The World of Willa Cather by Mildred R. Bennett

The World of Willa Cather by Mildred R. Bennett at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT

I scored me some Willa Cather studies at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, Vermont last night! They sell mainly new books but also have a wonderfully curated used section.

This is a 1974 printing of the 1961 Bison Books edition of Mildred R. Bennett’s The World of Willa Cather which was first published in February 1951 by Dodd, Mead & Company.

That 1951 edition went through five printings, the last of which appeared in November 1951 and corrected some errors.

Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial sticker

I was happy to see this sticker on the inside cover from the Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial in Red Cloud, Nebraska. The Memorial has since grow into the National Willa Cather Center. Whoever first owned this book got it in Red Cloud. They may have purchased it via mail order, but I like to think they made the pilgrimage to Red Cloud to see the town and landscape that imprinted itself so deeply in Cather’s imagination.

Or maybe it was a gift. Whatever its origins, the book is now living with me in Connecticut.

The World of Willa Cather by Mildred R. Bennett two covers

This is the copy of the book I already owned. I purchased it from Myopic Books in Chicago in 2012. It is technically the 1961 edition but has a 1989 copyright renewal notice on the copyright page. I don’t know what year this new cover came along, but the choice of making Cather’s face red on a dark background combined with her piercing gaze makes me think this would make a good true crime book cover. About a serial killer. It is kind of creepy, right? Or perhaps “haunting” is a better word.

The book is still available directly from the University of Nebraska Press in both paper or as an e-book. Here’s a link to its page at the press where you’ll find a link to the book’s Google Book Preview if you’d like to check it out.

Who is Mildred Bennett?

Mildred Bennett (1909-1989) was the first person to collect the memories of local people who knew Cather and preserve the artifacts and buildings that were important to Cather’s life in Red Cloud and that inform so much of her creative work.

There’s a project in the works about Bennett and remembrances of her are currently being sought:

In collaboration with the National Willa Cather Center, author Will Fellows is working to bring forth a publication on the vision, passion and persistence of our founder, Mildred Rhoads Bennett (1909-1989). Bennett’s work to preserve key elements of Willa Cather’s early years in Nebraska began in the 1940s and she had many dedicated collaborators through several decades. One of them, Ron Hull, states in his memoir that Mildred Bennett “could have literally stepped out of a Willa Cather novel. Like some of Cather’s heroines, Mildred was a strong, fiercely independent, intelligent woman who loved the land and planted her roots deeply in the soil of Webster County, Nebraska.”

To learn more about the project or to get in touch with Will Fellows visit: https://www.willacather.org/remembrances-mildred-bennett-sought

I haven’t yet properly read the book although I have poked around in it. I’ve been told by a friend who has read everything about Cather that it is still worth a read for Cather enthusiasts, but that you have to keep in mind that Bennett had strong prejudices of her own as well as those of the time period.

Bennett apparently did not acknowledge the important role that Edith Lewis played in Cather’s life. Lewis was Cather’s partner of over 40 years but in the time period that Bennett was working, such relationships were still deeply closeted.




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