Good Reading : April 2006
18 goodreading ı APRIL 2006 What with the telephone, email, and now – God save the mark – texting, will anyone ever write letters again? We shall have lost a lot, if that is the case: The Collected Emails of Martin Amis or Selected Text Messages of Yann Martel may not car ry the same resonance as The Collected Letters of Henry James. And apart from the media, there are other considera- tions – the letters of Horace Walpole occupy fifty volumes, in the famous Yale edition. Who has the time, these days, to write enough letters to fill fifty books? Happily, if no one does ever write another letter, we have plenty to be going on with. Apart from Walpole, there are tens of thousands of letters from Ber nard Shaw, eleven thousand or so from EM Forster, six huge volumes from Virginia Woolf, and even DH Lawrence, who died when he was in his forties, wrote enough letters to fill six plump volumes (some from Australia, ‘a weird place ... it seems so old.’) But should we be reading letters at all? There was a lot of controversy when, not too long after his death, Keats’s love letters to Fanny Brawne were published. They were so intimate, so pained and painful that to read them seemed an unforgivable intrusion into the grief of a dying man – even after The art of correspondence — real correspondence, involving pen and paper, possibly vellum — is sadly all but lost. But collections and selections of letters published in book form preserve some of the best examples of a bygone form of communication. DEREK PARKER unearths the pick. dear friend, Jane Austen’s sketch of her niece Fanny Charles Dickens John Keats The handwriting above belongs to Elizabeth I (above left) and Oscar Wilde (above right), writing to John Ruskin.