Melissa Homestead: Willa Cather and Edith Lewis
This episode of the Paul A. Olson "Great Plains Anywhere" series features Dr. Melissa Homestead, professor of English, Great Plains Fellow, program faculty in women's and gender studies, and director of The Cather Project at UNL. Her new book "The Only Wonderful Things: The Creative Partnership of Willa Cather and Edith Lewis" reconstructs the life Cather and Lewis led together through Homestead's in-depth research. Their relationship was often mischaracterized or ignored by scholars, and Homestead's book shows how Cather and Lewis lived fulfilling lives.
Special thanks to Margaret Huettl for providing a video land acknowledgement for this episode. To listen to the podcast version, visit: https://anchor.fm/gp-lectures
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[00:00:00.150]Welcome to "Great Plains: Anywhere,"
[00:00:02.150]a Paul A. Olson lecture from the Center
[00:00:04.300]for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska.
[00:00:08.250]In this episode, we spoke with Dr. Melissa Homestead,
[00:00:11.080]professor of English, Great Plains Fellow,
[00:00:13.352]Program Faculty in Women's and Gender Studies
[00:00:15.891]and Director of the Cather Project at UNL.
[00:00:19.050]Her new book, "The Only Wonderful Things,
[00:00:21.337]"The Creative Partnership of Willa Cather
[00:00:23.397]"and Edith Lewis," reconstructs the life Cather
[00:00:26.530]and Lewis led together through Homestead's
[00:00:30.260]Their relationship was often mis-characterized
[00:00:32.600]or ignored by scholars, and Homestead's new book
[00:00:35.450]shows how Cather and Lewis lived fulfilling lives.
[00:00:38.789]On behalf of the Center for Great Plains Studies,
[00:00:41.370]I would like to begin by acknowledging that the University
[00:00:44.300]of Nebraska is a land grant institution with campuses
[00:00:48.030]and programs on the past, present, and future homelands
[00:00:51.050]of the Pawnee, Punca, Otoe-Missouria, Omaha, Lakota,
[00:00:55.920]Dakota, Arapahoe, Cheyenne, and Caw peoples as well
[00:01:00.160]as the relocated Ho-Chunk, Iowa and Sac and Fox peoples.
[00:01:04.092]Please take a moment to consider the legacies
[00:01:06.650]of more than 150 years of displacement, violence,
[00:01:11.030]settlement and survival that bring us here today.
[00:01:14.480]This acknowledgement and the centering
[00:01:16.280]of indigenous peoples is a start we move forward
[00:01:19.490]together for the next 150 years.
[00:01:23.000]So, hi, I'm Dr. Melissa Homestead.
[00:01:26.510]So thanks to the Center for Great Plains Studies
[00:01:29.580]for giving me this podcast forum to talk about my book
[00:01:33.097]"The Only Wonderful Things; The Creative Partnership
[00:01:35.867]"of Willa Cather and Edith Lewis," which started shipping
[00:01:39.150]from Oxford University Press warehouse
[00:01:41.870]in early March, 2021, earlier than I thought
[00:01:44.360]it was going to.
[00:01:45.440]So there's a small chance some of you may
[00:01:47.210]already have gotten your hands on the book.
[00:01:49.250]But I'm going to start with a brief overview,
[00:01:51.480]chapter by chapter, before focusing closely
[00:01:54.430]on several Great Plains contexts.
[00:02:03.010]There are two strands of arguments,
[00:02:05.720]argument throughout the book signaled
[00:02:07.590]in my title by the phrase creative partnership.
[00:02:11.870]First, that is two ambitious career women, Willa Cather
[00:02:15.107]and Edith Lewis, who lived with Cather
[00:02:17.270]in New York city for nearly four decades.
[00:02:19.300]Created a romantic and domestic partnership,
[00:02:21.500]but allowed them to enjoy love and intimacy
[00:02:23.360]and to pursue their ambitions.
[00:02:25.650]Second, that as an editor, Lewis who was a partner
[00:02:28.970]in Cather's creative process, and this is a page
[00:02:31.690]from Cather's novel "The Professor's House,"
[00:02:33.530]and that's all Edith Lewis' handwriting.
[00:02:35.750]And also used your expertise in advertising
[00:02:38.100]to help Cather's image, craft Cather's image
[00:02:41.100]as an author.
[00:02:43.110]My book starts and ends at the old burning ground
[00:02:46.100]in Jaffrey, New Hampshire where Cather and Lewis
[00:02:48.560]are buried side by side.
[00:02:50.900]I hope that by the end of the book, I've succeeded
[00:02:53.360]in undoing the mythology around the grave site
[00:02:55.500]that has obscured Lewis' place in Cather's life.
[00:02:59.120]Having started at the end with my own first visit
[00:03:01.624]to Jaffrey in 1984 when I was a college student,
[00:03:05.370]I turned the clock back introducing Edith Lewis
[00:03:08.350]as the young woman Willa Cather first met
[00:03:10.690]in Lincoln, Nebraska in August 1903 at the home
[00:03:13.550]of Sarah Harris, publisher of the Lincoln Courier.
[00:03:16.373]Now neither of the people in this picture
[00:03:18.540]is the Sarah Harris who edited
[00:03:20.520]and published the Lincoln Courier.
[00:03:21.820]I believe that's her mother and her brother.
[00:03:24.180]But that house was built and finished in 1903.
[00:03:28.960]And this picture is from 1903.
[00:03:30.780]So exactly when Willa Cather and Edith Lewis met there.
[00:03:33.670]And anyone in Lincoln will recognize the building
[00:03:35.960]because it still stands, although it was moved half a block
[00:03:39.220]at one point.
[00:03:41.190]Delving briefly into Lewis's New England family history,
[00:03:44.120]which stretches as far back as the Mayflower.
