The Only Wonderful Things: The Creative Partnership of Willa Cather & Edith Lewis

The Creative Partnership of Willa Cather & Edith Lewis

Author : Melissa J. Homestead

Publisher Oxford University Press
Publication 2021
ISBN 9780190652906
eISBN 9780190652876
Language English


This book tells for the first time the story of the central relationship of novelist Willa Cather’s life, her nearly forty-year partnership with Edith Lewis. Cather has been described as a distinguished artist who turned her back on the crass commercialism of the early twentieth century and as a deeply private woman who strove to hide her sexuality, and Lewis has often been identified as her secretary. However, Lewis was a successful professional woman who edited popular magazines and wrote advertising copy at a major advertising agency and who, behind the scenes, edited Cather’s fiction. Recognizing Lewis’s role in Cather’s creative process changes how we understand Cather as an artist, while recovering their domestic partnership (which they did not seek to hide) provides a fresh perspective on lesbian life in the early twentieth century. Homestead reconstructs Cather and Lewis’s life together in Greenwich Village and on Park Avenue, their travels to the American Southwest that formed the basis of Cather’s novels The Professor’s House and Death Comes for the Archbishop, their summers as part of an all-woman resort community on Grand Manan Island, and Lewis’s magazine and advertising work as a context for her editorial collaboration with Cather. Homestead tells a human story of two women who chose to live in partnership and also explains how the Cold War panic over homosexuality caused biographers and critics to make Lewis and her central role in Cather’s life vanish even as she lived on alone for twenty-five years after her partner’s death.