The Sunday Salon – Letter Reading

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?



4 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon – Letter Reading

  1. What a timely post for me! I am reading Steinbeck’s Life in Letters and it is wonderful (I think given your thoughts on letter writing, you’d love this one!). I agree – it is a lost art and sad in many ways that the handwritten letter has just about vanished from society.

  2. YES. I DO. I recommend Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning’s letters to each other. They are made out of sweetness and awesome, and although they are not commercially available, you can read the first volume on Gutenberg.

    I love reading other people’s letters too. I have a collection of Tolkien’s letters that is very good; I found it much more interesting than I expected. Oh, and also Rupert Hart-Davis’s correspondence with George Lyttelton is a lot of fun.

  3. I don’t have any recommendations to give, but I do miss writing and receiving letters. My first year of college was when email started to become the way that everyone communicated with each other. Since many of my relatives didn’t have email I wrote long newsy letters home. After a couple of years though most of them got email and we stopped sending handwritten letters.

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