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#0254: Willa Cather to Frances Smith Cather, February 23, 1913

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Dear Aunt Franc1:

It has been a long while since I got your good letter, but this has been a busy fall and winter for me. I have just finished a new novel5 which will be published in the fall, and I have been doing a great deal of magazine work. Besides these things, I have had the care of getting settled in a new apartment in New York. I did not move in to my new flat until the first of January, but I came on in October from Pittsburgh6 and leased the place and moved my furniture in. Then I went back to Pittsburgh to work on my story in peace and quiet. At last I have an apartment that is roomy, quiet, and that suits me perfectly. When I came back in January the first month was given over to paperers and painters and furniture dealers. I actually had to write an article7 for the March number of McClures8 while the floors were being painted under my feet. But I have taken a good deal of pleasure in fixing the place up, for it is exactly the kind of apartment I have always wanted, and I had almost despaired of ever being able to find one that would suit me for a reasonable rental. I have the competent colored girl9 who has been my maid for four years, and she tyrannizes over me— and makes me very comfortable. I have never before been so happy and comfortable as I am this winter. Probably one reason is that, for the first time in several years, I am perfectly well—well enough to enjoy everything, work and play alike. My office work I have cut exactly in half, and this gives me much more time to write—and to live, for that matter. I wish you and Bessie10 and Auntie Sister11 could see my new flat. What do you think of two open fires, one in the dining room and one in the sittingroom? McCLURE'S MAGAZINE,
I have a snug little study off the sittingroom and a comfortable bedroom and bath, a large dining room and a good kitchen. Plenty of sunlight in the two front front rooms. I now own four very beautiful Persian rugs, of which I am very proud.

Yes, my dear Aunt, I know there was a sort of moral flimsiness about "Alexander."12 But writing is a queer business. If one does anything that is sharp and keen enough to go over the line, to get itself with the work that is taken seriously, one has to have had either an unusual knowledge of or a peculiar sympathy with the characters one handles. One can't write about what one most admires always—you must, be some accident, have seen into your character very deeply, and it is this accident of intense realization of him that gives your writing about him tone and distinction, that lifts it above the commonplace, in other words. Now there are three people, two men and one woman, whom I admire more than I do any other people, and about whom I feel very strongly. More than once I have tried to put these people, about whom I feel so keenly, into stories. I assure you, the result was a blow to pride—the stories, when I had finished them, sounded as if A. C. Hosmer13 might have written them, they were that commonplace. They were just like hundreds of other stories. Why, you ask? My dear Aunt, I don't know. I only wish I did! But, to be worth anything, a story must have a flavor entirely its own. And often one can't reach that point of differentiation with the subjects one would most love to handle. Maybe there's a weakness in me that makes me able to handle the weak people better —I don't know. Alexander has already gone through two editions14 in England15, and the royalties16 are coming up to a nice little figure. The new novel is twice as long as Alexander and is much, much better. I'm almost sure you will like the heroine17.


Bessie wrote me about G. P.18's hunting trip. Please congratulate him for me. Elsie19 is so happy in her teaching. She loves the place and the work and the people. I am so glad. You were well when Bessie last wrote, and I hope you are now, my dear Aunt. Your niece would like to drop down for a day with you before this short month is over. I found such satisfaction in the time we had together last summer. One of the pleasures of getting older is that one can get so much nearer to one's own people, and that the dear ones of them become dearer all the time. I always used to be a little afraid of my grown-up relatives as a child. I felt as if all of them, even father20, wanted to make me over, and I didn't want to be made over—oh, not a bit! It's worth nearing forty to have got rid of all those queer fears and shynesses that I used to feel with my own people—less with you and father, I think, than with any of the others, but still I was always a little nervous. For the last five or six years it has been such a pleasure to me to go back and find that all gone, to feel not a bit afraid, and to feel sure that where you did not agree with me you would give me the benefit of the doubt, and that people can be very fond of each other even if they cannot always thing think alike.

With a great, great deal of love to you, Willie
From W.S. Cather No. 5 Bank Street3 New York2 Mrs George P. Cather1 Bladen4 Nebraska [missing] FEB 23 8 PM STA.C McCLURE'S MAGAZINE THE McCLURE BUILDING NEW YORK2 BLADEN, NEB.4 1913 FEB 25 6 PM REC'D.