Friday, November 18, 2016

“Oh yes, of course, art simplifies”

Willa Cather, from a letter to Ida Kleber Todd, December 28, 1934:

People are always writing me (people I don’t know) that I have “influenced” their lives. I wonder if you know that you have influenced mine? Once, long ago, in some discussion, you said, half under your breath, “Oh yes, of course, art simplifies.” I had never thought of that before; I have been trying to live that remark ever since. It was the way you spoke, carelessly and yet as if there could be no doubt about the matter; and because I felt a kind of authority in you — didn’t try to explain it, just felt it.

I have read thousands of pages that did not say as much to me as that sentence rather lightly dropped by a living voice — a very individual voice with a tempo and timbre distinctly its own. The sentence went home like an arrow — because of something in you and something in me. As I said, I’ve been trying to live it ever since.

The Selected Letters of Willa Cather , ed. Andrew Jewell and Janis Stout (New York: Knopf, 2013).
Ida Kleber Todd (1858–1946) was the daughter of Henry Kleber (1816–1897), who was a major figure in Pittsburgh musical life. The Selected Letters has no information about Todd, and the information in the preceding sentence is all that I have been able to find. From 1896 to 1906, Cather lived in Pittsburgh, working as a journalist, editor, and teacher.

Cather, in a 1921 interview: “I’m trying to cut out all analysis, observation, description, even the picture-making quality, in order to make things and people tell their own story simply by juxtaposition, without any persuasion or explanation on my part.” And in her essay “The Novel Démeublé” (1922): “The novel, for a long while, has been over-furnished.” Cather’s novel The Professor’s House (1925) begins with a man walking through the empty rooms of a “dismantled house.”

Related reading
All OCA Cather posts (Pinboard)

[The novel démeublé: the novel stripped of its furniture, the novel with its furniture removed.]

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