September 26, 2016 | by T.S. Eliot
Happy 128th, T. S. Eliot. Here’s a letter he wrote to the poet Stephen Spender in June 1932. Eliot had argued, in his religious essay “Thoughts After Lambeth,” that young people needed to be taught “chastity, humility, austerity, and discipline.” Spender wrote him to dispute that notion; the below is Eliot’s rebuttal. This excerpt comes from The Letters of T. S. Eliot: Volume 6, edited by John Haffenden.
I can’t agree that religion provides such an effective escape as you seem to think. The great majority of people find their escape in easier ways; there are a great many unimaginative, selfish and lazy people who profess to be religious, but a vastly greater number who are not … All of the middle classes want to be gentlemen, and being a gentleman is incompatible with holding any strong religious convictions; with the latter, one must at least be prepared sooner or later to commit some ungentlemanly act. And for one person who escapes through religion into a “sentimental dreamland,” there are thousands who escape by reading novels, by looking at films, or best of all, by driving very fast on land or in air, which makes even dreams unnecessary. Read More »
September 21, 2016 | by H. G. Wells
In honor of H. G. Wells’s sesquicentennial, here’s a letter he wrote to James Joyce in November 1928, brought to light a few years ago by Letters of Note. The note finds Wells reacting, irascibly if not uncharitably, to early passages of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, which had by then begun to circulate in literary magazines.
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September 9, 2016 | by Stéphane Mallarmé
Stéphane Mallarmé died 118 years ago today. He wrote the letter below to his friend Eugène Lefébure, in May 1867, at age twenty-five, when he was working as a teacher in the provinces. It was, apparently, stressful, and Mallarmé came to feel that he’d entered “the Void”—a liberating (albeit terrifying) abyss of constant, torturous renewal. His Selected Letters are edited and translated from the French by Rosemary Lloyd.
This is what I heard my neighbor say this morning, as she pointed to the window on the opposite side of the street from her: “Gracious me! Madame Ramaniet ate asparagus yesterday.” “How can you tell?” “From the pot she’s put outside her window.” Isn’t that the provinces in a nutshell? Its curiosity, its preoccupations, and that ability to see clues in the most meaningless things—and such things, great gods! Fancy having to confess that mankind, by living one on top of the other, has reached such a pass!!—I’m not asking for the wild state, because we’d be obliged to make our own shoes and bread, while society permits us to entrust those tasks to slaves to whom we pay salaries, but I find intoxication in exceptional solitude … I’ll always reject all company so that I can carry my symbol wherever I go and, in a room full of beautiful furniture just as in the countryside, I can feel myself to be a diamond which reflects everything, but which has no existence in itself, something to which you are always forced to return when you welcome men, even if only to put yourself on the defensive … Read More »
August 26, 2016 | by Christopher Isherwood
Christopher Isherwood, born on this day in 1904, met a teenager on the beach in Santa Monica in the early 1950s. It was Don Bachardy, with whom Isherwood began one of the first openly gay relationships in Hollywood. In their love letters, the pair adopted pet names and, with them, exaggerated identities: Isherwood became “Dobbin” and Bachardy “Kitty.” Their correspondence is published in The Animals: Love Letters Between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy, edited by Katherine Bucknell. The excerpt below is from a March 1963 letter from Isherwood.
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August 17, 2016 | by Ted Hughes
August 12, 2016 | by Radclyffe Hall
The below comes from a love letter dated October 24, 1934, sent by the English writer Radclyffe Hall to Evguenia Souline, a Russian émigré. Hall, best known for her 1928 novel The Well of Loneliness, wrote with unprecedented openness about her lesbian identity; she often went by the name John. Though she lived with Una Troubridge, pictured above, she carried on a long love affair with Souline. Her letters to Souline are collected in Your John: The Love Letters of Radclyffe Hall, edited by Joanne Glasgow.
Why is it that the people I write of are so very often lonely people? Are they? I think that perhaps you may be right. I greatly feel the loneliness of the soul—nearly every soul is more or less lonely. Then again: I have been called the writer of “misfits.” And it may be that being myself a “misfit,” for as you know, beloved, I am a born invert, it may be that I am a writer of “misfits” in one form or another—I think I understand them—their joys & their sorrows, indeed I know I do, and all the misfits of this world are lonely, being conscious that they differ from the rank and file. When we meet you & I will talk of my work and you shall be my critic, my darling. If you wish to you shall be very rude—but I do hope you like your John’s work just a little. I want you to like my work, Soulina. Read More »