[00:03:47.010]I paint a picture of her family's life in Nebraska,
[00:03:49.700]mostly in Lincoln, but also briefly in Carney.
[00:03:52.920]Before Edith Lewis, herself emerged into public view
[00:03:55.680]as an adolescent, studying at the University
[00:03:57.723]and publishing short stories in the Lincoln Courier.
[00:04:01.210]And so here she is with her sorority, Delta Gamma
[00:04:06.470]when she was 16 years old and studying at the University.
[00:04:10.490]She transferred to Smith college in Massachusetts
[00:04:12.820]where she met Oxa Barlow, an important character
[00:04:15.710]in the book, a lifelong friend,
[00:04:17.440]and from which she graduated in 1902.
[00:04:19.847]And this is her with her literary society at Smith College
[00:04:22.790]and she's in the back row.
[00:04:26.220]In chapter two, I follow Lewis to New York City
[00:04:29.250]where she moves after a year back in Lincoln
[00:04:33.000]And this is the South side of Washington Square
[00:04:35.530]where she moved in 1903.
[00:04:37.710]60 Washington Square is where she lived.
[00:04:40.650]And that's the building on the left with the curve lintel
[00:04:44.080]over the door.
[00:04:45.070]And Cather actually moved into that same building
[00:04:47.400]a few years later.
[00:04:49.870]But in this second chapter, I traced the growth
[00:04:52.380]of her relationship with Cather, both personal
[00:04:54.470]and professional from their first meeting in 1903
[00:04:56.543]through about 1918.
[00:04:59.150]From 1906, both Cather and Lewis worked
[00:05:01.530]at McClure's Magazine.
[00:05:03.130]And I argue that the magazine office was the crucible
[00:05:05.960]of her collaborative work on Cather's fiction.
[00:05:08.150]This is Edith Lewis as a professional staff member
[00:05:10.950]of the McClure's Magazine editing a Willa Cather poem,
[00:05:13.537]"The Swedish Mother," which was published
[00:05:16.080]in the McClure's.
[00:05:18.440]Scholars have traditionally
[00:05:21.710]located a strong break between the Boston marriage
[00:05:25.810]and the emergence of modern lesbian identity,
[00:05:28.400]citing Cather as representing the latter.
[00:05:30.860]In contrast, I argue the Cather and Lewis
[00:05:33.140]in choosing to make a home together in 1908
[00:05:35.910]were emulating and adapting the model represented
[00:05:38.870]by Sarah Orne Jewett and Annie Fields
[00:05:41.300]represented in this picture identified
[00:05:43.670]by most as the prototypical Boston marriage
[00:05:46.290]rather than radically departing from it.
[00:05:48.570]Willa Cather met Fields and Jewett in 1908
[00:05:51.610]when she was on assignment in Boston
[00:05:54.100]with McClure's magazine.
[00:05:55.990]And Jewett died a year later in 1909
[00:05:58.990]but Cather kept in close touch with Annie Fields
[00:06:01.100]until her death in 1915.
[00:06:03.780]In any event, after Cather left McClure's,
[00:06:06.405]Lewis's moved on to Every Week Magazine
[00:06:09.227]and I recover Lewis' work as an editor of fiction
[00:06:13.000]at this popular cheap magazine.
[00:06:14.930]If anyone's interested, I helped
[00:06:17.070]with the Center for Digital Research
[00:06:18.890]in Humanities do a digital edition of Every Week Magazine
[00:06:21.390]which you can find here at everyweek.unl.edu.
[00:06:26.880]In chapter three, I turn the clock back
[00:06:29.100]to 1915 to tell the story of Cather and Lewis'
[00:06:32.770]four shared trips to the US Southwest.
[00:06:35.750]Here they are at Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park.
[00:06:40.200]It's Lewis on the left, Cather on the right.
[00:06:43.360]Throughout the book, Lewis' editing
[00:06:44.860]of Cather's fiction is a key theme,
[00:06:46.514]but I linger over the evidence here
[00:06:50.120]because the first surviving edited type draft
[00:06:54.830]of one of Cather's novels is "The Professor's House"
[00:06:57.660]which was grounded in their 1915 and 1916
[00:07:02.790]And the previous picture here, sorry they're out of order,
[00:07:05.290]is a map that Edith Lewis drew on that trip in 1915.
[00:07:11.290]Their Southwestern travels in 1925 and 1926.
[00:07:16.010]And that's when these pictures are from 1925
[00:07:18.640]inspired "Death Comes for the Archbishop."
[00:07:21.050]Although there's no typed draft of this novel,
[00:07:23.040]there's a rich record of their travel
[00:07:24.630]and literary collaboration.
[00:07:26.860]After mining the record of their experiences together
[00:07:29.910]in the desert Southwest, I focus in chapter four on Lewis'
[00:07:33.550]career as an advertising copywriter
[00:07:35.530]at the J. Walter Thompson Company.
[00:07:37.680]I argue that her advertising copy for soap and hand lotion
[00:07:41.350]and Cather's fiction are in conversation with one another.
[00:07:44.690]This is something I located very early
[00:07:46.520]in my long research on this book
[00:07:49.630]which is a story by Willa Cather, "Uncle Valentine,"
[00:07:53.250]as it appeared in the Women's Home Companion in 1925,
[00:07:56.360]and right next to it is an advertisement
[00:07:58.407]for Jergen's lotion, for which Edith Lewis wrote the copy.
[00:08:02.660]I also hypothesized that Lewis was behind the famous
[00:08:06.160]Edward Steichen portrait of Cather published
[00:08:08.380]in Vanity Fair in 1927.
[00:08:10.870]Lewis worked extensively with Steichen
[00:08:12.450]on advertising campaigns,
[00:08:13.780]and if you look at these two images, on the left,
[00:08:15.530]the course, that's Cather, and it says Steichen
[00:08:17.420]underneath credited to him and on the right,
[00:08:19.780]the photograph of a woman's hands kneading dough
[00:08:22.260]is also credited to Edward Steichen.
