Date of this Version
Homestead, M. “Yet More Cather-Knopf Correspondence.” Willa Cather Review 59, no. 2 (Fall/Winter 2017), pp 2-9.
Some years ago many of us were excited by the discovery of a cache of Willa Cather’s correspondence with publisher Alfred A. Knopf that had been in the hands of Peter Prescott, one of the succession of would-be biographers of Knopf. He died before he completed it. These letters are now held in the Barbara Dobkin Collection in New York City. Before these materials came to light, researchers, including the editors of the Willa Cather Scholarly Edition, had relied on a strange and fragmentary “memoir” Knopf wrote of his relationship with Cather based on his correspondence files with her, and on the more narrative essay “Miss Cather” published in The Art of Willa Cather (1973), a collection associated with the celebration of the centennial of Cather’s birth. The unpublished “memoir” went to the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, but Knopf held back the correspondence files when the Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., corporate archive was donated to the Ransom Center and when he subsequently added some of his personal papers. Cather’s correspondence with Blanche Knopf was part of the donated corporate archive, but these letters provided relatively scant information about the composition and publication of Cather’s works, documenting more of their social interactions, including gift-giving to and personal services provided for a demanding author.
This characterization of the Cather–Blanche Knopf correspondence at the Ransom Center vastly oversimplifies— there is correspondence about the composition and publication of Cather’s works—but Cather scholars have nevertheless tended to downplay Blanche’s importance while promoting Alfred’s. For instance, biographer James Woodress states that “Not only was Knopf her publisher, but both Alfred and Blanche Knopf, and later their son Pat, became close friends” (316). He thus categorizes Alfred as both her publisher and a friend and Blanche merely as a friend. Cather scholars have not been alone in diminishing Blanche’s importance to the publishing firm bearing only her husband’s name. As Laura P. Claridge argues in The Lady with the Borzoi: Blanche Knopf, Literary Tastemaker Extraordinaire, Alfred Knopf himself, who survived Blanche Knopf by nearly two decades, was largely responsible for the diminishment of his first wife’s legacy in publishing.