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#1497: Willa Cather to Dorothy Canfield Fisher, October 14, 1940

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⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ Confidential My dear Dorothy1:

I wish I could write you just a note by hand, but my right hand is in a bandage just at present (sprain). Now at last, my dear Dorothy, we are quits about titles. I have always been ashamed that I called3 your last book "sSeasoned wWood"4! You see, I had left the book at Grand Manan5, where I have a considerable library, and I was writing from memory. Now you write me about Sapphira and the Slave Maid"! my dear, which is "Sapphira and the Slave Girl"6. You see, I like the doubling up of s's and r's, just as you like "timber" better than "wood".

It gives me very special pleasure, my dear Dorothy, to know that you really like the book, though you must have read some very incomplete version of it, for I am just handing back the galley proofs of one chapter which I brought down from Grand Manan with me, and the galley proofs of the rest of the text were unusually slovenly. You see,[?] Douglass7 and Isabelle8 died when I was in the middle of the book, and I threw it aside for nearly a year. When I picked it up again, I had not quite got my second wind[?] much enthusiasm left. However, I had written the eEpilogue before that break—because the eEpilogue was where I was going. I think it is bad manners to jump from the third person to the first person in a narrative, but that meeting between Nancy9 and Aunt Till10, which took place just as I tell it, was one of the most moving things that ever happened to me when I was little. And it was from the long talks between my grandmother11 and Till and Nancy, that I got my strongest impressions of how things had been in the old ⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ days before the wWar. This grandmother was really a "Rebel," since she lost two sons12 in the Confederate Army. bBut she was a lover of justice. In a beautiful old map in the Society Library13, made in 1821, I found the actual ferry by which my grandmother took Nancy over the Potomac River. My father14's people were all "Republicans"15, and the post-mistress was my great-aunt, Sidney Gore16, born Sidney Cather.

I cannot tell you how much pleasure I had in listening to those voices which had been non-existent for me for so many years, when other sounds silenced them. I loved especially playing with the darkey speech, which was deep down in my mind exactly like phonograph records. I could remember exactly what they said and the quality of the voice. Just wait till our wise young reviewers, such as Clifton17 and Louis18, sadly call attention to the inconsistency in Till's and Nancy's speech,- never knowing that all well trained house servants spoke two languages: one with white people and one with their fellow negroes. But when they were very much excited or in sorrow, they nearly always reverted to the cabin idiom.

Once I had dropped the book for good. It was only after this unspeakable war began that I took it up again. I am an "escapist"19, you know, and by this means I could truly escape for two hours every day,- from the newspapers, and the letters from my friends in London20 which shattered my nerves21, not by their complaints but by their sheer splendour.

Good-bye and thank you, dear Dorothy. I expect I should have put off writing to you until my hand was well, but so many things crowd in nowaday, that one is almost afraid to wait.

Yours always, Willa