[00:08:25.920]Lewis started in advertising in 1919,
[00:08:28.560]and she and Cather first summered on Grand Manan Island
[00:08:33.140]These images are the images that appear on the cover
[00:08:35.630]of the book.
[00:08:36.463]And I'm pretty sure they were taken in 1922
[00:08:38.640]and they were taken on Grand Manann Island.
[00:08:41.140]I devote a separate chapter to their many summers there,
[00:08:43.530]both before and after they built their own cottage
[00:08:45.920]at Whale Cove.
[00:08:47.560]And this is a very precious little item,
[00:08:50.820]which is also on the cover of the book.
[00:08:52.870]It's a photograph of their cottage on Grand Manan Island.
[00:08:55.880]Edith Lewis tinted it with watercolors.
[00:08:58.350]And at the top of the photograph, Willa Cather wrote
[00:09:01.087]"This as our little home."
[00:09:03.470]Cather has been portrayed as living
[00:09:05.180]in isolation on the Island, but she was living
[00:09:07.610]with Lewis, who was the legal owner
[00:09:09.330]of the land and the cottage.
[00:09:10.860]Furthermore, at Whale Cove, they were
[00:09:12.783]a part of the community of women, and only women.
[00:09:16.020]In this chapter, I focused both on their collaborative work
[00:09:19.780]on the "Obscure Destinies" stories and how both
[00:09:23.350]of them responded to the deaths of their parents.
[00:09:25.417]And this is Edith Lewis editing one of the stories
[00:09:27.560]from "Obscure Destinies," "Two Friends."
[00:09:30.860]And these stories and their editing of them
[00:09:34.130]intertwine in interesting ways with the deaths
[00:09:36.340]of both of their parents in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
[00:09:41.240]I also see them as moving past grief
[00:09:43.210]in the 1930s by inviting sisters
[00:09:45.580]and nieces to visit them on Grand Manan Island.
[00:09:48.260]This is Cather with Mary Virginia Alz
[00:09:50.630]in the early 1930s.
[00:09:52.110]Mary Virginia was born and raised in Red Cloud, Nebraska.
[00:09:55.170]And at this point she was living
[00:09:56.440]and working in New York City.
[00:09:58.660]In my last full chapter, I take them back
[00:10:00.920]to New York City where they settled in a large apartment
[00:10:03.580]at 570 park Avenue in 1932.
[00:10:06.720]In 1927, they have lost their Greenwich Village apartment
[00:10:10.000]to subway construction, and lived in a suite
[00:10:11.980]of rooms in a Greenwich Village apartment hotel,
[00:10:14.250]the Grospiner, when they were both in the city.
[00:10:17.240]They made their lives together at 570 Park Avenue
[00:10:19.820]and built relationships with each other's families
[00:10:22.200]and with the Menuhin family.
[00:10:23.560]Yehudi Menuhin is the most famous member of that family,
[00:10:26.250]but his sisters, Yaltah and Hephzibah, were also musicians.
[00:10:29.820]And their parents, all the Menuhin family
[00:10:32.850]were quite close with both Cather and Lewis.
[00:10:36.230]Both Cather and Lewis also died in this apartment
[00:10:39.040]25 years apart.
[00:10:42.030]Long ago, the late Suitor Sowski, a UNL English professor
[00:10:46.370]and Cather scholar suggested to me that
[00:10:48.490]recovering Lewis' life and relationship
[00:10:50.610]with Cather might restore the integrity of Lewis' grief
[00:10:53.890]at Cather's passing.
[00:10:55.810]Appropriately, Lewis' profound grief at Cather's passing
[00:10:58.980]occupies a significant portion
[00:11:00.790]of this final chapter.
[00:11:02.978]A few years after Cather's 1947 death correspond
[00:11:05.880]to the Cold War panic over homosexuality called
[00:11:08.810]by one historian, "The Lavender Scare."
[00:11:11.690]In my epilogue I consider how this context
[00:11:14.010]enabled some to deny Cather's lesbian sexuality
[00:11:17.140]and refused to see Lewis for what she was
[00:11:19.450]and for what she had been in Cather's life.
[00:11:23.520]So we get back to the grave.
[00:11:26.250]This is a book about two women who spent important
[00:11:29.190]early years of their lives on the Great Plains,
[00:11:31.510]namely in Nebraska.
[00:11:33.110]It's also, however, a story about two women
[00:11:35.160]who left the Great Plains and made
[00:11:36.910]their adult lives elsewhere.
[00:11:38.750]Lewis lived in New York City from age 21
[00:11:40.920]until her death at age 90.
[00:11:42.730]And Cather spent a decade in Pittsburgh,
[00:11:44.946]1896 to 1906, before becoming a New Yorker.
[00:11:49.180]And then of course, as I just mentioned, dying there.
[00:11:52.410]Even though a significant portion
[00:11:53.730]of Cather's literary works were set
[00:11:55.210]in Nebraska or adjacent states where
[00:11:57.640]she transported fictionalized versions of Red Cloud,
[00:12:00.486]she'd put it in Kansas, she'd put it in Colorado.
[00:12:04.130]I spent the most time, most of my time
[00:12:06.290]in my book on Cather's Southwestern novels,
[00:12:10.215]"The Professor's House" and "Death Comes
[00:12:12.210]for the Archbishop."
[00:12:14.960]Furthermore, the archival record of Lewis' editing
[00:12:17.173]of Cather's fiction begins with "The Professor's House."
[00:12:20.740]There are no edited type scripts
[00:12:22.410]of Cather's novels, "Oh, Pioneers," "The Song
[00:12:24.537]"of the Lark," "My Antonia," or "One of Ours."
