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#0462: Willa Cather to Will Owen Jones, [May 19, 1919]

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My Dear Mr. Jones1;

As to the introductory chapter of “Antonia”6: such a device7 is very often employed by Russian and French authors, when they wish their narrative to be colored by a certain mood and certain personal feelings throughout. It is a device, and since it is, the more frankly it is presented as such, the better. I wished here to present the chief character through a man’s memory, because the most interesting things I knew about theseveral women of whom she was made, were told me by men. I also wanted it written in the first person, since it was so entirely a story of feel feeling and not of action. I felt competent to handle a man’s narrative in the first person--a very hard thing for a woman to do-- mainly because of the sever training I had in wwriting Mr. McClure8's autobiography9, where I tried so very hard to give his exact feelings impressions in his most characteristic language and with his nicest feeling. In that I succeeded so well that Mrs. McClure10 and Mr. Phillips11, his partner and schoolmate, wrote me that it seemed to them a perfectly convincing presentation of him as a boy and young man, and that the sentences themselves had the abruptness ad and suddenness characteristic of him. From my success in that peic piece of work, I believed that I could interpret the youth of anoh another man, of a different sort, whom I also knew very well.

The method employed in this story is, in itself, dangerous,— and usually fakey,; but it was the only one to convey the shades of feeling I wished to convey, and my work on that autobiography gave me the courage to try it. At first I found it awfully hampering to try to be Mr. McClure all the time, but in the end it got to have a kind of fascination to work within the limits and color of that personality I knew so well. Ever since I have had had a sort of nagging wish to try the experiment again. In this case the introduction had to state the facts that the narrator of the story is a man of worldly experience,-for only those who know the world can see the pasi parish as it is--, that he has no children to plan for and is not particularly fortunate in his domestic life. If he were, he would not dwell upon the years of his first youth either so minutely or so sympathetically. This, I take it, answers your question.

I am very sincerely glad you like the book. I suppose every serious writer w goes through the experience of disappointing and estranging his early friends, and everyone developes as he mos must and can, not as he would. The enclosed notice12 from a Chicago paper seems to give a pretty clear statement of what I have been trying to do from the first. My aim has never changed, but in the early twenties one simply does not know enough about life to make real people; one feels them, but one has neither calm insight nor a practised ease of hand. As one grows older one cares less about clever writing and more about a simple and faithful presentation. But to reach this, one must have gone through the period where they one would die, so to speak, for the fine phrase; that is essential to learning one’s business.

Yes, I want to stop in Lincoln4 again and see everybody.

Faithfully yours Willa Cather
Mr. Will Owen Jones1 Nebraska State Journal3 Lincoln4 Nebraska NEW YORK N.Y.2 MAY 19 1919 5 PM Willa Cather