I don’t recall any specific place where Cather outright says she wants British spellings, or at least the ‘-our’ one. I agree with Melissa that she didn’t use it in her letters or her own typing of her manuscripts.
Alfred Knopf told Sue Rosowski that house style was never imposed on Cather—see A Lost Lady textual essay, p. 323. It is, of course possible that he was romanticizing the relationship.
It may still have been Knopf house style but one to which she agreed; he was positioning himself somewhat as an international publisher. It would be interesting to look at other Knopf books from the same period as Cather’s to see if they have the same style. I suspect she was valuable enough to Knopf that she could have asked for something different.
Houghton Mifflin did not use British spellings—but the house style of the Autograph Edition was very British, going much further than ‘-our’—grey, programme, axe, waggon, whiskey, and others. We have always thought Cather agreed to this, even if she did not originate the idea. And she made other, more slightly more substantive revisions that followed the same path—enquired is the only one I can think of off the top of my head.
Hope this is of some help.
From: 5 Bank Street: The Listserv for Willa Cather Scholars [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Olin-Ammentorp, Julie
Sent: Tuesday, April 05, 2016 9:11 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: [5BANKSTREET] Cather and British spelling
Dear 5 Bank Streeters,
I'm trying to locate a solid source that states that Cather preferred British spellings to American spellings, but so far have come a cropper. Online I found the Bernice Slote edition of Uncle Valentine and Other Stories, which states that “In ‘Coming, Eden Bower!’ Willa Cather for the first time used the English spelling in words like ‘neighbour’” (183), but felt this was inconclusive. I checked the textual essay in the Scholarly Edition of Youth and the Bright Medusa, which confirms the substitution of English spelling for American in this book (470, 478), but does not indicate that this was Cather’s personal preference; on the contrary, it may have been house style (470). I checked Woodress on the publication of YBM, and found lots of publishing details, but nothing about Cather's spelling preferences; I also checked the online Calendar of Letters to see if I could find anything, but had no luck; the same with re-reading some key letters in the print Cather Letters, though it may be there someplace.
If anyone has any suggestions, I would greatly appreciate it. Please feel free to tell me, too, if I'm fabricating the idea of "Cather preferred English spellings" because it fits an argument I'm making!
Thanks so much.