiot”20, a dreary and disgusting thing enough. If you don’t have any new French books to recommend, pray suggest some old ones. You named one of Flaubert’s21 once that I’ve not read; what was it?

Yes, I think the first two chapters–or books?–of “Creative Evolution”22 glorious. But the last one, the historical one, I did not like nearly so well.

I wouldn’t have thought Sedgwick23's letter possible if you hadn’t sent it. The real truth is this, my friend–you probably know it–you are not flat-footed enough for Ellery. He doesn’t know that your laugh may be dangerous; he doesn’t know just where you stand; you won’t give him the one solid paragraph that would make him feel safe about you. He’s afraid that if he follows your giddy pen about he may suddenly find himself laughing at something he shouldn’t laugh at. Didn’t I tell you how he once said sadly to me “Isn’t it strange that with such good actors the French have never been able to originate a drama or to write a comedy!” When I remonstrated he said “Irreverence is not humor”! That’s your trouble. Mr. Burlingame said you were a first rater because only they ⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ could see the humor of their own enthusiasms, but that does not go down with E. S. Bear yourself more seemingly, Audrey24.

Why don’t you send me the article you sent Sedgwick? I’ve plenty of time now and should love to read it. My surplus of time, my release from office bondage is really due to the strange way that “The Bohemian Girl”25 has “gone”; at least the business office has heard a lot about it and we’ve had a lot of letters. A few One lady did write and quote Tennyson26 to say that I was in danger of becoming “Procuress to the Lords of Hell27,” but I am sure she was prejudiced by Miss Wyatt28. Everyone seems to like it much better than Alexander, which upsets all my theories about what people like and all Mr. Mackenzie29's.

I’m being very lazy, working only three hours a day and walking a lot. Let me hear very particularly about your [illegible] health, please, and whether you can sleep and work. I can’t see how you can do either if you visit!

Affectionately W. S. C.
4 Rue de Chevreuse Miss Elizabeth Sergeant1 c/o Hortingue & Co, Banke[missing] 38 rue de Proven[missing] Paris3 France PITTSBURGH, PA.2 SEP 1912