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#1689: Willa Cather to Irene Miner Weisz, January 6, 1945

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⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ Darling Irene1:

I have hoped my hand5 might get better so that I could write you with my pen6. But when I had been working very happily on a story7 that interests me very much, my right hand suddenly collapsed (on about the 16th of December) and has been tied up in its metal brace ever since - a terrible disappointment. I am afraid I will lose all of the joy of the story in the long wait which will now come.

Irene, I have read your dear letter8 over many times, and each time I read it I cry. It is because I have put my real feelings and real heart into my books that they speak to you. You may remember that I had to make my own living9 and help those at home until I was twenty-five years old: teaching, (I was a good teacher - took it seriously) newspaper work, writing for small magazines. I often wonder why I went on writing, for I wasn't very ambitious. I think I can honestly say that I wrote for pleasure, and not from vanity. When I wrote about the people I loved and the places I loved, they came back to me so vividly, that it was like having them all over again. They warmed me and excited me, as their actual presence would have done - perhaps more so. So, no matter how hard I worked at my job all through the week, I always wrote for my own pleasure on Saturday and Sunday.

I have managed to recapture a good many of the pleasures of the past, in one book or another, but I have had to pay for my pleasures as I went along. The writers whom I most admire have been very kind to me. You remember President Masaryk10, former President of Czechoslovakia11. I have a bundle of his letters to me, running over a period of eight years - the last one written shortly before his death. He was a great linguist and a fine critic. Some day I would like to tell you about him.

Yes, the world has been kind. But certainly my home town12 has not been ⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩ very kind, nor some of the people who go out from there. Helen Mac13, when she was in New York2, espoused the cause of the Hicks14 brothers - two not-very-successful reviewers, who have made almost a career explaining to people what a second-rate scribbler I am, after all. I was amused when I noticed in the Red Cloud paper15 that on two occasions Helen McNeny had reviewed and lectured on a book by Grenville Hicks, in the Auld Library.!! These books would not necessarily attack me personally, but would ridicule everything I believe in. Of course, all this is gratifying to the little group at home who sit around and do fine detective work on "where she got this, and where she got that". I could tell you in confidence, Irene, that so often I do not remember at all where I "got" them. After Ántonia16 was published, Father17 pointed out to me half a dozen incidents - things I had done or seen with him (the two crazy Russians, etc.), and I honestly believed that I had invented them. They simply came into my mind, the way things do come when one is interested. When one is writing hard, one drives toward the main episodes and the detail takes care of itself. Unless the detail is spontaneous, unquestioned unsought for by the writer, he isn't much of a writer - has mistaken his job.

Let me break this serious discussion by a little fun. Mrs. Fred Garber18, out in California19, was very indignant about The Lost Lady20, because, when the early chapters of the story came out21 in the Century Magazine22, she went around boasting that Mrs. Forrester was her daughters' grandmother23. Then when the plot thickened up and Frank Ellinger appeared24, she was very angry. She once told Douglass25, much later, that she should have tried to stop that book in some way. Douglass was too polite to tell her that the book has already been translated into French, Dutch, German and Norwegian, and that she would have had a hard time stopping it. Mrs. Charley Platt26 would certainly have liked to stop it. I was perfectly square about that book. I was staying with Isabelle27 in Toronto28 when the Red Cloud paper came, announcing Mrs. Garber's death in Oregon29. It shook me up more than I would ⬩W⬩S⬩C⬩have thought. The day was very hot. I went to my room and laid down to rest. I had never once thought of writing about Mrs. Garber, but within an hour the story was all made in my mind, as if I had read it somewhere. Mrs. Platt didn't agree with my portrait, but that was what she Mrs. Garber seemed to me, and what she meant to me. If a story has any real vitality, if it goes on being printed and sold in half a dozen languages, the root of it must be a real feeling - a strong personal feeling. It takes skill, of course, to get that feeling across to many people in many languages, but the strong feeling that comes out of the living heart is the thing most necessary - and most rarely found.

I beg you, dear Irene, never to show this letter to anyone, unless it might be Carrie30 or Mary31. What a scene scream Helen Mac and the Hickses (and probably Mr. Leighton32) would get out of it!

I am grateful for your understanding that I am not a smart trick writer. I have always felt that you felt something human and affectionate in my books.

Lovingly WillieHand very bad today.
FROM CATHER 570 PARK AVE.3, NEW YORK CITY2 Mrs. C. W. Weisz1 3270 Lake Shore Drive Chicago, Illinois4 NEW YORK, N.Y.2 JAN 5 1945 430 PM