In her essay ‘A House of One’s Own’, about Vanessa Bell, Janet Malcolm says memorably that Bloomsbury is a fiction, and that compared with letters and first-hand material, biography is like canned vegetables compared with fresh fruit.
We read the letters of writers because they are informal, unguarded, unbuttoned, intimate and candid, revealing not only the secrets of composition but, we hope, glimpses of the writer in the flesh, with his trousers down. This is T.S. Eliot, on 26 December 1941, thanking the editor and critic John Hayward for a gift of toilet paper:
BROMO is, as you know, and as the manufacturers state, so well known that lengthy description is not necessary... I shall try to be frugal, if not parcimonious [sic], in using what you have so generously provided: and on each occasion, will bless your name.