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.

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