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#2416: Willa Cather to Mary Virginia Boak Cather, December 6 [1919]

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My Dearest Mother1;

I know I’ve not written for a long time, but I did not mean to be neglectful. I thought Daddy3 would tell you about me and about how torn up my apartment4 was. It has taken so much work to get it even a little in order and the way I want it. You know I have no maid this year, and as Edith5 is away from eight-thirty in the morning until six-thirty at night, most of the housekeeping falls on me. Father will tell you how we areboarding out for our meal dinners, and you know I don’t like that. Josephine6 now gets $80 a month; any good maid would now cost us $60 a month, and we would have to send the washing out! With eggs at $1.00 a dozen, and butter at $1.04a pound, we simply can’t afford to entertain any more, and what a servant would eat would be a very considerable item. Mrs. Winn7, that noble widow,of whom father will tell you, comes three half-days a week and keeps us clean, but there are so many, many other things to do, and I have been far from well.8

I am ashamed not to have written Elsie9, when she wrote me such a nice letter, and sent me Marguerite10’s letter, too. But I hve simply been too tired, Bobby,-- the rush of the world has been too hard. But I am coming home this winter11, in February or March. I have waited to write until I could tell you that. You see the expense of the trip is something one has to think about, when the cost of living has increased here so enormously, and when I have to go to France12 in the spring in order to finish my book13 at all. I expect, Mother, that I have a brother or two who would to you both There, I had a burst of temper at the bottom of the page, but I’ve cut it out. It seems extravagant for me to go abroad now, but you know, Mother, that I always have known wghat was necessary for my work, and that I have been right not to take advice of reprimand from any source about that.

I Have thought you were doing pleasant things with Douglass14, and would not need letters so much as last winter, and I didn’t want to write Elsie until I could write her a long letter, and tell her how much I rejoice to hear of Marguerite’s interesting life in California15. She deserved it, and I’m so glad she has it. Dear Bobbie, I don’t see how you did get on when you were teaching and cooking and thaking care of Margie16. Lord, my child, it’s a blessing I DID NOT go home then, for you’d simply have had another Margie on your hands.

In addition to painting the bathroom and doing the house work and trying to write a novel, I have been becoming rather “famous” lately, and that is an added care. In other years, when I was living like a lady, with an impressive French maid, I could have been famous quite conveniently, but then I had only to receive a few high-brows. Now the man in the street seems to have “got onto” me, and it’s very inconvenient. The enclosed17, on the editorial page18 of the Tribune19, is only one of a dozen articles that have come out in all the New York2 papers in the last fewtwo weeks. People write furious letters to the Sun20 to ask why their editor has not stated that I am the “greatest living American author”; the Sun editor21 replies, give him time, maybe he will say that. I have had nothing to do with this little whirlwind of publicity, God knows! My publishers22 have had nothing to do wo with it. They are the most astonished people you ever saw. One of them came racing down form Boston23 to see me, and he kept holding his head and saying, “but why should this book24, this one catch on? Anybody would have said it could never be a popular book.” You see they advertised it hardly at all, and I didn’t urge them. I thought it was a book for the very few. And now they are quite stunned.

I’m like Roscoe25 when he said, if only his twins26 had waited till next year to come. This is such an awkward time to be famous; the stage is not set for it. Reporters come running to the house all the time and fu finding me doing housework. They demand new photographs, and I have no new clothes and not time to get any. Yesterday, when I was washing dishes at the sink with one of Mother’s long gingham aprons tied round my neck--I’ve never had time to shorten it-- I heard a knock at the front doo door and didn’t stir. Then a knock at the kitchen door; such a very dapper young man asked if Miss Cather the Author lived here that I hesitated. He said, “tell herI’m from the N.Y. sun, and want to see her on very import and business.” I told him that Miss Cather had gone to Atlantic City27 for a rest! I simply couldn’t live up to the part, do you see? He left saying there was to be a big article28 bao about her on Sunday.

Now, at least, Elsie, you don’t have to wash dishes and be famous at the same time. Now, in other years, Josephine and I with our haughty French, thrown lightly back and forth when a visitor was brought in, could have made a great impression on reporters. We made a great impression last winter on the editor29 of the Chicago News30, who has been my passionate press agent ever since.

