Take A Letter, Maria

The explosion of email has made many Luddites (hi, Dad!) complain that the art of letter-writing is gone forever. Not so, I say; emails, when written with care, can be just as creative, informative, and loving as the best of snail mail (hi, Dad, again!).

Writing letters was a crucial part of any lady’s day; she couldn’t just pick up the phone and call her girlfriend in London. She had to sit down at her escritoire, locate a sheet of paper and a freshly-sharpened pen, and write. We have letters from the period available to read, and they are as mundane as what the family ate for dinner the night before and as provocative as detailing the pros and cons of various suitors.

Letters are an easy way to tell a story, albeit an overdone one; the bane of Cara‘s existence, Samuel Richardson‘s Clarissa, is written entirely in letters. Current Regency authors frequently use letters to reveal characters’ history without doing the dreaded backstory dump.

And, coincidentally enough (honestly! I started writing this post first!), I’ve just started reading Karen Ranney‘s Till We Meet Again, with a crucial plot point revolving around the identity of the person who wrote some letters. Our own Janet‘s Dedication has that as well.

Do you still write letters? How about creative, interesting and correctly-written emails? Do you like reading letters in books? Which are your favorites?

Be sure and sign up for the all-new Riskies newsletter at riskies@yahoo.com, with “newsletter” in the subject line. You’ll get mail!


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Janet Mullany
15 years ago

Megan, where did you get the graphic of the crossed letter, and whose letter is it?
I love getting real letters but they’re very rare these days. I use e-mail almost exclusively and I’m not even sure I could write a full-length letter (particularly without errors, by hand).

Keira Soleore
15 years ago

I’m a huge fan of handwritten letters. I love receiving them. I prefer typing my letters, but do regularly send handwritten ones, too.

Reading letters in books can be tricky. It can easily be overdone and then it’s a yawner for me. Quick shorts bursts, or a longish one once in a while is nice change in pace.

However, to compare it with an opera example: The letter is like the aria where the plot slow down or sometimes doesn’t move forward. The rest of the book is like the recitative, the story clips along at a reasonable rate.

Megan, are you blogging for Janet today, or are Wednesdays going to be your thing?

Megan Frampton
15 years ago

I am blogging for Elena–Janet is tomorrow. Elena takes my place on Friday.

I love that you noticed, Keira!

Janet, I got the crossed letter from one of the Jane Austen associations that showed an example of a crossed letter. Not sure if it was Jane herself’s.

15 years ago

Aaaah! That song is now in my head!
Quick, somebody mention something else that’s catchy but not quite so evil.

See? Snail mail in this situation would just be cruel.

Susan Wilbanks
15 years ago

I think my husband and I may have been the last couple in the world to have courted by correspondence of the non-electronic kind. We met ten years ago at the international volunteer welcome conference for a one-year program in the UK, and it was fairly close to love at first sight. Intrigue at first conversation, at least.

In any case, I was working in Bristol, and he spent the fall in Haverfordwest in Wales and then went to Reading for the rest of the year. Neither of us had good internet access, so we wrote. At least at first, we wrote 10-15 page letters 2 or 3 times per week. We saved them all, so maybe our grandchildren will enjoy them someday.

15 years ago

Keira’s opera example leads me to this:
One of the many unfinished books on my shelf is a collection of Mozart’s letters, praised highly by Hermann Hesse and other German authors. They are indeed great, if somewhat repetitive. (But, then again, they’re not MEANT to tell a story and have to deal with trivial reality.)
Anyway, much of what we know about Beethoven we know from the notebooks – he was deaf, after all, and people communicated with him by writing. He answered verbally.
THAT, I think, would be an interesting approach to a novel.
Your friend, the Idea man,

15 years ago

It is rare that I ever get a letter. My cousin still writes in that cross letter fashion. Her letters at Christmas and Easter start in the center and, in order to not have to go to a second sheet, begin to wind around the paper or card itself. Sometimes this goes on for more than one line.

Why doesn’t she just write a two page letter? I guess because it’s expensive and, on some level, considered wasteful to send such a letter from her cloistered convent in Italy.

I’m just happy I can still read her teeny tiny European styled cursive writing. Their letters are written in a more flowery hand than ours, IMO.


15 years ago

I rarely write letters anymore although Megan can attest to the fact that I am long-winded and have been known to have to write on all the white space and then you’ll find that arrow at the bottom that means ‘turn this over’ and voila, more words.

Depending on what I’m wishing to say to another person, I think my e-mails are much more personal in nature and I have been told the writing is true to the way I talk. So no. I don’t look to grammar etc when writing my e-mails but I figure if my friends can tell who the e-mail is from without looking at the ‘sender’ then my job is done.


15 years ago

Hmm, letters, what are they again? It’s been ages since I’ve actually wrote anything that isn’t an email. And the once or twice that I did it in the past few years, I noticed I put the 🙂 and the LOLs. Geez. LOL Not to mention while my handwritting wasn’t great before (at least according to teachers), it feels like it sucks now because all I really do anymore is type or play with the mouse. Boy have times changed. 🙂


15 years ago

I have had “Take a Letter, Maria,” stuck in my head for two days now.

This calls for some strong brain-wash. Say, Neil Diamond. If that doesn’t work I’ll stoop to the Carpenters.

I have to get rid of this song. Seriously.

Megan Frampton
15 years ago


I am so, so sorry. Although since the Sopranos ended, I’ve had Journey in my head, and I HATE JOURNEY!

Today someone went by blasting Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” from their car.

The pain continues.

15 years ago

Earl would say that’s karma. Bwa-ha-ha-ha.

But I think there’s a deeper cosmic question to be asked:
Why is it the awful stuff that sticks?

Would Lizzie Bennet have woken up with a sonnet’s refrain, or at least the jig from last evening’s assembly, running through her head instead of Journey?

15 years ago

I love letters in books – either as epistolary (sp?) novels – or just one or two. My favorite ep. novel was Daddy Long Legs.

I loved the letters as prologue in Laura Kinsale’s book (though the rest of the book did not live up to the letters) and in Connie Brockway’s book.

I also LOVE reading collections of letters from 19th century/18th century women.


15 years ago

I used to write letters frequently–particularly when I was in college, but I continued doing so for many years. I used to write my girlfriend letters when I traveled abroad, though alas, I sometimes came home before the letters arrived. 🙂

Nowadays I write letters much more infrequently, though I send cards with briefer notes fairly often. But I think emails can be just as good as letters, if one spends sufficient care on them…

On the other hand, I read a selection of Charles Lamb’s letters recently, and I think very few letters like that will every be written again. The world is too small, and it is too easy to convey news in other ways, especially by phone–or just by driving over.


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