Claudia FitzHerbert

Life in Letters

We talk about peak oil without agreeing whether or not we have reached the plateau yet. The case of letters is, arguably, bleaker by far. People don’t write letters any more. Effectively, we have been running out for years. What can we look forward to? Maybe the odd cache of ancient love letters, combined with the droppings of the few remaining twentieth-century refuseniks who never took to the blower, and then it’s over. Of course it doesn’t feel as though we’re running out (does it ever?). Last year we read, or read about, new editions of letters by the Mitford sisters, Graham Greene, Noël Coward, Arthur Conan Doyle and Ted Hughes. The Victorian Life and Letters formula murdered by Froude and buried by Strachey has never been revived, but A Life in Letters is a popular postmodern stand-in, especially when one or more biographies are already in circulation. Indeed, a common sequence is for literary estates to appoint official biographers to get something out in the years immediately after their subject’s death. The letters, meanwhile, continue to be collected and worked on by someone else, and are eventually published in a scholarly edition a good while later. The existence of a full edition of the letters then generates another biography or two. And so the show goes on. 

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