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Willa Cather discusses Jewett's influence on her work.

From "Willa Cather Talks of Work" in Bernice Slote, editor, The Kingdom of Art: Willa Cather's First Principles and Critical Statements: 1893-1896.
     This is reprinted from Special Correspondence of the Philadelphia Record, New York, August 9, 1913.


I am talking now about the kind of writing that interests me most . [T]he kind that I am talking about, is pretty well summed up in a letter of Miss Sarah Orne Jewett's, that I found among some her papers in South Berwick after her death:

     "Ah, it is things like that, which haunt the mind for years, and at last write themselves down, that belong, whether little or great, to literature."

     It is that kind of honesty, that earnest endeavor to tell truly the thing that haunts the mind, that I love in Miss Jewett's own work. Reading her books from the beginning one finds that often she tried a character or a theme over and over, first in one story and then in another before she at last realized it completely on the page. That wonderful story, "Martha's Lady," for instance, was hinted at and felt for in several of her earlier stories. And so was the old woman in "The Queen's Twin."

     I dedicated my novel O Pioneers! to Miss Jewett because I had talked over some of the characters in it with her one day at Manchester, and in this book I tried to tell the story of the people as truthfully and simply as if I were telling it to her by word of mouth (447-8).

***

     It is always hard to write about the things that are near to your heart, from a kind of instinct of self-protection you distort them and disguise them. Those stories [the early Cather stories set on the prairie] were so poor that they discouraged me. I decided that I wouldn't write any more about the country and people for which I had such personal feeling.

     Then I had the good fortune to meet Sarah Orne Jewett, who had read all of my early stories and had very clear and definite opinions about them and about where my work fell short. She said, "Write it as it is, don't try to make it like this or that. You can't do it in anybody else's way - you will have to make a way of your own. If the way happens to be new, don't let that frighten you. Don't try to write the kind of short story that this or that magazine wants - write the truth, and let them take it or leave it" (449).
 

Edited by Terry Heller, Coe College.


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Jewett Journal