So many cats and dogs in your acknowledgments.

Yes there are. I’ve mostly had four cats and two dogs during all the time I was working on The Only Wonderful Things: The Creative Partnership of Willa Cather and Edith Lewis, and I’ve adopted several old dogs, which means lots of turnover. Let me introduce them in order of their adoption.

Isobel, adopted 1988, Morris Animal Refuge in Philadelphia; died 2008 in Lincoln, NE. Isobel was my second cat, and she lived at an incredible number of addresses in Pennsylvania, Alabama, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. She was fully 20 years old when she died, although she didn’t quite make her 20th adoption anniversary.

Gracie, adopted Morris Animal Refuge, Philadelphia, 1993, died 2006, Lincoln, NE. She was part of my multiply-moved, multi-state Morris crew, although no one could match Isobel’s record. Here she was in Oklahoma, learning about the backyard.

Betty, adopted 1995, Morris Animal Refuge, Philadelphia, died 2006, Lincoln, NE. Betty (on the right) was a cat of size (22 pounds at her biggest) and had a very sweet temperament.

Ingeborg, taken in off the streets of West Philly by one of my grad school classmates in 1998, died 2005 in Norman, OK. I have some great pictures of her, but, alas, they have never been scanned.

Brownie the Dog, adopted 2002, Second Chance Animal Sanctuary, Norman, OK, died 2004, Norman, OK; and Marjorie the Cat, taken in off the streets of Norman, 2002, disappeared, Lincoln, NE, 2011. They were different species, and there was a 13-year age difference between them (Brownie was 13 years old when I adopted her), and yet they were soulmates. Brownie was BEST DOG EVER, as even my later dogs would have to concede if they met her. Marjorie remained a semi-feral stone-cold killer.

Florence the Low Rider Mutt, adopted 2004, Ahimsa Rescue of Muldrow, OK, died 2011, Lincoln, NE; and Helen the Hound, adopted 2004 from Ozark Mountain Basset , died Lincoln, NE, 2014. The dynamic duo. Helen was inconsolable when Florence died. She tolerated Laci Basset, but it wasn’t the same.

Magnus, dumped as a kitten on a colleague’s farmette in 2006, died in traffic, 2007. He was never fully domesticated, so there was no keeping him close to home. Alas, that’s why he died so young.

Tom Cat, adopted 2006 from the Capital Humane Society, died 2015. He was a stunted adolescent when I adopted him because he had IBD, and he remained a tiny little man to the end. He was too fond of lounging in front of and in back of cars on pavement (although that’s not how he died–it seems the IBD took him).

Bessie, adopted 2008 from the Capital Humane Society (I met her the same day Isobel died), and she’s still with me, often sitting on my shoulder while I work.

Annabelle, adopted 2008 from the Capital Humane Society, and still with me, being a pain in the ass. She and Bessie have hated each other for nearly 13 years now.

Laci Basset, adopted from the Nebraska Humane Society in 2011 at age eight, surrendered by an older woman in poor health, died 2015. Laci had a very sunny disposition, unless she was competing for food, then she became a wolf.

Simon the Hound, adopted from Hound Haven Basset Rescue in 2015 and still with me. Simon is a very grumpy old toothless man, and I love him. He’s on his third consort–quite the lothario–but Tessa Basset was his true love. He is currently sixteen years old and will walk for miles. Here he is in 2019 with my complete book manuscript.

Tess Basset, adopted 2015 from the Nebraska Humane Society in Omaha, died 2017, leaving a huge hole in Simon’s heart. Basset pillow display courtesy of my catalog-shopping mother. Tessa died two weeks before my mom died.

Roberta Basset, adopted from Hound Haven Basset Rescue in 2017, not long after Tessa Basset died and a few days before my mom died. I named Roberta after my mom’s sister. Roberta has the best side-eye and the most freckles of any of my bassets. And even though she was found running stray in rural Missouri, she is a fan of the easy life.

