10-07-1873

Willa Cather

WILLA CATHER, American novelist, was born (d. 1947); An eminent American author known for her depictions of U.S. life in novels such as O Pioneers!, My Antonia, and Death Comes for the Archbishop. Cather was a classic tomboy, known as “Willie” for most of her childhood. Her novels are stories of strong people caught in small lives and the struggle of the artist in society. She never admitted to being a Lesbian. But all of her meaningful relationships were with strong, independent women. Her first romantic affair was at the turn of the century with Louise Pound.

Few writers have taken such pains to destroy as much evidence of their private lives as did Cather. She believed, genuinely perhaps, that an author biography was unimportant, that only events or people in a life that relate to incidents or characters in an author’s works were relevant and worth saving. In her will she ordered that her letters were not to be quoted. She burned all the correspondence between her and the woman who is believed to have been her lover between 1901 and 1915, Isabelle McClung which may have had more to do with the fact that McClung left her to marry a man than an effort, as has been thought, to disguise her personal life.

She saw to it that her official biography was to be written by the friend who succeeded Isabelle McClung, Edith Lewis, thus assuring that only what was relevant (i.e. “correct”) was told. All of this would actually be admirable – after all, one does not need to know Shakespeare’s biography (and we don’t) to appreciate his works – if it were not for the fact, after all benefits of doubt are accorded, that such fastidious people who burn their papers generally have something to hide that in their time is considered wrong. In a sense, Willa Cather needn’t have gone to so much trouble, for what little remains of the effects of her life clearly reveal her to have been a Lesbian anyway. The only way to hide is never to have been born at all. Cather and Lewis are buried together in Jaffrey, New Hampshire. Her will forbids any of her books being turned into screenplays and any anthologizing of her work.