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#1455: Willa Cather to Carrie Miner Sherwood, June 28, 1939

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My dear Carrie1:

You have probably already been surprised by receiving a fat book3 from the Channel Book Shop. I wanted to send it to you in the early part of last winter, but I thought then you would be getting ready for Christmas. Then I thought I would send it sometime during February or March, but for both of those two months I was too ill with influenza to do anything, and I got so behind in replying to important letters that I have only just now caught up.

And now it is early summer, when every housekeeper is too busy to read anything. So I’ll just ask you to tuck this book away and read some portions of it next winter, when the days are quiet. I send you the book, of course, because of the rather interesting and original articles on modern writers - though I like the chapters on Jane Austen4, the Brontë sisters5, and George Eliot6.

Two years ago a French scholar7 at the University of Toulouse8 wrote a study of all my books, which I want some day to have translated for a few of my American friends. It is some four hundred pages long, and I have been too busy to bother to get a translator for it. But next to that book, I think the short chapter9 on my books in Margaret Lawrence's10 "School of Femininity" is the one I would most like you to read - and to keep. I like the article not chiefly because it is flattering, but because the writer says what she has to say in few words, and without rambling. If there is any real merit in my books, she puts her finger on the root of it. I once sent you a lot of English reviews, and you will remember that even the most enthusiastic reviewers never attempted to say why they got a special pleasure out of this or that book. 2 They talk about “atmosphere”, “style”, “form”, etc., but Miss Lawrence puts it in a very few words. She seems to understand that I can only write successfully only when I write about people or places which I very greatly admire; which, indeed, I actually love. The characters may be cranky and queer, or foolhardy and rash, but they must have something in them which gives me a thrill and warms my heart. Now this is something I would never have said myself to anyone, but since Miss Lawrence has said it for me11, I want you to have this confession of faith in her words. I hope that both you and Mary12 will at some time find time to read it, and I hope you will agree with me, that it would not be wise to show it to other people in my home town13. I do not believe there is anyone but you and Mary who would not feel a little,- well, a little spiteful, you know. Nevertheless, I would like one person in my home town to have such a clear explanation of the way in which my books really were written, and I would like you to be that person. You, more than any other one person now living, know a great deal of the material that went into some of the books. And those things we will keep to ourselves. They do not belong to the gossips. I have heard that Verna Trine14 considers herself the original of Lucy Gayheart15, and that another so-called friend at home considers that I thought I was writing about myself when I wrote Lucy’s story: that I dressed myself out in brown eyes and red cheeks and a bewitching personality, and quite believe that I was like that! You and I know who the girl was who used to skate in the old rink, dressed in a red jersey. But please tell me, Carrie, did Sadie Becker16 have golden-brown eyes? The picture was perfectly clear to me when I was writing the book, but since then a queer doubt has come over me, and I sometimes think they were gray! But I can hear her contralto laugh today, as clearly as I did when I was twelve.

A great many things have happened in my life, dear Carrie, since I 3 last wrote you a long letter. I have often wanted to write, but my heart always failed me. I am now looking at the very spot on the rug where Douglass17 stood, so big and strong, when he gave me a last hug before he dashed off to catch the plane that took him westward. I want you to know that during the ten days he spent here, we had almost a lifetime of happiness. On my birthday I stuffed the turkey for him myself, because my very excellent French cook18 could never make the kind of stuffing Grandma Boak19 used to make, and that was the kind he liked best. A great many flowers always come in on that day, and he spent the afternoon helping me to arrange them. The only interruption in his visit was that I had to send him to the theater alone one evening, because I had an important engagement to dine with an English publisher who was sailing the next day. I bitterly regret that lost evening, but the date had been arranged early in October.

I have lost many friends within the last few years, but losing Isabelle20 and Douglass within four months has made me a different person, and I shall never be the same again.

This past winter was a hard one to live through. The brightest thing in it was the solicitous affection and loyalty of the Menuhin family, and my great happiness in learning to know and truly love Yehudi's21 wife22. She has all the directness and firmness of her solid Scotch ancestry. She is sweet, yet decided; and the more I know her, the more I feel she is right for him in every way. Marriage is apt to make or mar a young artist, but Yehudi has been as fortunate in this as he has been in other things. It was her character and the direct, clear look in her eyes, that first drew him to her. They came to see me when I was ill, and when I was well we were often together, the three of us. I loved being with the two of them almost more than I used to love being with Yehudi alone. You know, splendid young people can always make me very 4 happy - they seem to give me something to live for. And these two fill my heart with joy, even when I am sad. Cablegrams and long letters from Hephzibah23, in Australia24, bring her very close to me. And I enjoy her life in wild Victoria25, on a ranch with twenty-five thousand sheep, as much as I enjoyed her professional success. Think of the courage and high-heartedness of a girl who could lightly drop a career and cancel her engagements in all the capitals of Europe26, to go to Australia and live a much realer life”, as she writes me. I have not met her husband,27 but I love him from his letters, and because he is Nola's brother and Hephzibah’s husband.

This is a long letter, dear Carrie, but so many things have been happening to me, and I have been out of your life so long, that I want to get back into it again.

Lovingly to you and Mary Willie

I was so truly disappointed to miss Father Fitzgerald28. I was in New Hampshire29 when he was here. The people at the Knopf office were sorry I missed him—they liked him at first sight. Thank Mary for her letter. I always love to hear from her.

I shall be leaving for Canada30 soon.