Skip to main content

#0352: Willa Cather to Zoë Akins, [March 22 to 29, 1916]

More about this letter…
Plain view:

Guide to Reading Letter Transcriptions

Some of these features are only visible when "plain text" is off.

Textual Feature Appearance
passage deleted with a strikethrough mark deleted passage
passage deleted by overwritten added letters overwritten passage
passage added above the line passage with added text above
passage added on the line passage with added text inline
passage added in the margin passage with text added in margin
handwritten addition to a typewritten letter typed passage with added handwritten text
missing or unreadable text missing text noted with "[illegible]"
uncertain transcriptions word[?]
notes written by someone other than Willa Cather Note in another's hand
printed letterhead text printed text
text printed on postcards, envelopes, etc. printed text
text of date and place stamps stamped text
passage written by Cather on separate enclosure. written text

I wrote this lying down—grippe very active again—and I am sure you cannot read it. I'm not conceited enough to willingly permit myself to write so indistinctly.

Dear Zoë1

I saw3 your play4 with the greatest excitement. Certainly the best of the one-act pieces I've seen at the Princess or the Bandbox. The setting and the night sky—and skeleton sky-scraper!—are most effective, with that sweaty young man lying on the floor. I know he's sweaty. The girl is just right for the part. When she begins to serve[?] in those shocking orange tights, I nearly expired of mirth—it's outrageous and effective. The maid and the millionaire are the best characters, I'm sure. The latter is splendid and splendidly played. I'm glad your poet went to Greece5 and I hope he'll stay there; too many of his sort in New York2. We can spare a few dozen. There is something very vital in the play, or it would never live through his messy conversation after he wakens up. Did you have to make him such an utter ASS? He must be that kind, of course, but I wish he said more really suggestive things like that about the city he calls home when he has nothing of his own etc. I wish his talk told more about his life, somehow, and were less through his hat. It's in character to have him talk about his precious ideas, of course, but I did think the flowers of rhetoric too luxuriant in that one scene. Is he the lady's lover lover, or not? I suppose he couldn't be anything so positive and low-brow as that—too strenuous for him by a long shot! He prefers the 'crumbs', does he call them? Well, he is a crumby sort, and that's the truth. I know he forgets to bathe. The millionaire means a thousand things you don't say, stirs one's imagination, makes one want to know so many things. He's dramatically convincing. So is the poet, only I feel you could get a good deal more character and intensity into that scene between the girl and the poet if you tried—more of his atmosphere, his streets and habits and absurd, artificial sort of life. I long to have him commit himself more, in phrase I could remember. His talk is so vague;—really, you don't get the most out of the precious minutes there. You might make his flowery babble tell more about his world and his life and call up memories and pictures to one, and that would surely add strength. The poet in Candida6 talks in verse, too, but he gives you such a good full conception of how he spent his nights and days, and that makes up his personality to one.

Wjy Why does your poet shoot? If Rudolph had used his advantage, if your pup of a poet could have gone out into his magical city feeling that his girl had been bought from him, that the strong arm had again used its brutal cib biceps against Dreams and Beauty, he would never have shot. His grievance would have been enough for him. He shot, didn't he, because the strong arm outdid him even in magninimity and generosity? He hadn't one thing left to feel superior about.!

I think Rudolph is splendidly conceived and all his lines so well written. I think felt something a little too fancy in his speech where he tells her to go to the window and 'avert her face'. I resent the least fine talk in him. He is such a sure-enough person. He doesn't do his lovemaking, or anything else, in rhetoric. Of course your bum poet didn't care a button about the girl, but about the messy, hazy things he could say to her. The circumstances of her life stimulated his peculiar kind of imagination and set his metaphors a-flowing. Ugh! What a bounder!

The best thing about the play is that it is a play, and not a story told in dialogue, and your real sense of the theatre (for I believe now that you unquestionably have that sense) saves even the poet. I see no especial reason why it should be done in free verse, anymore than why Candida should be; (the poet there uses poetic prose when he feels like it) and I think the girl would be truer and more convincing if she were a little more colloquial and simpler in her speech. I think you have sacrifised some of the emotional effect the play might have by letting your flowers grow too losley loosely and wander where they will. The flowery element is part of your theme and mood here, but believe me it would be more r effective if it were sublimated and swept under by something that matters more on the stage than flowers. And it is sxekp swept under after your real man comes in; there you hit the trail and GO! You hit the long trail, the old trail, the trail that is always new---- the only trail for a playwright or a novelist.or a playright When that gentleman enters he brings with him the things that make the world; human feeling and force and striving, and hard-served idols good or bad, it is no matter; and Oh, how pale beside these are the prettiest metaphors and all the desire to say haunting and effective things. Go right on writing like the last half of your play, Zoe, and leave the first part behind you,I mean the part after the poet wakens up, I like the very first. You won't get away from your synpathy with that kind of thing, probably, but you can discipline it and concentrate it and make it serve you.

Just now I hope to sail for Italy7 early in June, if the submarines don't get excited again. But if I don't, I will surely, surely stop in St. Louis8. Your page letter makes my heart yearn for June-bugs and the quiet heavy air of inland towns at night. The Magical City is at present chiefly sewer gas and the viscera of new sub-ways.

With heartiest congratulations, my dear girl, W. S. C.