WILLA CATHER: A Memoir by Elizabeth Shepley Sergeant


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Here at last is a lively, honest, if inevitably incomplete, picture of Willa Cather in which we begin to discern the outlines of the real person. The book in no way resembles E. K. Brown's rather heavy critical biography, devoted primarily to evaluating the novels (a factor that has its place in this memoir, but in different balance). It is perhaps more like Edith Lewis' small volume, Willa Cather Living (both Knopf- reported page 35 -January 1953). But there are vast differences. Charming and affectionate as Miss Lewis' book in, with occasional flashes of insight, it tends to conceal rather than reveal. Miss Sergeant, while respecting Miss Cather's desire for privacy, gets around the interdiction regarding her letters by paraphrasing many of them. We get in this way much of the color and pungency of the correspondence, the claim that it was ""colloquial, vivid, frank and at times emotional"". Miss Sergeant knew her from 1910 until her death in 1947. In the early years of their friendship, Miss Sergeant shared intimately many of the decisions at turning points in Miss Cather's career; encouraged her to give up journalism for creative writing; shared with her a common love for France which they knew and visited often. She gives a portrait of a real person, complex, vigorous, colorful, warm, extremely individualistic and somewhat crotchety. She knew her in many situations,- at McClure's, at Bank Street, in Boston, at Red Cloud, in France, in the Southwest. She tells many revealing anecdotes and sidelights, and in her research has brought up some fresh material. Miss Sergeant's own tart New England tongue lends spice to the memoirs. As author and publicist herself, there was conflict along with deep regard and affection and understanding. Her book is a welcome addition.

Pub Date: Sept. 9th, 1953
Publisher: Lippincott