[00:12:28.120]Nonetheless, I want to focus now on three facets
[00:12:30.360]of my book that are Great Plains centered.
[00:12:33.210]First, the very Nebraska story of the rise
[00:12:36.250]and fall of Edith Lewis' father
[00:12:37.870]as a player in Nebraska business and commerce.
[00:12:40.860]Second, the ways that we can see Cather and Lewis
[00:12:43.590]thinking together about how to represent the Great Plains
[00:12:46.620]to a National audience.
[00:12:48.760]And third, the extraordinary resources
[00:12:51.130]here at the University of Nebraska Lincoln
[00:12:53.070]that made my work possible.
[00:12:58.160]At the earliest stages of my research
[00:13:00.370]in a co-authored article I published
[00:13:02.300]in Western American Literature, the trajectory
[00:13:06.000]of Edith Lewis' family looks fairly impressive.
[00:13:11.053]Here we are.
[00:13:12.092]Here we in Lincoln.
[00:13:12.925]Henry and Lily Lewis were active in club and church work
[00:13:15.800]Henry was involved in the law and banking
[00:13:19.010]including being the president and founder
[00:13:21.050]of one bank, Lincoln Savings Bank.
[00:13:23.580]And he had a ranch out near Carney
[00:13:25.700]where he was also involved in some sort
[00:13:27.490]of irrigation project.
[00:13:30.170]And then in 1909, the family made a triumphant move
[00:13:33.680]to the Boston area.
[00:13:35.640]Well, some of these details were correct.
[00:13:38.390]Others were wrong.
[00:13:39.740]A lot of details were missing.
[00:13:41.220]And the story arc was the exact opposite.
[00:13:44.690]10 years later, as digitization of Nebraska newspapers
[00:13:47.940]by UNL libraries made it much easier to track the social
[00:13:50.880]and business engagements of all members
[00:13:52.500]of the extended Lewis clan.
[00:13:54.650]And as I dug into old legal records
[00:13:56.940]at the Nebraska State Historical Society
[00:13:59.380]and the register of deeds offices in Lancaster, Buffalo,
[00:14:02.530]and Dawson counties.
[00:14:04.170]Dawson County was particularly fun
[00:14:06.080]because they hadn't digitize their records
[00:14:08.370]and they had big volumes on rollers
[00:14:11.300]that you have to grab off the shelves.
[00:14:13.335]I found a story, not of France, but of complete
[00:14:18.310]I knew that the Lewis family house in Lincoln
[00:14:20.540]was at the Southwest corner of 27th and N,
[00:14:23.330]and I just wanted to find out when they bought it
[00:14:25.500]and when they sold it.
[00:14:27.230]The answer turned out to be that they bought it in 1883
[00:14:30.480]and then walked away in 1909
[00:14:32.133]leaving their creditors to fight it out in light of the fact
[00:14:35.020]that the property was worth about $2,000
[00:14:37.780]that had well over $10,000 worth of debt secured by it.
[00:14:42.447]The house evidently stood empty for years
[00:14:45.247]as the legal disputes played out.
[00:14:47.830]I was unable to find any pictures of the house.
[00:14:50.230]One of the things all biographers want
[00:14:51.980]but I just couldn't find one.
[00:14:53.455]And it was demolished by 1945 when these two duplexes
[00:14:57.700]were built on the property.
[00:15:00.970]Trying to find out where Henry Lewis,
[00:15:03.440]trying to find out when Henry Lewis bought
[00:15:05.620]and sold his quarter section branch property
[00:15:08.370]in Buffalo County, at least that's where I thought it was.
[00:15:10.840]I discovered that he had never owned the property
[00:15:12.800]I thought he had.
[00:15:13.710]His name was on it only as a bank receiver.
[00:15:16.560]But I found out that he owned an entire section
[00:15:18.735]in Dawson County, near the Farmers Union Ditch Company
[00:15:22.490]in Elm Creek.
[00:15:23.323]So that was his irrigation project.
[00:15:25.970]Henry had been raised on a farm in New Hampshire
[00:15:28.340]and he had some, well actually really visionary ideas
[00:15:31.290]about irrigation and about cultivating alfalfa
[00:15:33.860]as a feed crop.
[00:15:35.620]However, the corporations he founded to carry
[00:15:37.700]out these ideas in which he involved many
[00:15:39.840]of his friends and Lincoln as investors collapsed.
[00:15:43.090]And moving his family to a Boston suburb
[00:15:45.060]at age 60 was a retreat rather than a triumph.
[00:15:48.670]This was not, however, a story of Henry's purely
[00:15:53.330]The reversals of his fortunes began
[00:15:55.470]in the 1890s with the National Financial Panic.
[00:15:58.820]And then the years of drought
[00:16:00.000]in Nebraska that left the state's economy devastated.
[00:16:03.550]He was not the only one to take
[00:16:05.070]on more and more debt and hopes of reversing his fortunes,
[00:16:08.070]but the collapse of his over-leveraged house
[00:16:10.320]of cards was pretty extreme.
[00:16:13.410]The worst of this happened after Edith Lewis had left
[00:16:15.870]for New York City, but these events are also important
[00:16:18.680]to my understanding of her life choices.
[00:16:20.760]Willa Cather did not dictate all
[00:16:23.200]of Edith Lewis's choices.
[00:16:25.600]As an adolescent and young woman in her twenties,
[00:16:29.070]Lewis wrote fiction for publication.
[00:16:32.206]These are two, her first two short stories published
[00:16:36.220]in the Lincoln Courier in 1898,
[00:16:39.150]which was just a weekly society paper.
[00:16:41.440]And she published them when she was only 16 years old
[00:16:43.620]and already taking college level courses at the university.
[00:16:46.910]The first was an admittedly crude
[00:16:48.910]and stereotypical adaptation of a Plains Indian legend
[00:16:51.780]of the woman who married the son.