Bob and John, adopted 2019 from the Capital Humane Society. I had been down to two cats for a while, and I planed to keep it that way, but then a hoarder surrendered a whole colony of 84 cats, and BOOM, the floofy gentlemen came home with me. They aren’t littermates, but considering that the entire colony descended from one breeding pair, they might as well be. John can be distinguished by his white bib and boots. They broke up Annabelle’s reign of terror over Bessie.

BONUS, screen shots of all of my current cats Zoom bombing my first virtual book event, a conversation with Alex Ross.

Bob has things to say to Alex

Bessie’s butt.

Annabelle is mad she can’t get into my water because it has a lid on it (that was intentional)

John is interested in what’s out the window, not my book.

Things I missed

I may be able to correct the small factual errors and typos, but there are also things that I failed to incorporate that I wish I had. Nothing that changes anything important about the story I tell, just additional detail I wish I had incorporated.

Edith Lewis’s Smith College Commencement weekend, June 1902

On p. 55, I explain what the elements of the 1902 Smith College commencement weekend were, but nothing is personal to Lewis. Turns out that I had more information but, by the time I wrote about Lewis at Smith College, I forgot I had it.

In 1901, she acquired Essay by Sainte-Beuve, translated with an introduction by Elizabeth Lee, and wrote all sorts of notes on the inside of the boards and the endpapers, including information about her commencement weekend. This book is at the Harry Ransom Center, identified as part of “Willa Cather’s Library” (don’t get me started). Anyway, here’s what she wrote:

Ruth French – Senior Concert

Laura Paxton – Ball. Sermon.

Anna McClintock – Commencement

Ethel Chase and Edith Souther – Class Supper

Lucy Wicker – Ivy Walk

Ruth French, class of 1902, already appears in the book–she was the daughter of one of Henry Lewis’s college classmates, and Ruth and Edith were both officers of Phi Kappa Psi their final semester.

Laura Paxton, Anna McClintock, and Lucky Wicker, all 1902, are also already in the book. They all lived in Hatfield House with Lewis. Paxton already gets a fair amount of weight because of a letter she wrote to Lewis in 1953. Wicker’s letters to her father are a source for details of college life, but I wish I’d known that Lewis knew her well enough to walk with her on Ivy Day (very big deal).

Edith Souther isn’t mentioned in the book. She was from St. Louis, so one of the Westerners in Phi Kappa Psi with Lewis. Ethel Withington Chase, also not mentioned, but a Phi Kapp Psi member with Lewis.

I don’t know what “Ball” there was–I don’t think there was a senior dance? But maybe I’m wrong. I would wager that the “Sermon” Lewis attended with Paxton was Last Chapel.

Grand Manan detail

Too late, I found Cather’s description of the wallpaper in her bedroom in her and Lewis’s cottage on Grand Manan: in 1931 she “had a lovely French landscape paper put on my bed room—all goats and rabbits in a warm yellow background. I love to waken up in the morning and look at my walls with the sun pouring over them” (see the letter here).

Edith Lewis letters to Achsah Barlow-Brewster

Letters from Achsah Barlow-Brewster to Edith Lewis, as well as letters to Lewis from her husband, Earl Brewster, are an important source for the book. So how did I manage not to quote from the two extant letters from Edith Lewis to Achsah Barlow-Brewster? Well, one I knew about but somehow didn’t reference, while the other was filed at Drew University in a way that I didn’t find it, and a copy came in too late. So what’s in them?

In the letter I had not seen, dated Thanksgiving Day 1923, Lewis wrote to both Achsah and Earl in the wake of Willa Cather’s long visit to the Hambourgs in Paris, which I write about on pp. 134-136. It would have been lovely to quote from this letter, in which Lewis wrote, “I am so happy to have Willa back!” She describes how Cather has a cold and has been babying her as she recovers. Everything in their apartment is somewhat of a mess, “but all this does not matter very much. We have talked about you so much since she came. How thankful I am to have such dear, dear friends. She admires your pictures so much, and say the Exhibition is a splendid success. Oh, I do want us all to be together some time – don’t you think we could have happy times together!”

