Willa Cather's Lesbian 'Shame': Finally Put to Rest in Letters?

Debate about her 'sexual psychology' has raged for years

By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 22, 2013 5:45 PM CDT | Updated Mar 22, 2013 6:15 PM CDT

(Newser) – Willa Cather's letters are coming to print after decades of scholarly frustration and debate about her sexuality, the New York Times reports. But be warned: The Selected Letters of Willa Cather, which reveals her emotional attachment to women, is short on steamy details. Still, it reveals a complex, humorous, brilliant, sensitive person—and lays to rest the notion that Cather struggled in shame to keep her sexuality from the public eye, say the volume's editors.

Cather's ban on her letters—which pretty much expired with her will in 2011—fueled a vein of scholarship that sought out hidden sexual turmoil in frontier novels like My Antonia and O Pioneers! Others blasted such claims, much as Cather herself had dismissed critics who were "violently inoculated with Freud." Cather did destroy her letters to Isabelle McClung—considered by many the love of her life—but may have done it out of depression rather than shame: "We knew she was depressed, but I didn’t know how depressed until I read" her letters, says a co-editor. Burning the McClung correspondence was "a final act of renunciation."

Willa Cather, photographed by Carl Van Vechten on Jan. 22, 1936.   (Wikimedia Commons)
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