[00:16:54.340]The second is a grim regional tale and the fashion
[00:16:57.140]of Hamlin Garland of a young woman leaving the poverty
[00:17:00.030]of her Nebraska family farm.
[00:17:03.070]Lewis's last published short story was set in New York City
[00:17:06.670]and appeared in a National magazine, Collier's Weekly,
[00:17:11.580]After 1905, she turned away from literary authorship
[00:17:14.420]to focus on magazine editing
[00:17:15.990]and then advertising copywriting.
[00:17:18.820]Nevertheless, to return to my Great Plains focus,
[00:17:21.880]even absent the evidence of edited type drafts
[00:17:24.650]of Cather's fiction at the 19 teens,
[00:17:27.270]we can see Cather and Lewis thinking together
[00:17:29.630]about how to represent Great Plains immigrant experiences
[00:17:32.940]to a National audience.
[00:17:35.000]In late 1917, Willa Cather invited W.T. Venda
[00:17:39.110]to dinner at five Bank Street to discuss illustrations
[00:17:42.760]for her novel in progress, "My Antonia."
[00:17:45.850]Both Cather and Lewis had worked with Venda
[00:17:47.720]as an illustrator when they were at McClure's Magazine.
[00:17:50.620]And Venda had also done work for Every Week Magazine,
[00:17:53.200]of which Lewis was managing editor in 1917.
[00:17:56.794]At the same dinner at which Cather commissioned
[00:17:59.350]Venda to create illustrations for "My Antonia,"
[00:18:02.410]Edith Lewis clearly proposed that he illustrate the first
[00:18:05.790]in a series of short, short stories in Every Week Magazine
[00:18:08.980]that she had just initiated.
[00:18:11.090]And that was "Morning" by Elizabeth Gains Wilcoxen
[00:18:14.080]on the left.
[00:18:15.400]The story briefly depicts the morning routine
[00:18:17.760]of a young married Swedish immigrant couple
[00:18:19.690]on a Great Plains farm and the whife's disclosure
[00:18:22.340]that she is pregnant with her first child.
[00:18:25.200]On the right is one of WT Venda's illustrations
[00:18:28.330]for "My Antonia."
[00:18:29.950]Shows Swedish immigrant Lina Linguard tending her
[00:18:32.480]family's cattle on the Nebraska farm while knitting.
[00:18:35.780]As you can see, Venda clearly used the same model,
[00:18:38.240]at the same time for both sets of illustrations.
[00:18:41.290]The dress in the upper left hand corner
[00:18:43.055]on the Wilcoxen story and then the dress
[00:18:45.860]on Lina Lingard have the same neck line,
[00:18:47.730]the same sleeves.
[00:18:50.045]Futhermore, the most richly documented examples
[00:18:52.957]of Lewis editing Cather's fiction
[00:18:55.890]are the stories collected in "Obscure Destinies,"
[00:18:58.230]all of which are Great Plains stories.
[00:19:00.720]I already showed you an image of Lewis editing Cather's
[00:19:02.997]"Obscure Destinies" story to friends.
[00:19:05.470]And Lewis also edited the other two stories
[00:19:08.030]in the collection, "Neighbor Rosicky,"
[00:19:09.930]which is a sort of sequel to "My Antonia"
[00:19:12.210]and "Old Mrs. Harris," which I personally think is one
[00:19:15.230]of, is Cather's master work.
[00:19:17.290]And here is Edith Lewis editing "Old Mrs. Harris."
[00:19:21.800]And finally, I want to say something
[00:19:23.450]about the extraordinary resources available for the study
[00:19:26.413]of Willa Cather in UNL libraries
[00:19:29.400]and archives and special collections in the library.
[00:19:34.590]In those collections, there are more Cather materials,
[00:19:37.190]including letters and literary manuscripts,
[00:19:39.130]than any other library in the world.
[00:19:41.310]Of the more than 3000 currently known letters,
[00:19:43.610]about 20% are at UNL.
[00:19:46.290]And we have over half of the up stamped
[00:19:51.000]Most of those manuscripts are part
[00:19:52.530]of two major collections donated
[00:19:54.210]by Charles, by Cather family members,
[00:19:57.130]Helen Cather Southwick and Charles Edwin Cather,
[00:20:00.090]both children of Willa's brother, Douglas.
[00:20:02.790]And the first instance, these materials were
[00:20:04.610]in the possession of Edith Lewis, who inherited them
[00:20:06.940]from Cather when she died.
[00:20:08.930]And then when Lewis died in 1972, she bequeathed
[00:20:11.380]these materials to Helen and Charles.
[00:20:14.570]While Cather's letters which often mentioned Lewis
[00:20:16.730]and the literary manuscripts which provide evidence
[00:20:20.040]of Lewis's editorial collaboration with Cather
[00:20:22.800]were important to my book, Charles and Helen
[00:20:25.570]also essentially inherited Edith Lewis's papers,
[00:20:28.940]not just Willa Cather's papers that Lewis had inherited.
[00:20:33.400]So this was really actually just Lewis's papers
[00:20:35.510]not Cather's through Lewis.
[00:20:37.830]There were scores of letters to her from her family
[00:20:40.620]and friends and assortment of other materials,
[00:20:42.700]such as photographs.
[00:20:44.610]When this one came in I nearly died.
[00:20:47.510]That's Edith Lewis on the left.
[00:20:49.580]She's in Italy in 1914, visiting her college roommate,
[00:20:53.150]Oxa Barlow we saw earlier.
[00:20:55.210]Brewster who was a painter.
[00:20:56.500]Her husband, Earl's is on the right
[00:20:58.354]and one of their other painter friends is in the middle.