The other letter is from 1934 (no date), and is actually quoted in an article I wrote some time ago, which you can read here. There, I write about how the letter is from one couple to another couple. The letter is about the Brewsters’ book (a collection of letters) about their friend D.H. Lawrence, and Cather and Lewis were competing over the volume. Lewis also explains that “Our life, Willa’s and mine, has been overshadowed” by Cather’s injury to a tendon in her hand. Lots of things I might have done with this letter but didn’t.

Henry Lewis’s death in 1926

At one point, many details about Edith Lewis’s family in the 1920s were scattered around several chapters, but I ultimately decided they all needed to be in one place, which is Chapter Five (Grand Manan). I mention there that the train bearing Henry Lewis’s coffin may well have crossed New Mexico while Lewis was there with Cather and the family of Roscoe Cather. I feel like I missed an opportunity to put that event in Chapter Three.

Imagine what it felt like for Edith Lewis to find out, in the middle of her Southwestern vacation that her father had just died in California. She had a lovely time in Santa Fe with Willa Cather and with the family of Willa’s brother Roscoe, but I imagine she was also very sad, probably weepy, and they were all trying to comfort her.

Her dilemma was precisely the dilemma that Willa Cather faced in 1931, when her mother died in California and Willa couldn’t get to Nebraska for the funeral because she was on Grand Manan Island. Furthermore, on their way out to New Mexico, Willa’s father, who had heart trouble, had insisted that his daughter stop over in Red cloud (although he didn’t die until the next year). And then, in the fall of 1926, Cather and Lewis met up in Jaffrey, where Cather was writing Death Comes for the Archbishop–certainly, Edith Lewis must have visited Henry Lewis’s grave even if she had not been there for his burial in the summer.

Owning up to some small mistakes

I have found a few small factual errors that are on me, and a number of typographical errors that are on the strange “production flow,” including copy editing process, for my book. None of the factual errors are seriously problematic–they don’t change my interpretation of any significant events. Nevertheless, I hope I’ll be able to correct both factual errors and typos before the book goes into paperback. If not, I’m parking them here for those who might care. And if you find any more errors or typos, please let me know!

Factual Errors

p. 30–Henry and Lillie Lewis did stop paying taxes on their house in 1895, but they didn’t subdivide their lot and sell half of it until 1904. The correct scenario is on p. 79

p. 117–Cather departed for the Southwest from Pittsburgh (see this letter), so she and Lewis did not depart together from New York City. Rather they likely met up in Chicago and went on together from there (as the newspaper reference from Lincoln quoted here demonstrates, they were together by Nebraska).

p. 266–It was Charles Green’s son, not Ralph Beal’s son, who committed suicide in 1939 (see this letter, and thanks to Sheree Fitch for pointing out the error).

p. 343, note 10–The inscription in the Turgenev novel is dated August 1904, not August 1905, so, yes, the gift happened in August 1904, as the body text on p. 66 indicates.


p. 57–The copy editor added a word that created an error, and I failed to reverse the error. “Edith wrote a sentimental ballad about her alma mater and New Hampshire landscapes”– there should be no possessive pronoun before alma mater. She was not writing about her alma mater (Smith College is in Massachusetts, not New Hampshire). Rather, she was writing lyrics for a male graduate of Dartmouth to sing. “To alma mater” was factually and grammatically correct.

p. 146, first full paragraph–Should be “Even though Cather evoked” rather than “evoke”

p. 150, bottom of the page–Willa Cater Living should be Willa Cather Living (obviously).

p. 161, bottom of the page–“Book 4of the novel” should be “Book 4 of the novel” (insert space).

p. 188, bottom of page–“senator’s wives and daughter” should be “senators’ wives and daughters.”

p. 319, first full paragraph–Mildred Bennett’s name is spelled correctly the first time and then misspelled Bennet.