The Only Wonderful Things
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What would Willa Cather's widely read and cherished novels have looked like if she had never met magazine editor and copywriter Edith Lewis? In this groundbreaking book on Cather's relationship with her life partner, author Melissa J. Homestead counters the established portrayal of Cather as a solitary genius and reassesses the role that Lewis, who has so far been rendered largely invisible by scholars, played in shaping Cather's work. Inviting Lewis to share the spotlight alongside this pivotal American writer, Homestead argues that Lewis was not just Cather's companion but also her close literary collaborator and editor.
Drawing on an array of previously unpublished sources, Homestead skillfully reconstructs Cather and Lewis's life together, from their time in New York City to their travels in the American Southwest that formed the basis of the novels The Professor's House and Death Comes for the Archbishop. After Cather's death and in the midst of the Cold War panic over homosexuality, the story of her life with Edith Lewis could not be told, but by telling it now, Homestead offers a refreshing take on lesbian life in early twentieth-century America.
About the Author
Melissa J. Homestead is Professor of English and Program Faculty in Women's and Gender Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. A graduate of Smith College and the University of Pennsylvania, she has published widely on American women's writing and authorship from the late 1700s through the early 1900s and is also the author of American Women Authors and Literary Property, 1822-1869 [Cambridge University Press: 2005]. She serves as Director of the Cather Project and Associate Editor of The Complete Letters of Willa Cather: A Digital Edition. In May 2022, The Only Wonderful Things: The Creative Partnership of Willa Cather and Edith Lewis was an honoree for the Bernard J. Brommel Award for Biography and Memoir from the Society of Midland Authors.
"This is a masterpiece of scholarly literary biography." — CHOICE
"Homestead is the first to recover the central and influential role Lewis played in Cather's life and in her writing career ... this meticulously researched book is a very important addition to the literature on Cather."
— C. Johanningsmeier, CHOICE
"This book is a meticulously researched portrait of the life that Cather and Lewis shared ... The Only Wonderful Things gives us a fascinating portrait not only of a marriage but of American culture at a particular time and place."
— Andrew Holleran, The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide
"At last! — an in-depth look at how Edith Lewis, the woman with whom Willa Cather lived in domestic partnership for almost forty years, was central to both her life and her literary career. By foregrounding the crucial role played by Lewis (remarkable in her own right), Homestead gives us valuable new insights into the way Cather, the artist, worked and the way Cather, the woman who loved women, lived her life."
—Lillian Faderman, author of To Believe In Women: What Lesbians Have Done for America — a History
"Melissa Homestead has accomplished something beautiful and profound: she has recovered a decades-long relationship that has been ignored and minimized, introducing us to the complex life of Edith Lewis and reframing what we thought we knew about Willa Cather and her writing. The research is remarkable, the product of years of dogged work, and it is woven together to tell a story of love and creativity that we all need to know. I cherish the book and the vision it offers."
—Andrew Jewell, co-editor of The Complete Letters of Willa Cather