[00:21:01.760]So photographs, travel journals,
[00:21:03.780]I showed you an image from a travel journal earlier
[00:21:06.350]and materials related to Lewis's work
[00:21:08.510]as Cather's literary executor.
[00:21:10.940]I drew on the collections of 20 libraries in my research,
[00:21:13.920]but being able to spend days on end
[00:21:16.140]in the special collections reading room
[00:21:17.680]at Love Library immersed in these materials
[00:21:20.460]made recovery of Edith Lewis' life possible.
[00:21:24.050]And here actually is a picture that the library PR people
[00:21:27.510]took for their blog when I discovered,
[00:21:30.200]and this is just sort of the, you know
[00:21:31.380]the fine-grained obscure little bits
[00:21:33.030]of information when two new smaller collections came in,
[00:21:37.550]I realized that letters, there was an Edith Lewis letter
[00:21:41.510]to a biographer which had come back to her,
[00:21:43.970]one half of it was in one collection,
[00:21:45.900]one half came in and this new collection,
[00:21:47.467]and the same with a letter from her college roommate's
[00:21:50.220]husband, a condolence letter after Willa Cather's death,
[00:21:52.880]one half of the letter was in one collection
[00:21:55.050]and then the other half of the letter came in,
[00:21:57.200]and they got to be reunited in the reading room there
[00:22:01.230]in the collections, special collections reading room.
[00:22:05.060]So these Lewis materials are not digitized,
[00:22:08.650]but digitization of Cather's letters has been underway
[00:22:11.880]for a while now.
[00:22:13.080]And we're about two thirds of the way done.
[00:22:15.080]I'm associate editor.
[00:22:16.360]And anybody who wants to search and read Cather's letters
[00:22:19.890]online, they're freely available
[00:22:21.190]through the Cather archive here at catheter.unl.edu.
[00:22:25.870]You can also find out more about me and my research
[00:22:28.550]and about purchasing my book if you want to
[00:22:31.280]at my website.
[00:22:33.323]I understand that my book is in stock in some bookstores
[00:22:37.093]Certainly I don't want to discourage you
[00:22:39.725]from patronizing your local bookseller,
[00:22:41.830]but if you want to order it directly
[00:22:43.180]from Oxford University press, rather than
[00:22:45.900]a very large online book retailer that I won't name,
[00:22:48.900]there's a discount code and instructions
[00:22:50.650]on my website about how to do that.
[00:22:55.190]I guess I'd start off with a couple,
[00:23:00.480]I guess one question is at the,
[00:23:03.670]during their lifetime,
[00:23:06.380]did the people who surrounded Edith Lewis
[00:23:09.900]and Willa Cather recognized their relationship
[00:23:12.470]and accept their relationship?
[00:23:15.280]Yeah, I mean, I think the thing to know, there has been
[00:23:18.980]this notion that Cather was deeply closeted,
[00:23:21.850]and that notion only makes sense if,
[00:23:25.090]you'd have to ignore Edith Lewis or misunderstand
[00:23:28.150]or misrepresent her to think that
[00:23:30.010]because they lived together for nearly 40 years
[00:23:32.470]in New York City, and there was no attempt to say
[00:23:35.980]if Willa Cather had a male friend who she always
[00:23:38.770]sort of took along to public events to pretend
[00:23:41.350]to be her boyfriend or something.
[00:23:42.818]She never did that.
[00:23:44.340]They had, you know, basically a salon,
[00:23:46.880]Friday afternoon teas in Greenwich village.
[00:23:49.610]Now people didn't seem to name their relationship
[00:23:52.480]but they didn't ignore it.
[00:23:54.509]And they didn't pretend that it was something else.
[00:23:56.989]It's only people who I feel kind of like other people
[00:24:01.340]built a closet around Willa Cather that she herself
[00:24:05.330]So if you tried to say that Edith Lewis was Willa Cather's
[00:24:08.010]secretary, then that made it look like it wasn't
[00:24:10.330]a primary romantic relationship,
[00:24:12.910]but if you didn't then you know
[00:24:15.410]it was there.
[00:24:16.243]And their families, I mean, their families
[00:24:19.820]both of their families were geographically dispersed.
[00:24:23.199]And so they didn't have interactions with all
[00:24:25.168]of each other's family members, but there's quite a bit
[00:24:29.410]especially with Willa Cather's two nieces and her sister,
[00:24:34.070]She helped send all three of them to Smith College
[00:24:36.760]which was Edith Lewis' Alma mater.
[00:24:38.990]And then they also sort of came through New York.
[00:24:42.260]And, you know, there was just a lot
[00:24:44.650]of interaction and Edith Lewis' sister
[00:24:47.740]and then later her mother lived in Brooklyn.
[00:24:49.669]So there was just a lot of interaction
[00:24:52.190]between them and not at all,
[00:24:53.957]not at all it kind of distancing or ignoring.
[00:24:58.090]I'm really thrilled you wrote this book.
[00:24:59.740]I mean, it seems like it's been such a ripe topic
[00:25:03.960]for a long time and nobody's written this book.
[00:25:06.680]And so finally you've written this book
[00:25:08.317]and I wonder why it has taken so long to uncover
[00:25:13.740]Edith Lewis's role in Willa's life and, you know,
[00:25:17.830]because we've had scholarship on LGBTQ studies
[00:25:21.540]for, you know, it's been a long time now
[00:25:24.080]and a lot of people have been writing biographies
[00:25:31.000]LGBTQ history and biography.
[00:25:33.350]So why do you think it took so long?
[00:25:36.220]There are a lot of queer readings of Cather.
[00:25:40.440]The first scholarly biography to identify her
[00:25:44.590]as a lesbian was published in 1987.
[00:25:47.550]So it's not like there has been an ignoring
[00:25:49.920]of Cather's lesbian identity in scholarship.
