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The Selected Letters of Willa Cather

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There are many ways to read these rich and varied letters: as expressions of Cather's character, personality, and proclivities; as clues to her artistic development; as the reflections of one of the unacknowledged pioneers of modernism; as a portrait of an independent woman at a time when the species was rare; and as an inside look at the world of letters and publishing in the first half of the twentieth century. But right now, at the dawn of their public existence, one is inclined to dwell on why Willa Cather didn't want her letters set before us.

Cather caused some letters to be destroyed because, as she wrote to Mark deWolfe Howe concerning her correspondence with the elderly Annie Fields, they were "entirely artificial and unrepresentative of me," written out of duty to friendship. "I remember well how I used to struggle to fill out a few pages and say nothing at all." But if similar exercises in page filling still exist they are not in this volume. The letters here boil with feeling, with spontaneous expressions of love, friendship, admiration, triumph, vanity, irritation, sorrow, and loss. Absent, however, are sexual transports or allusions to physical intimacy. While it is clear from the letters that Cather was romantically, sometimes passionately, attracted to women, the closest she comes to anything that might bring a blush into the cheek of a young person is discussing – slave to literature that she is – the difficulties of getting her copy of Alphonse Daudet's "Sappho" returned to her.

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