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Guide to the Willa Cather Letters

MSN/MN 3001


Collection Summary

Title: Willa Cather letters
Dates: 1922, 1937
Collection No.: MSN/MN 3001
Creator: Cather, Willa, 1873-1947
Extent: 2 folders; 2 items
Language: Collection material in English
Repository: University of Notre Dame. Hesburgh Libraries, Department of Special Collections. 102 Hesburgh Library, Notre Dame, IN 46556
Abstract: Two unrelated letters written by the major American author Willa Cather (1873-1947). The first is to a "Mr. Towne" and is dated 17 November [1922]. The second is written to Brother Emil Mohr, CSC, and is dated 7 May 1937.

Selected Search Terms

Cather, Willa, 1873-1947--Correspondence
Novelists, American--20th century--Correspondence

Administrative Information

Restrictions: There are no access restrictions on this collection.

Preferred Citation: Willa Cather Letters, Department of Special Collections, Hesburgh Libraries of Notre Dame.

Acquisition and Processing Note: The circumstances surrounding the acquisition of these letters by the Hesburgh Libraries are not known. Arranged and described 2010, by George Rugg. EAD 2013, by Kenneth Kinslow.

Biographical Note

Willa Cather (1873-1947) was born in Virginia, but as a child, moved with her family to a farm near Red Cloud, Nebraska, where she grew up among the immigrants who are the subjects of many of her novels. Upon graduating from the University of Nebraska, she accepted a position in Pittsburgh editing a new magazine, the Home Monthly. She spent ten years in Pittsburgh, pursuing a career in journalism as well as teaching English and Latin in high school. In 1906 at the age of 33, Cather accepted a position on the editorial staff of McClure's Magazine and moved to New York City where she spent the rest of her life. While serving her apprenticeship in journalism, she began publishing the short stories and the novels that have made her famous. She is best known for her works which are set in Nebraska, such books as: O Pioneers! (1913) and My Antonia (1918); however, her range is much greater than that of a regionalist. For example, one of her finest works is The Professor's House (1925), which is about a middle-aged professor of history, who becomes profoundly depressed by the materialism surrounding him. Other examples of her work that diverge from the "local color" of Nebraska are her later historical novels set in Virginia, Quebec, and the American southwest. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1922 for One of Ours. Besides her ability to capture a sense of place, throughout her work Cather is a meticulous craftsman who developed a wonderfully clear prose style with an effective use of symbol and myth. She ranks among the major American authors of the 20th century.

Scope and Content Note

The two letters are unrelated. The first, a business letter, is addressed to an unidentified "Mr. Towne"; Cather turns down an apparent offer on his part to publish one of her works. The second letter, written much later, is a personal letter to Brother Emil Mohr, CSC, where Cather expresses her disenchantment with the current state of the world as well as her love of Latin. Entries for both letters can be found in A Calendar of the Letters of Willa Cather, edited by Janis P. Stout (Lincoln and London: U. of Nebraska Press, 2002).

Arrangement Note

The collection consists of one series; materials are arranged chronologically, one item per folder.

Related Material

Nearly 80 institutions hold Cather letters. The most important collections are those at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Harvard University, the Willa Cather Foundation located in Red Cloud, Nebraska, the Nebraska State Historical Society, the University of Vermont, the Morgan Library, and Yale University. The most important book of published letters is: The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, edited by Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout (New York: Knopf, 2013).

Container List

  • Series 1: Letters 
    • Folder 1 (MSN/MN 3001-1) Letter. Willa Cather, n.p., to "Dear Mr. Towne," n.p., [1922] November 17. ALS on personal letterhead; 2 pages on one folded sheet.
      Cather expresses her appreciation of Towne's telegram, but cannot comply with his request. The addressee, Mr. Towne, may have been the poet, author, and editor, Charles Hanson Towne (1877-1949), who worked at various times for Cosmopolitan, Smart Set, McClure's, and Harper's Bazaar. Mr. Towne may have been interested in serializing A Lost Lady, which was later published by Knopf.
      • Folder 2 (MSN/MN 3001-2) Letter. Willa Cather, New York, New York to Brother Emil Mohr, CSC, Albany, New York, 1937 May 7. TLS, 1 page on one sheet, with envelope.
        Cather congratulates Brother Emil Mohr on his vocation and his teaching profession. She hopes that he can teach his students that the world can be a better place, and she envies the opportunity he has to teach Latin. Brother Emil Mohr was a Holy Cross Brother who received a Master's degree from the University of Notre Dame and taught at the Vincentian Institute in Albany (New York). This letter reflects Cather's disillusion with the materialistic society that developed after the catastrophe of the Great War. It also reflects a disposition toward Catholicism so prominent in her later novels.