Hello, Cather folk,

As i return to a couple of half-done projects involving Willa Cather’s friendship with Sarah Orne Jewett, I have two questions for the Cather hive mind.

!) The photograph of Cather we all know—Cather in a big feather-trimmed hat, wearing a long necklace—that is routinely captioned as Cather wearing a necklace that was a gift from Jewett. I have seen a range of dates on this photograph, and if anyone has a basis for a firm date, I’d be interested, but what most interests and continues to trouble me is our seeming collective assurance that we know for sure this necklace came from Jewett. As far as i can tell the source for this identification is Mildred Bennett’s The World of Willa Cather. The caption to the photo there reads, “After she joined the staff of ‘McClure’s,’ where she soon became managing editor, Willa appeared in this brown silk velvet dress with matching hat trimmed in gold and osprey feathers. The necklace was a gift from Sarah Orne Jewett. Made of white jade tinted with pink and green, it was something of a display piece in the days before Jade became popular for jewelry.”

 It’s a black and white photograph--how one could describe the color of the dress based on such a photograph, let alone the color of the necklace? As I recall, in the “Willa Cather: The Road is All” documentary, Antoinette Turner claimed that Annie Pavelka was in possession of the necklace and she played with it as a child while visiting her grandmother's, but this anecdote seems to me highly unlikely. The world of Willa Cather came out in 1951 without documentation and was reissued in 1961 with documentation, but no documentation was added for the unnumbered pages on which the photographs are reproduced. Any thoughts about the source of this information and the reliability of that source?

 In their introduction to the forthcoming Cather Studies volume on Willa Cather and the Nineteenth Century, Rick Millington and Anne Kaufman point out, based on a consultation with a clothing historian, that it’s not a 19th century necklace but something more modern, a “tango necklace.” This information only deepens the mystery for me.

2) Can anyone point me to any substantive discussions of Cather’s work on The Best Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett that I may have missed? I have consulted all of the biographies, as well as discussions by Ann Romines and Marilee Lindemann and essays by Marco Portales and Cynthia Goheen on the textual history of Country of the Pointed Firs.

Thanks in advance for leads and suggestions either on or off list.


Melissa J. Homestead
Professor of English and Program Faculty in Women’s & Gender Studies
English Department Assessment Coordinator
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
202 Andrews Hall
Lincoln, NE 68588-0333
(402) 472-0323 (direct dial)
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