[00:25:53.210]It's just been an understanding of her as symptomatic
[00:25:57.380]of the closet and of the structures of shame and secrecy
[00:26:02.664]of homosexual identity in the early 20th century.
[00:26:05.410]Which I am coming at it from a very different direction.
[00:26:10.390]So, it's not like that identity has been ignored
[00:26:14.670]There certainly have been like more
[00:26:16.640]sort of non-academic people and some people
[00:26:18.780]within the academy who have, you know
[00:26:22.290]said to me and various contexts,
[00:26:24.726]there's no evidence for that accusation that Willa Cather
[00:26:28.060]was a lesbian, to which I say, sorry
[00:26:30.670]I resemble that accusation.
[00:26:32.260]Can we try some other language before we talk
[00:26:34.440]about questions of evidence and interpretation?
[00:26:37.420]So that's, so on the one hand, not ignored.
[00:26:40.415]On the other hand, I think a lot of the materials
[00:26:44.750]on which I based my work have really only been accessible
[00:26:50.340]for about the past decade.
[00:26:52.260]The Charles Cather collection in particular.
[00:26:56.630]And so that made an enormous difference.
[00:26:59.330]And even right up to the very end
[00:27:01.760]because of some crazy strands of research I followed
[00:27:04.760]like I found the, you know, the daughter
[00:27:06.930]of the nurse who cared for Edith Lewis
[00:27:08.600]during the last seven or eight years of her life.
[00:27:10.807]And she had an odd assortment of material.
[00:27:14.350]You know, that it really took a while
[00:27:16.200]for the materials to ground this, to come in.
[00:27:18.820]But it's also true that, you know,
[00:27:20.260]I started the research 18 years ago and I
[00:27:26.850]had a really clear sense of what I thought
[00:27:28.950]the chapters would be.
[00:27:29.980]And, and that's pretty much stayed even
[00:27:33.530]though the material to give the texture
[00:27:37.040]to put everything in there, right?
[00:27:38.876]It took a while to find it.
[00:27:41.720]So that would be part of the part of the conversation too.
[00:27:46.610]It hasn't been out for very long
[00:27:48.885]but maybe you could talk a little bit
[00:27:49.730]about how people have reacted to your book
[00:27:52.300]especially maybe members of the LGBTQ community.
[00:27:56.133]Well, I, it hasn't, I have gotten some responses
[00:28:01.130]from people I know.
[00:28:03.773]I did a virtual event last week with the history project
[00:28:09.710]out of Boston which is about, you know, it's an archive
[00:28:13.700]and programming group for LGBTQ, which is hard
[00:28:17.990]to say all those letters all the time when I do that, right?
[00:28:19.853]Let's go with queer history in Boston
[00:28:22.470]and greater New England.
[00:28:24.240]And I had somebody ask a question there
[00:28:28.180]that he had three questions and they were all premised
[00:28:31.330]on an older understanding of Cather.
[00:28:33.340]It was, you know, that to every question I said,
[00:28:35.927]"You really need to read my book."
[00:28:37.930]So this was, you know, this was a gay man who had ideas
[00:28:42.520]about Cather's feelings of, you know
[00:28:45.590]oppression and Cather's self-loathing.
[00:28:48.280]And like I said, this was all based
[00:28:50.540]on a very different set of documents and readings of Cather.
[00:28:56.020]So I haven't really gotten that yet.
[00:28:59.350]Let's just put it that way.
[00:29:00.183]I'm waiting because you know, there have been
[00:29:02.110]people out there now they've started reading it
[00:29:04.010]but I haven't, haven't gotten a lot of those responses yet.
[00:29:07.960]I guess, one of the questions I had, you know,
[00:29:10.160]you showed us lots of pictures in the archives,
[00:29:12.400]Melissa, and I'm an archive junkie too.
[00:29:14.940]So I understand that.
[00:29:16.270]But I also wonder, did you make any kind of pilgrimages
[00:29:19.860]other than the grave site.
[00:29:23.144]to a Willa and Edith
[00:29:28.143]Well, like was research.
[00:29:30.808]But it was also pilgrimages.
[00:29:32.350]Well for one thing, the Willa Cather International Seminar
[00:29:36.430]which is a big academic conference every other year
[00:29:38.960]kind of, you know, it's like you get the footstep
[00:29:41.030]Willa Cather all over the place.
[00:29:43.420]I think it was too early when we went
[00:29:45.760]that the seminar was in France.
[00:29:47.660]I was too early in my research to really take advantage
[00:29:50.500]of that opportunity to footstep their travels in France.
[00:29:55.680]But yeah, so I've been to Grand Manan Island,
[00:29:58.400]took my Basset hounds, which really was also research.
[00:30:02.070]Just the kind of,
[00:30:05.100]you know, how far were they
[00:30:06.280]from the other cottages in the Whale Cove group?
[00:30:08.660]How long did it take to, you know
[00:30:11.830]walk to the dining room at the inn?
[00:30:14.280]This was all about this sense of where they,
[00:30:16.520]you know, was, Willa Cather there
[00:30:17.640]in isolation or was she part of a community?
[00:30:19.630]And when I actually got my feet on the ground,
[00:30:21.360]I'm like, "No, this is a community.
[00:30:22.818]"This is not isolation."
[00:30:25.450]It's also, you can sort of, they've got a retaining wall
[00:30:28.410]behind their cottage, which was necessary
[00:30:31.500]because it cleared a little slope,
[00:30:33.100]which also gave them some privacy.
[00:30:34.810]And then this lawn that overlooked the water.
[00:30:37.230]And, you know, looking like where would she have put
[00:30:40.690]her desk in the attic?
[00:30:41.850]What could she see?
[00:30:43.670]You know, so those kinds of things were pilgrimages,
[00:30:46.400]but also research.
