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#0250: Willa Cather to Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant, [January 1913]

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No, my dear Elsie1, I am not dead, as you have probably inferred. I have simply been settling my apartment and writing an article5 on new plays while the floors were being painted under my feet. Plumbers and locksmiths have been my companions. But now the worst of it is over.

I simply love the Naudin6 book you sent me at Christmas. It’s always so exciting to get a little package with foreign stamps on it near Christmas time. I think I like best his drawing of himself. The “mother and child is a lovely one.

New York seems rather fun. I’ve been hearing a lot of music. Oh, about that book of verse, “April Twilights”7. I have one for you, and you shall have it when you come home. But I always curse anyone who sends me books when I am over there, and I throw their “wolumes” into the street. But I’ve no mind to let you off altogether. I would love to send you a copy of the new story8, which will soon be done. And if you undertake to read it, would you also be good enough to undertake to post it to Harrison9? Not with a note or anything, simply honest French postage for which I will some day reimburse you–one is always poor when one is abroad.–This new thing turns out to be twice as long as “Alexander.”10 I feel that there’s a good deal of careless writing in it. But on the whole, it’s either pretty good or an utter fizzle. It’s all about crops and cows, and yet it does seem to me interesting. Anyhow, I’ve done what I wanted to without being afraid of anybody, I’ve not cut out and cut down what I’ve always been cutting, I let the country BE the hero. I’ve taken the little themes that hide in the long grass and worked them out the as well as I could. That’s what Dvorâk11 did in his “New World” symphony12. Programmes always say “built on negro melodies.” Bah! I know where the Largo13 came from, out of the long grass. I knew that the first time I heard it, and this summer I learned that he spent several weeks14 in Nebraska15 in the early Eighties, when it was wild!

Well, I am talking chesty to back up my courage. When one finishes a thing one is always ⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ despondent. And today I am very much down–as one usually is when one talks large. Perhaps this is not the sort of stuff that ought to be written down at all; perhaps its too slow and reads like “The Swiss Family Robinson.”16 “Alexander” is selling pretty well, but I don’t think there are more than six people in the U. S. A.17 who will be interested in this. I think I shall call it after Walt Whitman18 “O Pioneers!”19

I know this is a rotten selfish letter, Elsie. But I am awfully nervous about the story. It’s the story I’ve always wanted to write, and I’d hate to fall down on it. You happen to be one of the three people I know above ground whose judgement I care a snap of the fingers about. Please can you name a large and brilliant galaxy[?] to whose opinions you defer? No, you can’t! One likes and admires, Mr. Burlingame20, yes. But when he tells you that H. C. Bunner21 wrote the best American stories up to date, and that John Fox Jr.22 will live, Oh King, forever–then you can’t take Mr. Burlingame’s opinions unqualifiedly any more. There’s no use trying to write anyhow, unless a lot of clever people are doing it and doing it well. That is an inane remark, but let it go.

Please tell me where you spent Christmas, I long to know. A glorious year to you! I’ll be in better trim when I write you next.

Yours ever Willa Cather
Miss Elizabeth Sergeant1 c/o Hottinguer & Cie, Bankers 38 rue de Provençe Paris3 France c/o Mme Easton Paris 85 R/ de Sévres NEW [missing]2 19 [missing] 4-[missing]