26 February (1946): J.F. Powers to Betty Wahl

Here, J.F. Powers writes to his fiancée Betty Wahl from Stearns County, Minnesota, where he taught English at Saint John’s University. In addition to lighthearted matrimonial quibbling, Powers, known for his heavily Roman Catholic-influenced writing, describes “the clerical forces now allied against [him],” after he published an unsavory fictional portrait of a clergyman—Father Burns—in his story “Prince of Darkness.”

150 Summit Avenue
February 26, 1946

Dearest Betty,

Tuesday morning before I get into the day’s work. Did I tell you, I think not, that the barber suspected you when I told him the other day that I wanted it left rather long? He took special pains after that, he said, as he was cutting it for two people now. I thought at the time, what will I ever do in Stearns County for haircuts? You will have to learn how to cut my hair. I would not trust one of the agrarians (farmers) with it, not that I am particularly vainglorious. […]

The maid says the beer bottles must go and she hopes I won’t be mad at her for telling me, like they got downstairs (Dr Ruona). The exterminator man says it’s the bottles that draw cockroaches. I have a small fortune in bottles, beer and milk, which I intend to expend for a wedding gift for you. Well, today you have moved the date up to the 22nd of April. Why don’t you concentrate a little harder and make it the day after tomorrow? Then we can both settle down to our work, you calm in the knowledge that I married you for your literacy virtues and business sense, me calm in the knowledge that I married a “cold” woman who thought a husband was something every growing girl ought to have. […]

I must write Harry Sylvester and tell him I am now a public enemy myself. I am referring to the clerical forces now allied against me on account of Father Burner. I suppose it’s a healthy sign. Joyce had the same trouble in Dublin with his stories. Fortunately, I don’t think they can touch me. I am very glad that Sr Mariella approved of the Doubleday deal, but wonder what she means when she says that’s the only way I’d ever be able to make it, as though it were not all right that way. As for living off money I haven’t earned, that’s silly. When I write the stories, it’s earned then and there and when they’re published is something else. Someday I’ll gather all you Teutons into a single classroom and lecture you a little on True Economics, a course I’m famous for. […] 

               I love you, Betty.
                 Jim

From Suitable Accommodations: An Autobiographical Story of Family Life: The Letters of J. F. Powers, 1942-1963. Powers, J. F., and Katherine A. Powers.New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013.

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