Once upon a time, on Sunday afternoons, a lady might repair to her chamber and catch up on her correspondence. She might take up a fountain pen, lift a thick page of linen paper from the special tissue lined box within her desk, and begin writing in her most beautiful script.
But it’s 2011, and, sad to say, most ladies don’t write letters anymore. (With the exception of my 87 year old neighbor, who writes about half a dozen “little notes” every week.) Which is really too bad, because I adore reading collections of letters. Right now, I’m reading The Habit of Being, the letters of Flannery O’Connor, selected and edited by Sally Fitzgerald, who was a great friend of O’Connor’s and the recipient of many of the letters in the collection. My interest in these letters was piqued by my enjoyment of A Good Hard Look, the novel by Ann Napolitano which features Flannery O’Connor as a main character. Napolitano credits this collection of letters with her decision to include O’Connor as a character in the novel, and in helping her understand and portray that character.
It’s obvious that letters were very important to O’Connor, as they were to most people before the invention of e-mail. And it’s delightful to see the way her personality comes shining through – often irreverent, sarcastic, filled with a love of the absurd. They become an important, autobiographical account of the author, her thoughts and feeling.
I’ve read the letters of other authors too, of course – Virginia Woolf’s Collected Letters, and Sylvia Plath’s Letters Home, are both in my personal collection and have been read and re-read several times over the decades.
And it never fails – every time I read a collection of letters, I feel sad that people no longer use this form of communication. I’m thinking that, within another generation or two, we’ll be reading author’s collections of electronic correspondence – in e-book formats, of course.
Now tell me, do you have a “Collected Letters Of…”you’d like to recommend?