By the way, Elsie, you must write the Chicago News for translations of the Swedish review31. They are fine. The new Swedish edition32 of “O Pioneers”33 is one of the handsomest books I have ever seen. I have ordered several from Stockholm34, and when they come I will send Mother one. The Swedish looks so funny to me, Mother; like Petersons35’ newspapers I used to bring home from Mr. Crowley’s36 in a flour sack, on horseback. You remember? A very fine French translation37 is being made of Antonia24, some of the chapt chapters have been sent over to me for suggestions, and it is simply beautiful French, clear as Latin. Miss Herbek38 was here for dinner last week-- I got the dinner-- to see about getting the rights for translation into Bohemian. You see the tide seems to be coming in for me pretty strong. It won’t make me any richer, but it makes me a great deal happier, dear Mother.

We have not been able to have our dear Fridays at home yet, but will begin next week, and on our cards we have wrtiien written that it is only in December and January that we will be at home. That is because I want to go West later,-I mean home39, of course. The reason I could not go home for Christmas was that my Publisher40 came up to Jaffrey41 to see me and begged me to get as far along with the novel13 as I could before I broke off, for he is going to England42 in March, and if he can take about one-half or two thirds of the story in its final shape, he hoes to be able to make good terms for it there. You see Hugh Walpole43, author of the “The Dark Forest”44, is lecturing in this country now, and he talks about my books everywhere he goes, even at dinner parties, “raves” about them the newspaper men tell me, and he says the younger men in England are getting very much stirred up about me. So my publishers thing this is the time to try for good contracts in England. I have got about two-thirds of my book written through for the first time; next week I begin to write it through from the first again. Some of it will have to be done over four or five, or even six times, but there is good life and movement through it. I hope I will be at home when it comes out, for it was almost the greatest pleasure I ever had to be at home when Antonia came out, and you and Father were reading it, both of you at once, and I could see how much you really did enjoy it. Yes, I think that was about the most satisfactory experience I ever had. It made me happy the way I used to be when I was a little girl and felt that you were both pleased with me.

I was at home the when “The Song of the Lark”45 came out, too, but you and father were in Lander46, and Douglass was at home, and he was cross about the laundry bill and the book, and sore at Mr. Cotting47 because he put the book in his window. That was an awful time and I cried every day and was afraid to meet people. And, anyhow, I paid the laundry bill!

Why, Mother, your letter has just come, and I had completely forgotten that tomorrow is my birthday! You were so nice to write me. Please thank father for the interest check48 he sent me.

Mother, I am so sorry, so sorry, to hear about your eye. Do, do, be careful of the other one! Oh, I am sure it’s come from reading lying down so much,-- and I do just the same thing. Don’t do that any more. Don’t read much; get Father to read to you. Don’t fret about being a care to people. The last two summers I have had at home with you and Father, were among the happest happiest I ever had in my life. I wouldn’t give them up for anything. And I’ll always be gald to come and be with you. You ought to believe that, after the good times we had last summer. I will come in February or March to see you, and then I’ll come again as soon as I get back from France, and I will always be glad to come. Of course, I almost have to have a place here, and if you have a place you have responsibilities, and must keep up to them, but I will always be glad to go home to be with you, and then Elsie can go away for a change. For didn’t we get on nicely last summer, when we had nobody else to help us? I seems to me I can’t remember a single unpleasant moment, except when I got cross about Mrs. Bradbrooks49 pan! You tell her for me, that I’ll never forget her pan again.

Dear Mother, I send you such heaps of love. I think daughters understand and love their mothers so much more as they grow older themselves. I find myself loving to do things with you now, just as I did when I was a little girl, and I used to ride up to Aunt Rhuie’s50 on the horse behind you and feel so proud that I had such a handsome young mother. Oh, I don’t for getforget those things! They are all there, deep down in my mind, and the older I grow, the more they come to light. Of course, there was a time when I was “All for books” as Mrs. Grice51 says, and didn’t think much about people. I suppose that had to be; but, thank God, I got over it!

Oh Mother, I would do anything if I could help your dear eye! If you’ll only be good to the other one I’ll come and help you any time.

So lovingly, Willie

Dear Mother, if you love your daughter, send her some of Margie’s dish towels for Christmas, and a WHITE APRON to meet reporters in!

I can’t send any presents to anyone this year, but I will try to find something nice for you. I have no time at all, and not nearly strength enough to keep all my engagements. You see, while this little flurry of excitement about my books is on, I must see a great many people, and I must answer their nice letters. I wish, sure enough, that it had waited, like the twins.!