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Notes M I L D R E D R. B E N N E T T Red Cloud, Nebraska NEW LETTERS FROM WILLA CATHER Twenty pages of holograph written by Willa Cather have just come into the possession of the Cather Center in Red Cloud, Nebraska. Their discovery came about in this way. Mrs. Harriet Miner of Crete, Nebraska traveled to England with an Elderhostel group. On this trip she met Mrs. Alice Woodbridge from Morristown, New Jersey. As the ladies visited, Mrs. Woodbridge revealed that her mother had been born in Red Cloud and that her sister, Mrs. Helen Sackett, and she had letters that Willa Cather had written to their grandmother, Mrs. Helen Stowell. Mrs. Stow'ell came to Webster County from Boston in 1881 bringing her books and her piano. Alice Woodbridge’s mother was born in 1882 on a sheep ranch east of Red Cloud. Although all Cather scholars know that Cather’s letters may not be quoted, I give here a summary which in no way conveys the originality, the metaphor, vitality, humor and the tongue-in-cheek remarks about the people she knew, and her critical evaluation of literature and music. By this account I hope to inspire such curiosity that you will rush to Red Cloud to read these treasures for yourself. These teen-age letters supplement and verify the story I told in T he World of Willa Cather. Writing on August 31, 1888 to Mrs. Stowell, who was on vacation in Pasa­ dena, California, Cather at age fourteen tells first of her grandmother’s health, how the family thinks she will never walk again. (The problem of grand­ mother’s health appears in The World of Willa Cather, page 21: “Although she had suffered a broken hip while struggling to shut the Cathers’ big back­ yard gate in a Nebraska windstorm and consequently had great difficulty in getting about, she was always active about the house.” Grandmother Boak (prototype for the title character of “Old Mrs. Harris”) died in the summer of 1893. Willa wishes the Stowells would return. School starts on Monday and she does not want to leave the independence of her little office (within her father’s office) and go back to school where she will no longer be her own boss. She prefers to stay with her dissecting outfit and her stuffed birds. She then tells about a “snide” who came to her father’s office with a fraudulent paper trying to cheat a local farmer. Her father suspected the man and told him to return in an hour. He then left to find the farmer in question and told Willa to keep 224 Western American Literature the man in the office at any cost, should he return before Mr. Cather came back. The man did return and Willa talked to him until her father and the farmer came, at which the man fled to his buggy, but the sheriff caught him at Amboy (about five miles east). Gather observes with pride that her father could have made fifty dollars on the deal but he chose otherwise. (Gather's scorn for “snides” shows from the money-hungry townspeople in “The Sculp­ tor’s Funeral” through Ivy Peters in A Lost Lady to Buck Scales in Death Comes for the Archbishop.) Next she comments on the happiness—or lack of it—of the couple next door and wonders if anyone knows happiness. (Already she sees, as she stated in “Katherine Mansfield” in Not Under Forty, “the tragic necessity of human life.”) Even the promising romance of another couple seems to her boring. The children have had many parties, picnics and circuses that year. (They held their circuses in Miners’ [Harlings’] big barn. The World of Willa Gather, pp. 40, 41.) The imaginative child’s play comes out in the early story, “The Way of the World.” The Templeton children in “Old Mrs. Harris” hold circuses. On May 31, 1889, having finished her junior year in high school, Willa, now fifteen, writes again. She delights in the fact that she received good grades —honors in her class. Her studies were physics, astronomy (see the “occultation of Venus” scene in...


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pp. 223-227
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