My Dear Friend,
Don’t you just love it when a book sets fireworks exploding in your imagination? When every page brings an interesting thought or a new insight? When you want to climb right into the story and have tea with the characters?
That has been my happy experience this week, as I’ve been reading Afternoons With Emily. Rose McMurray’s novel is a treasure trove of information about a young American woman coming of age during the mid-19th century, a young woman who just happens to be friends with Emily Dickinson. And while their relationship is an integral part of this story, the novel’s focus is really on Miranda Chase and her progress from girl to woman.
One of the many interesting things in this book is the role of correspondence – letter writing. Emily Dickinson’s penchant for correspondence is fairly legendary. For this reclusive woman, letters were virtually her only contact with the “outside world.” Miranda, too, finds correspondence playing a pivotal role in her experience as she exchanges letters over a long summer with Davy Farwell, her first love. In their daily epistles, the pair “wrote about our extreme mutual awareness, our insatiable interest in each other. We wanted to know all there was to tell – ”
Through their letters that they reveal “their true selves on paper,” so that when they meet face to face after months apart they were able to “chatter like old friends reunited. We had learned so much about each other from letters that unease was impossible.”
Carrying on a relationship through letters wasn’t all that unusual in 1858 – after all, letters were the only way to communicate with someone long distance. But almost 150 years later, my son virtually duplicated this experience, albeit in a more modern fashion. Brian, an 18 year old high school student in a Midwestern suburb, met (via internet) Nantana, a 23 year old young Thai woman attending school in Sydney, Australia. They began communicating in daily emails that grew ever lengthier. Over a period of nearly 18 months, these electronic communications flew back and forth from one side of the world to the other. When they finally met in person, it was as if they had known each other always, and they were married one year later.
Love letters – I have two boxes full of them in my basement, written during my senior year in high school when my boyfriend (soon to be husband) was away in college. Every day, pages and pages of handwritten letters passed between my house and his apartment in Ann Arbor. For me, all that writing was second nature…for Jim, an engineering student who had never written anything other than required papers for English class, those daily letters were miracles. For his correspondence rivaled mine in length and frequency, and the box containing all his letters to me is stuffed to overflowing.
So, yes, I love letters, and I love reading collections of letters. I love reading epistolary novels (my recent favorite, of course, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society). Yes, I’ve even written an epistolary novel, though the manuscript languishes on the lowest shelf of my bookcase. The magic of correspondence is that the writer is somehow freed to reveal more intimate details about feelings and thoughts and dreams, things we might not even have realized until they spill from the deeper recesses of our minds and onto the page.
Now tell me, have you ever carried on a relationship via letters – handwritten or electronic? Are you writing letters to anyone right now?
Do you like to read collections of letters and/or epistolary novels? What are some of your favorites?
And now I must get back to the story, for Miranda and Davy are separated again – this time he is off fighting the Civil War, and the letters between them are melancholy and fearful.
If you have a moment, do write…I’d love to hear from you!