Skip to main content

#2514: Willa Cather to Alfred A. Knopf, August 26 [1921]

More about this letter…
Plain view:

Guide to Reading Letter Transcriptions

Some of these features are only visible when "plain text" is off.

Textual Feature Appearance
passage deleted with a strikethrough mark deleted passage
passage deleted by overwritten added letters overwritten passage
passage added above the line passage with added text above
passage added on the line passage with added text inline
passage added in the margin passage with text added in margin
handwritten addition to a typewritten letter typed passage with added handwritten text
missing or unreadable text missing text noted with "[illegible]"
uncertain transcriptions word[?]
notes written by someone other than Willa Cather Note in another's hand
printed letterhead text printed text
text printed on postcards, envelopes, etc. printed text
text of date and place stamps stamped text
passage written by Cather on separate enclosure. written text
NORTH 6127

AUG 29 19218/29 in p.s.

It may help you in selection of type to know that the novel will run just about one hundred and fifty thousand words.

W. S. C.
AUG 29 1921 Dear Mr. Knopf1

Greetings to you and your lady4, and welcome home.

Miss Lewis5 will see you today, and will deliver a bunch of manuscript to you with explanations. I am hoping that by throwing the first part of the story6 into type you can manage to get serial publication for it.

I have been able to finish this story much better than I dared to hope. The latter part is now quite as close-knit and as personal as the first part. In other words, I have at last brought it across. I have stayed here and boned away at it all summer, but now it is done.


The press this summer has been extremely good. I hope your people have saved the clippings for you, including the well-placed Nation7 article8.

Now, a sad blow for you. The novel will have to be called "Claude9". I did the best I could by the other title—I lived with it for months,—and I hate it vehemently. It sounds like an Alice Brown10 title11—an evasion, an an apology. "Claude" is the only title for this story—any other title would spoil the book for me, and this book is a present I am making to myself. I won't have it spoiled. Trust me, this story will make its own title. No titles could have seemed more unpromising than 3 "Antonia"12 seemed at first. Scaife13 said bitterly, "Couldn't you manage to call it something that people could at least pronounce?" Yet the story has made the title go. This title won't offend so many people as you think.

  • 1. For low-brows "Claude" is as good a name as any.
  • 2. The high-brows ought to give me the benefit of the doubt.

If Mr. Hergesheimer14, for instance, called a story "Myrtle" or "Elaine", I should of course know he had a reason for doing so. Nobody has objected to "Sir Claude15" in "What Maisie Knew"16—in fact, it is one of H. James'17 most successful names. If he had called the book 4 "Sir Claude", that would have been nothing against it. It is not a sissy name like "Reggie"—it is clumsily romantic—and that is just what this boy is.

"Claude" is the title, and by that we must sink or swim.

I am leaving for Red Cloud, Nebraska18 on Tuesday the 30th. I must get to work at once on an article on "Nebraska"19 the Nation has asked me to do for their Portraits-of-the-States series. On October 29 I will lecture20 for the Omaha Society of Fine Arts. I hate lecturing, but they made their case very strong, and this lecture opens their season.

Faithfully Willa Cather 5
  • 1. I have decided to let you use two names Willa Cather for me on this novel, and to drop out the "Sibert" for good,—except in signing checks.
  • 2. Since "Claude" is to be the title, perhaps you would like me to name each of the several parts of the story, and thus give variety to the title of right-hand pages. If so, you may use the following:
    • Book I Lovely Creek
    • Book II Old Falsehoods21
    • Book III Sunrise on the Prairie
    • Book IV The Voyage of the Anchises.
    • Book V "Bidding the Eagles of the West Fly On."
W. S. C.