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#2169: Willa Cather to Roscoe Cather, July 11 and 12, 1940

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My dear Roscoe1:

Yesterday I arrived home3 from Jaffrey, New Hampshire5, where I spent several week, trying to get over the results of a severe illness6 which I had in May. I was in the French Hospital7 for a week at that time. I did not write you because I did not wish to alarm you, and my doctor said it would be a slow recovery. I had accepted an invitation to take an honorary degree from the University of Pennsylvania June 12th, but I was too ill to go to Philadelphia8. They gave me the degree in absentia, however. I have come back able to work steadily at my desk, which I have not been able to do for some time. I am determined that Alfred Knopf9 shall have this book (title SAPPHIRA AND THE SLAVE GIRL10) this autumn. I have broken half a dozen dates with him, and I feel that it is a question of honor not to break another.

I wonder what I ever said that made you think I was ready to read proofs !! Why, when I went up to Jaffrey some weeks ago, two of the most important chapters were still unwritten. But there , in the quiet country, in my old attic rooms, I wrote them in two weeks time – worked two and one-half hours every morning, and stayed in bed all afternoon as my doctor had directed. But these chapters, scrawled in pencil, have to be rewritten several times before they are ready for the press and the whole story, which has been interrupted so many times, must be gone over and welded together, so to speak. The story was going strong and I was full of enthusiasm for it when Douglass11 died12. After that I did not work any more at all for four months. Then Isabelle13 died14. And wWhen I went back to the manuscripts, I was almost a different person. I had lost my keen interest in the story. I have done all I can to mend that break in the story, and to make the latter part like the first, but the break will always be there.

Among the many letters I found waiting for me when I got back from Jaffrey, I find one from Margaret15, and I shall communicate with her just as soon as I can. She has no telephone, so I must wait until I have time to write a letter and make an appointment. I have not unpacked my trunk, but today I began my new schedule by working two hours, and I intend to do this every day until the book is ready for Alfred Knopf. I am going to get this book done if I have to stay in town2 with it all summer. If you read my sketch about Alfred Knopf16 in the book17 I sent you, you may understand why I feel this way. The sketch gave no hint of the thousand personal kindnesses I have had from him, or of his constant interest in my comfort and welfare. It's a matter of honor to with me not to disappoint him by delaying this book again. If I can get it done in time to go to Grand Manan18, I can of course read the proofs there. But the proofs are still a long way ahead. Mary Virginia19 always helps me a lot when she is in town – does bits of shopping, etc., for me – but she is away on her vacation for one month. There are other difficult features in the situation, but I am certainly going to finish this book before I leave town, unless some serious accident should befall me.

Now forgive me for telling all my troubles. The results of a high blood pressure are sometimes terribly hard to bear. The thing I mind most is a kind of clouded memory, especially regarding very recent things happenings, engagements etc. You know, I used to have a real good memory.

Lovingly Willie

P.S. The letters from my friends in France20 and England21 are heartbreaking.22 Those letters alone would be enough to take all the drive out of one.


Your letter about the State of California23 vs. the Ocean Front just reached me. I'm sorry you had to write it, but I certainly call it a well composed letter—you made this technical tangle as clear as it can be made. I'm sure I don't know what a process server could do to me. If he starts to drag me to some court or other just now, he won't get me very far. Too bad I didn't get off to G. Manan18 some weeks ago. He'd have had some chase finding me! I love to think of your happy family reunion, dear brother.

FROM CATHER 570 PARK AVE3., NEW YORK CITY2 Mr. R. C. Cather,1 First Savings Bank of Colusa, Colusa,4 California. NEW YORK N.Y. STA. Y2 JULY 10 11 PM