At a party one night in New York, the then-young heroine and wife-to-be in Rafael Yglesias’ A Happy Marriage exclaims to her suitor:
“Don’t call! Write me a letter. That’s what’s wrong with men and women today. There’s no letter writing. We need to get back to the way it was in Jane Austen’s day.”
I think a great many people bemoan or “complain about the lost art of letter writing now that we’re all busy texting and tweeting and Facebooking and whatever” as Jenna Krajeski writes at The Book Bench.
What is lost is the opportunity for the letter writer to compose a reasoned expression of an idea, an experience, to speculate and describe in more than a word or two a series of events or beliefs. There is also the loss to the recipient who has the pleasure of reading the account, giving it some thought, and then replying in turn.
The historian also loses the record of the exchange, one that makes it possible for others, regardless of their purpose, to learn about the exchange and the relationship between the correspondents.
Krajeski points us in the direction of a Web site, Letters of Note that “…is an attempt to gather and sort fascinating letters, postcards, telegrams, faxes, and even emails.” (I am not quite sure how Shaun Usher, the letter collector, manages to obtain copies of emails, unless those who write them are in the practice of saving their gems.) Letters of Note has links to its most read letters and a set of categories that include art, cinema, law, politics, religion, technology, etc.
Krajeski writes optimistically, “Maybe it will renew young folk’s interest in the dying art.” I wouldn’t bet on it--that is for sure. It is hard enough to read a full page of electronic text, let alone compose one of equal length, electronic or otherwise.
Of course, you could also go in search of Jen Hofer, who recently set-up a letter writing stand in New York’s Union Square. Just head over her way, tell her what you’d like to say and to whom, and bingo for $3.00 she will write, address, and stamp the letter for you. Perhaps it won’t be long before she or someone else creates a Web site where the letter-writing-challenged can do the same.
This will no doubt lead to a letter writing Renaissance that will please historians and letter writing collectors and that may turn out, after all, to confirm Karjeski’s prediction that the letter writing traditions of yesteryear will make a comeback.