Wednesday, October 12, 2011

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of a tiny fortune must be in want of a few pets and a personal library.

A few days ago I told a good friend, "I'm not a hopeless romantic or anything, but I really love the art of letter writing." And those of you who have followed Pillow Book for a while have surely heard me mention something similar. I love when I can visualize the handwriting - the nuance in penmanship, the common phrasing, the clever or sarcastic tones - of those whose voices I can also immediately distinguish on the dreaded, dreaded phone. I love to open a card or letter and feel as though the particular stationary, drawn picture, or stamp was chosen or created just for me. I love those rare occasions when it seems I've said exactly what I wanted to say in my own penned compositions. Letters thus "speak to" and cultivate those relationships that matter...and also force us to give structure to thoughts floating around in our often multi-tasked and scattered minds.

And, while this expression of concern for others and articulation of self does not necessarily have to be evidenced in romantic gesture - in fact, I have a collection of letters from Caroline that mean more to me than most everything else I own - the idea of getting to know someone, and maybe even falling in love, through letters is a really beautiful, albeit antiquated and likely faulty in its own right, act. Who doesn't enjoy digging around in keepsake boxes and uncovering old love letters? Who wouldn't treasure finding those shared between their parents or grandparents? Who wouldn't secretly love to get one, even as a 31 year old who claims to be neither hopeless romantic nor "hugger for no particular reason"?

Answer: No one.

Suggestion: Write a love letter today...even if you never send it. Write one to your significant other, write one to your best friend, hell, write one to yourself.

Cleverly-crafted and beautifully-worded letters are one of the primary reasons I love Jane Austen so much. Despite loathing both impractically tight dresses and impossibly rigid gender expectations, I read Austen and think, "I want to go to a ball. I want to wait anxiously for a letter from the boy I met at said ball. I want to be rescued by a man in tails, who, on his stately horse, rescues me from the lonely field I have chosen to walk across on a bitterly cold, overcast day...and who then writes me a letter of inconspicuous adoration. Like I said, not one bit hopeless romantic...

So, in effect, Austen's work is my literary Gilmore Girls. She pays attention to banter. She is masterful with character development. She has witty heroines who can verbally compete with any suitor and who inevitably fall only for the one who challenges them most. She makes me want to be one of the characters. And, I simply love her way with words; I respect her sarcasm, her biting, but subtle, social critiques, the sophistication and depth of thought conveyed in formal expression, the fact that each time I read I find something new at which to giggle or scoff or nearly cry.
Some of my favorites from Pride & Prejudice...

"'Well, he certainly is very agreeable, and I give you leave to like him. You have liked many a stupider person.'"

"Bingley was quite uncomfortable; his sisters declared that they were miserable. They solaced their wretchedness, however, by duets after supper"

"Elizabeth took up some needlework, and was sufficiently amused in attending to what passed between Darcy and his companion. The perpetual recommendations of the lady either on his hand-writing, or on the evenness of his lines, or on the length of his letter, with the perfect unconcern with which her praises were received, formed a curious dialogue, and was exactly in unison with her opinion of each."

"'Nothing is more deceitful,' said Darcy, 'than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.'"

"She could only imagine however, at last, that she drew his notice because there was a something about her more wrong and reprehensible, according to his ideas of right, than in any other person present. The supposition did not pain her. She liked him too little to care for his approbation."

"After playing some Italian songs, Miss Bingley varied the charm by a lively Scotch air; and soon afterwards Mr. Darcy, drawing near Elizabeth, said to her, 'Do not you feel a great inclination, Miss Bennet, to seize such an opportunity of dancing a reel?' She smiled, but made no answer. He repeated the question, with some surprise at her silence. 'Oh!' she said, 'I heard you before; but I could not immediately determine what to say in reply. You wanted me, I know, to say yes that you might have the pleasure of despising my tastes, but I always delight in overthrowing those kind of schemes, and cheating a person of their premeditated contempt. I have therefore made up my mind to tell you that I do not want to dance a reel at all - and now despise me if you dare.'" One of my favorite covers (1880s edition)


  1. I fell in love with my husband via letters. Which are dearly treasured. :) And the letter he wrote when proposing to me... (and put in a floating bottle for me to find..) Romance is a wonderful thing.


    The Petersons favorite P&P quotes:

    "No one may leave this house until they have been sensible for five minutes running."


    "Oh Mr. Bennett! Have you no respect for my nerves?

    "Quite the contrary, my dear, they have been my constant companions these last 20 years."

  2. I loved this comment, Carri:) Are you serious, a floating bottle?! Smooth, Eric.

    Sensible for five minutes of my favorites as well.

    If I ever have kids, I hope they can quote Austen as well as yours:)

  3. A hand-written letter is one of life's joys! My daughter Caroline has always loved writing notes and letters and our sweet "correspondence" over the years is precious to me. We even have a little journal in which we write back and forth to each other, but we do individual notes and letters also. Although most of our letters are full of love and affection, one of my favorite letters from her is a sternly-written invective in which she lectures me about not spending enough time with her! Her argumentation skills are hilarious, and she certainly got her point across!

    As we study writers and historical figures, I try to convey to my students the importance letter-writing held in the daily lives of most people in the past (and how much we learn about them from reading their correspondence!), but they mostly seem amazed that people actually survived without cell phones, texting, etc. I ask them what their grandchildren will find in their attics-- not love letters and notes from friends and family, but old cell phone batteries and parts! Perhaps a letter-writing assignment should be in the works . . .

    Enjoyed this post very much! I laughed out loud at all the Austen quotes, and I can truly relate to your soft-spot for Austen scenes on the moors. I often kid Pete that someday he must wear tall boots, a loose white shirt, and a long coat to stride across the field at daybreak to tell me that I have "bewitched" him, body and soul. That scene in the Keira Knightly version of P&P will always, always take my breath away.

    There is so much truth in your statement that Austen "has witty heroines who can verbally compete with any suitor and who inevitably fall only for the one who challenges them most." Even in her era, she is able to give us the spunkiest heriones, and I love her for it.

    Thanks for all the posts this week! :-)

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  5. Melissa, I love (and appreciate) that you make me feel inspired every time I read your writing...inspired to be a more creative person, inspired to be a more genuine/less guarded writer, inspired to be a teacher who actually makes students think, inspired to be a better daughter/sister/heck, maybe even mother one day.

    Love, love each of the little tidbits - the idea of you and Caroline keeping a journal, the notion of telling kids or adults "what will people find in your attic?", EVERYTHING about the bewitching of Pete, and the adoration of spunky heroines.

    Thank YOU for this comment!

  6. What a wonderful idea to write a love letter!

    So many of us in this day and age forget that communicating in written form goes far beyond the typed word.

    Thank you!

  7. Hi, Gertie! Thanks so much for checking out my blog (and for supporting FOLK:)). I know it seems somewhat hypocritical for someone to talk about writing handwritten letters...via blogs, facebooks, and magazines, but I'm firmly believe there is middle ground. I don't deny the practicality (and general "fun-ness":)) of electronic media, I just try to balance that with personal messages, homemade goodies, and home-based projects. I like to have my pie and eat it, too:) Hope you wrote that love letter:)