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#0590: Willa Cather to Dorothy Canfield Fisher, [April 28, 1922]

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Dear Dorothy1:

Of course I'd rather have you write a review of Claude3 than anybody else. You know all the factors; you know me, and It, and Claude—the West, the War, the doughboy. It's such a thankless task that I would surely never be the one to suggest it, but since you suggest it, I'm selfish enough to grab. Knopf4 is out of town2. When he returns I'll consult him. If you undertake it, I'd like it to be the authoritative review5, and to be where it would count most.

Of course the fact that my cousin6 was the germ of the book is between you and me—that's not the public's business, I've never even mentioned it to Knopf. I don't know myself how much the character is Grosvenor. It's a good deal me, a good deal one of my brothers—a sort of composite family portrait. And when I saw so much of the wounded men in the Polyclinic7, so many of them seemed to me more or less like Claude, that he gradually came to mean for me - - - well, young America in the War, especially the American country boy. That was why I tried not to make the latter part too individual, and tried to keep it within the consciousness of such a mind; a mind so intelligent, so sympathetic, so uncultivated, so jealously honest. It's rather hard to say anything about France8 through such a medium—that's why I did things like using "enragé9" for the baby—I always tried to use words french 3 words enough like English so that the women in Red Cloud10—where there is not one french dictionary!—could tell what they meant by the look of them. But I suppose the laws of the french language won't relax—even for Red Cloud!

Victor's elderly charmer wrote on her photograph à mon aigle11—being as he was an air-man and she very subtle.

Well, I've accomplished something if after twenty years I've got across to you what the roughneck, the sensitive roughneck, really does feel when he's plunged into the midst of - - - everything. It's not only his vanity that suffers—though that very much—; he feels as if he has been cheated out of everything, the whole treasure of the ages, just because he doesn't know some 4 language or play some instrument or something. Those experiences are very terrible—they have even effected the history of the world "The Dying Goth"12. I found so many of the sick men I got to know had suffered that chagrin, and had brought back with them another wound than the one on their leg or breast—a wound that would ache at odd times all their lives, and that wound made them wiser, always. You see we had no colonies; for the first time our uncultivated thousands were brought up against older civilization—it really was like the Crusades—but why tell this to you, who know it all better than I? But when you hit 5 on Claude and David as enlightening, that revealed to me instantly where I really got Claude and David. David is David Hochstein13—all the same, the emotional picture is you and I14, in France, twenty years ago. And now, after so long a time, it "gets" you. I have my revenge! In a very joyful form, too. And that's the way old suffering and old chagrins ought to work of out in the end. But its a long journey between being burned at the stake and being able to write about it agreeably. No ray of hope gets across to one then.

But it was because I happened to be there on the farm15 with Grosvenor when the war began and saw its effect on him, and because I had a blood-identity 6 with him—a Siegmund und Siegelinde16 bond17, the woes of the Volsungs—that I had the courage to try to write a young man's story. Life became a series of assignations, of stolen interviews with Claude. He met me when I walked in the park; in the middle of a symphony concert he was suddenly at my shoulder. I always had tea alone that first winter, hither any and yon, for I never knew when he would appear and sit opposite me and let me feel his strong shoulder and stubborn head. Oh that was life at its best, that first winter—life and complete possession. I was always frightened and nervous about the last part, but even that shadow couldn't kill the joy of that perfect companionship. I envied no man his adventure in those days.


And now - - - well now its pretty bleak, and that is where you help me. Now when I can do nothing more for him, what is there to do? I feel as if he had drained my very power to care for things. At least, that part of me must have a long rest. I paid out everything I had. The pile of rejected chapters would make a book. Yes, I have to thank him for these wonderful years. He will never bring back what he cost in mere money—he was an expensive boy to keep, I had to travel with him18 and cut off every source of income to give him a perfectly undistracted mind. But it was worth going into debt for—a fortune could not buy such excitement and pleasure.

I wonder whether in your secret heart, you will think it worth all this? Well, it was to me: and that's the only answer to the question of what anything's worth. For days and days together I was somebody better than myself. Three intense hours with him every morning, and the rest was wreckage - - - sleep, and that queer physical feeling of resting myself in his stronger, younger body. Like Mrs. Wheeler19 I used to say to him "rest, rest, perturbéd spirit."20

After all, isn't a game so vvid vivid, so long sustained, worth anything, anything everything to the player. "Game" is a disgusting word—it was companionship with a human soul.

I'm in bed—still very flabby—so excuse lead pencil. Thank you for listening.