- Associated Press - Thursday, May 12, 2011

LINCOLN, NEB. (AP) - A passage from Willa Cather’s unfinished and purportedly destroyed novel “Hard Punishments” was among a new collection of writings and mementos unveiled Thursday at the world’s largest archive devoted to the Pulitzer Prize-winning author.

Andrew Jewell, editor of the archive at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said when Cather died in 1947 the novel was not finished, and scholars believed the incomplete manuscript had been destroyed. An extensive collection left to the university by the author’s nephew, Charles Cather, proves otherwise.

“For some reason, the story goes that she burned everything or (her partner) Edith Lewis burned everything,” Jewell said. “That simply was not true.”

Jewell described the passage, in Cather’s hard-to-discern handwriting, as a conversation between a boy named Andre who had his tongue ripped out for the crime of blasphemy and a young, blind priest who gives the boy absolution. The scene takes place in medieval times in Avignon, France. At one point, the priest tells the boy to stop trying to talk or else he’ll start to bleed again.

“She was aware of the historic language they would use. … She has a feeling of the priest being so distraught,” Jewell explained.

The passage was among the manuscripts, notebooks, photographs and letters kept by Charles Cather, who died in March and left the items to the archive. The collection includes a first-edition copy of Cather’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel about World War I, “One of Ours,” that she gifted to her mother. It was still wrapped in gold paper and bears the inscription: “To my darling mother, I send the book of my heart.” It’s dated Sept. 20, 1922.

Cather, whose work was influenced by her life in Nebraska and Virginia as well as her travels, is best known for writing “O Pioneers,” “My Antonia” and “Death Comes for the Archbishop.”

With Charles Cather’s gift, the UNL archive is home to 15 collections of the author’s work, including many owned by her relatives. The newest items can be viewed at the archive, and a special event is planned to showcase them in the fall.

Guy Reynolds, director of the university’s Cather Project, said the items, valued at $2 million, will provide new insight into Cather’s life, work and career.

“It’s like you take a snapshot of someone’s office when they pass away, and suddenly those items are transported to another time and place,” he said.

Cather was born in 1873. She moved to the Red Cloud area of Nebraska in 1883, and graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1895.

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