cather in letters


“I don’t like reading other people’s private correspondence in print, and I do not want other people to read mine.” So T. S. Eliot wrote to his mother in 1927, in one of his letters that all sorts of other people may now read, as volumes of them succeed one another. Willa Cather agreed with Eliot when she made her will, forbidding all publication of her letters in full or in part. Yet here they are, or rather a large selection from the three thousand of them known to exist.[1] The editors justify themselves for defying the will in favor of “the values of making these letters available to readers all over the world.” They state that hitherto the only permissible way a biographer or critic could proceed was through paraphrase, which they rightly point out has its own distortions and limitations. But readers eager for more insight into Cather’s “sexuality” (as academics have learned to call it) will surely be disappointed that the two women with whom she was closest over the years—Isabelle McClung Hambourg and Edith Lewis—are scarcely represented. Since Isabelle McClung’s husband returned about 300 of the letters Cather wrote to her, it’s clear that some effective destruction took place.

more from William H. Pritchard at Hudson Review here.