Willa Cather: What Do Letters Reveal?

Every year about this time, I re-read a novel by Willa Cather, usually “My Antonia.” An edition of Cather’s letters, meanwhile, has just been published, and Cather expert Hermione Lee has weighed in in the New York Review: ‘Fierce Cather wars have raged in the American literary and scholarly world, not entirely unlike the battles that are fought over Jane Austen’s legacy. The celebration of Cather as an American pastoralist, a kind of midwestern Robert Frost, which greeted her books when they were published, still continues. Since her death in 1947, many readers still take her to their hearts as the standardbearer of a sentimental nostalgia for vanished American values. It is an appropriation at odds with the harshness, violence, and cold truthfulness that run like dark steel through the calm, lyric simplicity of her writing.’

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