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Although forty years have passed since the death of Willa Cather in 1947, she never has been the subject of a full-length biography. can be more certain than she to capture ultimately the admiration of posterity." The absence of a detailed biography is probably due to the traps, pitfalls, and barricades she placed in the biographer's path, and until now sufficient material has not been available to flesh out more than a medium-length life. Brown's biography of Cather appeared in 1953, Alfred Knopf wrote on the jacket: "Here is all the biographical information anyone is likely ever to gather about Willa Cather." Even though he was understandably interested in promoting the sale of Brown's book, he no doubt also thought Cather had been such a private person that biographical data actually was meager.When she died, her reputation was firmly established as one of the most significant American novelists, and during the succeeding decades her stature has continued to grow. Donald Adams wrote in the that "no American novelist was more purely an artist," and George Whicher declared four years later that "no American writer . While no biography ever can be definitive, this study contains a great deal more material than any previous one and goes considerably beyond my own earlier biography, as well as the efforts of others, in presenting a life-size portrait of this remarkable woman. He was wrong, of course, and since Cather died there has been a steady accumulation of material to fuel the ever-growing interest in her life and work.
I came to my interest in Cather in 1967 or 1968 when I was invited to contribute a brief critical biography to a series brought out by the nowdefunct publisher Pegasus.She turned her own life and experiences into literature to a degree uncommon among writers.I have used many passages from her fiction to document her life, keeping in mind constantly the need for caution.Sir Isaac Newton in a letter to his rival scientist Robert Hooke wrote in 1676 that "if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." I feel somewhat the same in writing Cather's biography four decades after her death.I have built on the work of many scholars, as my notes will indicate, and without their pioneering this book could not have been written.Lewis's memoir, which was prepared for the use of E. Brown, is, of course, of immense assistance, as it was the work of a friend of more than forty years.
Brown's biography is the pioneering life, and when he died before completing his book, the very able Leon Edel finished it for him.
She certainly made the task of writing her life more difficult; yet she and other writers who have wanted to cover their tracks always have been doomed to failure.
Still, one envies the chroniclers of those public figures who carefully saved for posterity the documentation of their lives.
The problems that the biographer of Cather has to face, however, are more complicated than merely locating the raw materials for the life.
She threw up roadblocks, consciously and unconsciously, to frustrate pursuit.
To make matters still more difficult, Lewis's memoir of her friend also tries to manage the image, and one has to use her data with caution.