Now, almost 3 years later, I have finished To the Letter by Simon Garfield. I read the book slowly and marked many pages with highlighter tabs to note particularly interesting bits - some repeated below.
I love the correspondence between Bessie Moore and Christopher Barker written while he was in the army during World War II. I will have to get Simon Garfield's book, My Dear Bessie which has more of the letters in than To the Letter. However, from To the Letter, I was able to garner wonder and emotion from these letters, for they contain humour, passion and concern:
"I am hanging on to the old old theory that no news is good news."
"Thanks for the letter, old-timer,I am sending this by Air Mail because it will have enough dull stuff in it to sink a Merchant ship."
"How can I tell you I want to implant myself; how my lips need to meet your flesh everywhere, to kiss your hair, your ears, your lips......."
" 'How do I feel?' - such a large question sweetheart, oh such a large question! So difficult for me to tell you."
So, what do letters mean? More snippets from the book:
According to Emily Dickinson - "A letter always feels to me like immortality because it is the mind alone without corporeal friend."
Katherine Mansfield wrote to a friend, "This is not a letter but my arms around you for a brief moment."
Ted Hughes describes letter-writing as "excellent training for conversation with the world."
"Without letters we risk losing sight of our history, or at least its nuance."
"Is a hand-held, ink-written letter more valuable to our sense of self and worth on the planet than something sent to a fortress of cables in the Midwest that likes to call itself a 'cloud'?"
A friend recommended The Why Factor, a radio programme broadcast on BBC World Service, and available online. One of the episodes was called Letters - broadcast a couple of years ago and had extracts of letters (including some between Bessie and Christopher). The programme spoke to John Steinbeck's son, Thomas about letters and letter-writing. From this episode, I do feel that letter-writing is a kind of armour against embarrassment for you can write words you may find difficulty in saying face-to-face. Also, I believe I am able to reveal myself more with ink on paper for I am a shy gal.
We are coming up to 2 years shy for the centenary of the end of World War I. I have been to see the Weeping Window at Caernarfon Castle.
One of the things I came across from doing citizen science was a project on the War Diaries of the British Army on the Western Front. The handwriting of the soldiers was neat although I was not used to all the handwriting styles used so took me a little while for me to decipher. The soldiers would have also sent many many letters home.
Their families grateful for every little bit of news from afar, even if it is about the weather. I wonder how many of these soldiers' families have kept these letters from World War I or even World War II (such as the family of Bessie and Christopher). Would the children of today be able to read them for many schools have discouraged or not taught joined up or cursive handwriting. Social and family history risk being lost. Will emails written today be treasured by generations to come?