Adventures in Letter Writing No. 40: Soapbox No. 2

The other thing I’d like to ponder is Letters Live if we could. A part of me thinks “It’s completely brilliant, star-studded, what a clever idea, I wish I’d thought of that”, but another part feels really uncomfortable about it. I guess it might be because I want us to remember what it was like to do an intimate thing like send a letter to just one other person, and having it read out to a two thousand (maybe more) strong audience is rather a paradox in my mind. To be fair I haven’t been to one of the shows so I don’t know if they come with a caveat that how the performers read them might not necessarily be the way the writer intended, and I think I’ve said before I could quite happily listen to Benedict Cumberbatch read the Telephone Directory (is there a “Directory Live”?), but there seems something voyeuristic about listening to other people’s letters read aloud.

It is a dilemma because if they weren’t published or read or spoken then some amazing gems would be lost to the world, but in a way they were personal, private gems. Should they stay personal and private? I know you could argue that in most cases the writer is dead and the estate or family have given permission (not sure it’s theirs to give?) to publish them but I don’t think they were ever intended to be published. If you write a letter thinking one day the whole world might read it it loses that freedom and flow and intimacy. Doesn’t it? It’s fine to be written for an audience but it’s a different mindset.  Writing this is quite different from writing to a friend. I’m honestly as taken as the next person by the thought of an A-list celebrity reading out a well-crafted letter (let alone perhaps one of mine when I’m dead and gone). I’m not immune to vanity but the thought of someone actually reading some of my personal letters out to the world slightly gives me a cold sweat.  Hence, why we have to make a promise that we won’t share online the letters we receive. We need to raise up the bar of trust everso slightly, don’t we?

Maybe letters are meant to be lost forever. Even writing that I’m not sure I totally believe it but it’s an interesting thought. Well, ok, not lost but private. What made me question the whole Letters Live thing was watching Tom Hiddleston on YouTube reading out one of Gerald Durrell’s letters to Lee McGeorge. Tom is lovely, the concept of Letters Live is lovely, but other people, who the letter was never intended for, guffawing over Gerald’s deepest darkest secrets and dilemmas gave me a sad sinking feeling. I wondered if Gerald could’ve made contact from the grave he would be screaming “Get your own intimate letters! Keep your hands off mine!”

And anyway, I also thought even if we can’t read their actual letters and we feel they would be “lost” if they aren’t published, they aren’t really. Those personal intimate letters will have had an effect on the sender and recipient, and although we won’t have seen the letter, we will have seen the effects of them indirectly in the actions and lives of people we’re admiring through what they achieved and who they were.

So I don’t know. If letters are written for publication that’s great. If they aren’t, doesn’t that just make us a load of nosy parkers?




4 thoughts on “Adventures in Letter Writing No. 40: Soapbox No. 2

  1. Tom Hitt says:

    I too am conflicted about the subject of broadcasting letters. My emotional fallback position is, if you place pen to paper, you create a more permanent log of your own thoughts, as opposed to simply having an unrecorded conversation. It is assumed that you write the thoughts of your own free will, not under duress. Once created, there is always the possibility that your letters will fall under eyes for which they was never intended.

    As to letters published and read aloud after the author’s death; I have no problem with that. I am fairly certain that none of my own personal correspondence will ever be selected for the deep insights they might provide to the living. ~Tom~

  2. Samuel says:

    Letters are an important part of history – I don’t think they should be off limits to biography or human culture. Granted some are more sensitive than others but as long as the author/recipient are either dead or have given permission, and it is not unkind to any other living person, I think it’s ok. I’m conflicted about Letters Live though…I went to the first one and, despite celebrity readers and a large(ish) venue, it was still informal and intimate. Delightful. I went to one about a year or so later and it seemed so staged and glamorous – so unlike the quiet intimacy that reading letters creates. I wondered how many in the very large audience were there because of the celebrities rather than for a love of letters. What a wonderful way to remind people of this form of communication – but it put me off.

    1. D1nah_ says:

      It’s really tricky isn’t it. You’re right about biography and human culture (I think). I am quite undecided still about the whole Letters Live thing. I can see the difference you must have felt from the very first one to the one about a year ago. There’s something hugely attractive about the whole thing and it must be very lucrative and maybe it’s done with all the best intentions of “culture” but we’re such a “share, share, share” mindset these days, I just felt it would be nice to try to connect more intimately hence the Society. Maybe I’m just being uptight for the sake of it. Weirdly I have the same feeling when archaeologists on the telly dig up ancient graves and have the skeleton laid out in front of them, like they’ve somehow missed the point about the fact that someone laid their loved-one in the ground, even if it was thousands of years ago, but “Hey! Look at all this information we’ve gleaned!” We should write to discuss it more!? Thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings nonetheless. Dinah

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