[00:30:48.030]I did a lot of foot stepping, like I said
[00:30:51.815]the 2018 that I spent three weeks
[00:30:56.650]and Arizona and New Mexico doing foot stepping work.
[00:31:00.130]Although one of the key things I discovered,
[00:31:04.840]I didn't figure it out until after I got back
[00:31:07.870]which black mesa, you probably don't understand Margaret
[00:31:10.710]that there are a lot of black mesas.
[00:31:13.400]This was actually Mesa Prieta that she drew,
[00:31:15.790]which is Dark Mesa, but she put Black Mesa.
[00:31:18.220]And then all the things that I couldn't quite figure
[00:31:20.720]out came into focus once I realized that.
[00:31:23.370]But I figured that out after I had left.
[00:31:26.346]So yes, yes.
[00:31:28.000]So I have made, I have made many pilgrimages
[00:31:32.820]Another question I had, and there's probably a lot
[00:31:35.570]of scholars who have written on this
[00:31:36.870]but I would love your take on it,
[00:31:40.552]is were there ways
[00:31:41.830]in which Willa Cather wrote about her relationship
[00:31:44.750]within her novels or wrote about Edith within her novels
[00:31:48.750]in a kind of somewhat veiled form
[00:31:50.950]or even in a more direct form?
[00:31:53.790]Well, a lot of the queer scholarship
[00:31:58.020]the queer readings are based on this kind
[00:32:01.340]of notion of veiling or of repression.
[00:32:05.938]And she did not write.
[00:32:09.620]So Sarah Orne Jewett, who I mentioned earlier
[00:32:11.680]you know, wrote stories where these, you know
[00:32:16.370]deeply romantic relationships between women are
[00:32:19.260]at the center of them.
[00:32:21.360]Not, I mean, romantic but not actually sort of partnerships
[00:32:25.580]in quite same way, but still relationships
[00:32:27.520]between women are very central to Jewett's work.
[00:32:29.938]That's not true of Cather's work.
[00:32:32.810]So my big takeaway really is that
[00:32:37.140]that's not the place to look for evidence of her life.
[00:32:40.770]So, and I think people not seeing it
[00:32:42.580]in her work then thought it must have been repressed
[00:32:44.910]in her life.
[00:32:46.770]But then again, the Southwestern fiction
[00:32:49.110]I read very much as about their experiences
[00:32:54.900]and the ways that they were, you know
[00:32:57.060]first in 1915 and 16, they were playing cowboy really.
[00:33:01.932]And then in 1925 and 1926 they were sort of imagining
[00:33:05.370]themselves being, you know French missionary priests
[00:33:08.250]who become the protagonists
[00:33:09.500]of "Death Comes for the Archbishop."
[00:33:11.540]And there's also a whole series of things that happens
[00:33:14.340]in "The Professor's House" that Godfrey Saint Peter
[00:33:17.700]who is the title character.
[00:33:19.550]He is editing the diary of Tom Outland, who has
[00:33:22.720]was one of his students and who had had this experience
[00:33:25.410]finding cliff dweller ruins.
[00:33:27.100]And then who died in World War I.
[00:33:30.240]And he's editing Tom's diaries for publication.
[00:33:34.200]And, you know, I think there's a lot of play going
[00:33:38.070]on there with Edith Lewis editing the novel, right?
[00:33:41.480]And also the fact that the way that
[00:33:45.687]merchant's ledger is how it's described,
[00:33:48.530]that Tom buys a merchants ledger
[00:33:50.310]in Tarpan, this fictional town to record all
[00:33:52.820]of their findings when they're doing their sort
[00:33:54.580]of amateur archeological excavations.
[00:33:57.940]That's the actual thing that Edith Lewis bought
[00:34:00.950]in Mancos, Colorado to, she drew,
[00:34:05.260]she sketched Mesa Verde pots, and she was drawing maps.
[00:34:10.120]And so there is a kind of playful interaction going
[00:34:15.380]on there about their adventures.
[00:34:18.460]And they really thought of the Southwest
[00:34:20.898]as kind of, you know, it's adventure.
[00:34:22.200]It's adventure tourism for them.
[00:34:24.840]And a final question here,
[00:34:26.580]if there was like one thing you'd want
[00:34:28.840]like a brand new reader to take away from your book
[00:34:32.880]what would that be?
[00:34:36.120]Well, I think that, well one thing
[00:34:38.260]I do want brand new readers to know
[00:34:40.270]and some people I know who are not academics assured me
[00:34:43.610]that I did meet my goal of making this book
[00:34:45.508]readable and accessible.
[00:34:47.670]You don't have to be an English professor to read this book.
[00:34:51.570]But I'd say that the two things,
[00:34:53.530]one about Willa Cather, and one about Edith Lewis
[00:34:55.870]that I want people to take away from it is that
[00:34:58.670]Cather did not live in isolation.
[00:35:02.350]She lived in the world and she lived with someone
[00:35:05.680]and what to all appearances as a satisfying relationship.
[00:35:10.280]And the other is that Edith Lewis was a person who,
[00:35:13.100]I mean this isn't Hey Geography.
[00:35:14.760]I'm not trying to make her out to be the greatest person
[00:35:17.140]in the world, but she was a person
[00:35:19.220]worthy of love and respect.
[00:35:21.220]And you would not find that in any Cather biography.
[00:35:24.880]You wouldn't find that Edith Lewis.
[00:35:28.008]And I think that, you know, Willa Cather,
[00:35:29.557]you know, Willa Cather had pretty high standards
[00:35:31.470]and she chose somebody who was interesting
[00:35:36.000]and rewarding to live for nearly 40 years.
[00:35:38.940]We'd like to thank Dr. Homestead
[00:35:40.580]for speaking with us today.
[00:35:42.340]Find all of our short Great Plains talks and interviews
[00:35:45.670]as videos and podcasts at go.unl.edu/gplectures.
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