‘It’s hard in letters quite to hit the mean between being earnest and sounding damn silly’ — as Iris Murdoch admits on page 205 of this book.
‘Everything that the lovingest of husbands can express to the best of wives, & love to the little ones, not forgetting the kicker in the dark,’ Jack Verney wrote to his pregnant wife in 1683.
Letters give us the life as lived — day-to-day, shapeless, haphazard, contingent, imperfect, authentic.
When Lavinia Greacen undertook her magisterial yet intimately sympathetic biography of James Gordon Farrell, she gained access to his diaries and many of his letters, especially love letters and letters to his literary agents, editors and publishers about his professional desires and requirements.
Love Letters of a Japanese begins: ‘These letters are real.
The Letters of Samuel Beckett, 1929-40, Volume I, edited by Martha Dow Fehsenfeld and Lois More Overbeck
From the Front Line: Family Letters & Diaries, 1900 to the Falklands & Afghanistan, by Hew Pike
Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence Between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell,
edited by Thomas Travisano and Saskia Hamilton