To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing

To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing

by Simon Garfield


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781592408825
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/04/2014
Pages: 464
Sales rank: 366,309
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Simon Garfield is the author of fourteen acclaimed books of nonfiction including Just My Type and On the Map. He lives in London and St. Ives, Cornwall.

Read an Excerpt

From Chapter 15: Inbox

In June 2004, 190 people replied to a survey conducted by the Sussex-based Mass Observation Project on the subject of letters and emails. It seemed like a good time to take stock: email and personal computers were now a regular part of our lives. The respondents reported writing fewer letters, and regarded email as useful but limited: they would not trust their intimate thoughts to email, and they often printed them out, uncertain whether they would still be on their computers in the morning.

There was still a fondness for tradition: of the 190 people who replied to the survey, 82 per cent sent in their written answers by post.*

But the behavioural details of the survey provide a valuable anecdotal glimpse into the attitudes of general users at a time when email was becoming part of the fabric of our lives. Nine years since the survey, the replies seem both quaint and touching, but they reveal more than mere nostalgia; the impact of receiving hand-delivered mail clearly extends beyond words on a page.

‘I can remember receiving my first mail as a young girl and the thrill it gave me,’ wrote a 68-year-old woman from Surrey. ‘Sometimes I would send off for something, like a sample of face cream or a film star’s picture.’ Her first pen pal was an American girl from Pikeville, Kentucky, who sent her Juicy Fruit chewing gum and a subscription to a girl-scouting magazine. Later she wrote to a Swedish boy in Landskrona and a Turkish naval cadet.

An 83-year-old woman from Belfast remembered wistful letters during the war. ‘One used to put SWALK on the back of the envelope [sealed with a loving kiss] but my mother and father did not quite approve.’*

A woman from Blackpool received four round-robins every Christmas, ‘mostly about people we don’t know or care about . . . No-one who sends them seems to have children or grand-children who are not brilliant. The minutiae they go into (We rise at 8am with the alarm and I bring tea in bed to F) is amazing. It’s especially difficult when someone you don’t remember or may not even have known is reported dead.’

A 45-year-old man from Gloucester wrote that ‘real letters are quite rare and are usually much appreciated. They do make you feel that someone cares about you.

I especially appreciate the rare letter I receive with beautiful handwriting on it. I do have one friend with lovely writing. It seems a shame to open the envelope, and she doesn’t write at all often.

Not so long ago her much-loved husband died very suddenly aged 60, and she

sold their house and moved. When she was clearing the cellar, the last cupboard

in the farthest corner buried behind all sorts of stuff was found to contain both side of an extremely lurid, passionate (and current) correspondence between her deceased husband and a Russian woman whom he was having a very steamy affair with and of which she was entirely ignorant. He had repeatedly promised to leave his empty marriage of 33 years for her (my friend loved her husband dearly and had thought the marriage, sex and all, to be going really well). The contents of all her husband’s meticulously copied love letters were appallingly wounding to her as indeed was the revealed fact of his unfaithfulness, just when she could no longer tackle him about it. Just when she thought things couldn’t get any worse.’

Reprinted by arrangement with GOTHAM BOOKS, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © SIMON GARFIELD, 2013.

* In 2013, email responses had increased to 45 per cent.

* The origin of SWALK is uncertain, but the common wisdom attributes it to

American soldiers in the Second World War. There are others, with varying geography

and spelling:

NORWICH – Nickers Off Ready When I Come Home

ITALY: I Trust And Love You

FRANCE: Friendship Remains And Never Can End

BURMA: Be Undressed Ready My Angel

MALAYA – My Ardent Lips Await Your Arrival

CHINA – Come Home I’m Naked Already

VENICE – Very Excited Now I Caress Everywhere

EGYPT – Eager to Grab Your Pretty Tits

Table of Contents

1 The Magic of Letters 13

2 From Vindolanda, Greetings 31

3 The Consolations of Cicero, Seneca and Pliny the Younger 44

In which we get a proper education.

Letters from Abroad 66

4 Love in Its Earliest Forms 71

How to Build a Pyramid 92

5 How to Write the Perfect Letter, Part 1 95

Trying to Impress 114

6 Neither Snow nor Rain nor the Flatness of Norfolk 120

Your New Lover 144

7 How to Write the Perfect Letter, Part 2 148

Entirely Gone 172

8 Letters for Sale 176

Let Us Mention Marriage 201

9 Why Jane Austen's Letters Are so Dull (and Other Postal Problems Solved) 206

More Than Is Good for Me 232

10 A Letter Feels Like Immortality 236

All a Housewife Should Be 267

11 How to Write the Perfect Letter, Part 3 271

Photographs 286

12 More Letters for Sale 290

Greece and London, Liberation and Capture 319

13 Love in Its Later Forms 330

Days Become Weeks 355

14 The Modern Master 360

The Coming Home Question 385

15 Inbox 390

In the Flesh 410

Epilogue: Dear Reader 424

Acknowledgements 444

Select Bibliography 446

Picture Credits 450

Permisions Credits 452

Index 453

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Stuffed with marvelous anecdotes, fascinating historical tidbits and excerpts...[Garfield’s] epistolary ardor proves infectious."
The New York Times Book Review 
“Thoroughly captivating…Garfield shows us the poetic nature of the written word. . . . An overdue homage to something we once took for granted but really was an art.”
The Tampa Tribune

"A wonderfully elegant history."

"Garfield is a best-selling writer of irresistible enthusiasm….[His] robust and propulsive engagement with letters as an essential embodiment of the human spirit and a driving cultural force makes for exciting reading and thoughtful speculation about the future of scholarship and communication."

"This endlessly informative book from one of Britain's best non-fiction writers provides a heartfelt reminder of just how much we'd lose... the book serves up any number of vivid examples from people famous and unknown."
Reader’s Digest

"He offers hope for the letter as a form of writing – though it is not his theme – because he makes clear that people’s instinct to share, discuss, and transmit their deepest, most strongly held feelings survives and adapts, even as technology changes."
Financial Times

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