Saturday, September 6, 2008


Portrait of Katherine Mansfield
by Anne Estelle Rice, 1918

Lately, I have been curiously enamored with letters and
correspondence. I just finished reading through a stack of letters
written in the late 1960's by my dear grandmother to her two
youngest sons, my uncles, while they were away at school. It was her
last few years and I love her thoughts on life and her charming
descriptions of her day to day events. They are such a treasure. I
adore the touching letters between Helene Hanff and Frank Doel in
84 Charing Cross Road. And I just picked up a charming little copy
of Love Letters, selected and edited by Peter Washington, filled with
oodles of wonderful correspondence by notable historical figures,
everyone from Virginia Woolf to Napoleon Bonapart. Here is a
delightful excerpt from a letter from Katherine Mansfield to John
Middleton Murray, May 18, 1917.

When you came to tea this afternoon you took a brioche broke it
in half & padded the inside doughy bit with two fingers. You always
to that with a bun or a roll or a piece of bread -- It is you way -- your
head a little on one side the while ... When you opened your
suitcase I saw your old feltie and a French book and a comb all
higgledy piggledy -- 'Tig. I've only got three handkerchiefs' --
Why should that memory be so sweet to me...

I must read Katherine Mansfield's Journal. It was published
posthumously by her husband, John Middleton Murray in 1927 to
wide acclaim.


  1. I hope that we have not seen the last of wonderful old fashioned pen and paper letters! I am such a romantic. Do you think it is a dying art?

  2. I still write occasional letters in longhand with fountain pen on vellum stationary and love every minute of it. (I miss the spellcheck tool though) Lovely post and what a wonderful portrait!

  3. I'm mad about the portrait. I love the colors and the simplicity of it

    I'm putting the book on my list to look for at the library. I'd like to know more about this interesting woman.

  4. Isn't the portrait terrific?! I love, love, love it! I can't stop staring at it. It's perfect. I need to see what else Anne Estelle Rice has done.

  5. Ahhhh, Love Letters, love it. Sigh.

    My husband and I had a long distance courtship... I've saved all of our love letters.

  6. I love reading letters. I enjoyed reading John Adams's, Benjamin Franklin's and Thomas Jefferson's letters. I especially adore their command of the English language. My favorite letter of all time is Abraham Lincoln's letter to Mrs. Bixby. I kept all the letters my Mother , Father and sisters and brothers wrote to me when I first came to the U.S. I treasure them.

  7. I love history and to me that’s the best way to learn about it, from letters and correspondence.

  8. You probably know this already but, you have an incredible blog!! Oh my, I will have to get a cup of tea and visit for a while. Hope you don't mind. : )

    Ps: Thank you so for sharing the beautiful letters.

  9. Hello !
    Très jolie enveloppe... Elle fait TRES mystérieuse...

  10. I am very much afraid that handwritten letters will go the way of the ocean steamers!
    I continue to write letters. I use a fountain pen, the words just glide along with it. Envelopes, though, always with a ballpoint, ever since one fine Christmas I got one of my letters back, way late in January, because the ink written address had been literally washed off! Somehow, on its journey over the ocean, the letter had come in contact with water! Thank heaven, I had used my prestamped address labels, so they could return it to me (amazing!).

    Here's a picture of some cards I wrote not too long ago, which I posted in an envelope.

    "84 Charing Cross Road" is among my favorite movies! I discovered it by accident, checking the video out at the library because Anthony Hopkins was in it. A friend told me that it was based on a book, which I then read with great pleasure.

  11. i am an avid reader of my grannie's letters! i have them all in the drawer of my night stand!

  12. I write letters, almost on a daily basis. At least that's my goal. Like you I am really afraid that this is a dying art. Let's make it live!.

    Thanks for a beautiful post.

  13. Fascinating stuff. I have a lot of the letters that my paternal grandfather sent home to his wife and children during WWII. He was in the Royal Navy and was involved in the sinking of the Bismarck. The way he describes it first hand is far more powerful than any historical account. I just wish his handwriting was better as much is unintelligible! Mind you, how well would I write on board a ship under fire in a fjord?

  14. It's a digital world. I can't remember the last letter I wrote, just postcards and birthday cards. I can't live without my spill check.

  15. There is something about reading letters...especially those written by and to people we don't actually know.

    Have you read the Griffin & Sabine trilogy? Or The 3000 Mile Garden? I recommend both...

    I love receiving letters...I do hope it isn't a dying art.

  16. how nice to be able to read and enjoy your grandmother's letters. i have letters that my dad wrote to his mom while he was stationed in japan after wwII. he was part of gen. mac arthur's honor guard and told some very interesting stories in his letters. i cherish them so much!

  17. The art of letter writing is all but gone. I love old letters and I have kept many from a few years ago before email was invented. ;0)

  18. Long live the hand written letter. Not that the handwritten letter will ever die, in my lifetime anyway. Fountain pens arise and wash the world with your illustrious ink.
    I loved reading about correspondances that you were recapturing.
    I have a wonderful story about found envelopes & letters and stories and pictures that travelled between California and Italy. I think I'll post this soon.Great post Willow.

  19. The Groucho Letters is a great book. He was a wonderful, witty (no surprise there), correspondent.
    It's the only collection I have besides 84, CCR.

    Now, with Vanity Fair's recent issue of Marilyn's found files, there's the thrill of long lost letters. your new header a Vermeer?

  20. I love Groucho. I love him singing "Lydia the Tatooed Lady". I must read his letters! Thanks for the suggestion, Phil!

    My header is actually a piece by the British artist Carlton Alfred Smith.

  21. Those letters must freeze the life of the paper they're written on.

    Quaint indeed.

  22. Merisi, that's a beautiful photo of your desk and letters! I love to see people's desks, what books are stacked there and favorite objects.

  23. alas - I fear the art of letter writing is fading - the idea that we call it an 'art' is a pretty good indicator - I have my grandmother's girlhood diaries she kept growing up on a homestead - amazing - I was actually in a production of '84 Charing Cross Road' - a fabulous story.

  24. Steve, you grandfather's war letters sound so intriguing!! I'm afraid my handwriting might be a little garbled, too, under the same set of circumstances! :)

  25. Stephen, yes, do post about that CA - Italy correspondence! I'll be eagerly waiting. :)

  26. Diva, I was hoping that you would mention "The 3000 Mile Garden" again. You suggested it to me earlier and I made a note of it...somewhere...but couldn't find it. I'm making a library reserve before I lose it again! Thank you! :)

  27. How wonderful to have these letters and to have a peep into the life of your Grandmother through them.

    Congrats. on your awards and I am truly honoured that you thought of me.

    Glad you caught the blue sky, I must imprint it on my memory.

  28. willow i am glad to have found your manor. My oldest daughter was away for the very first time during the summer having found a job in the city where she attends university. I was determined to write letters during the 10 weeks she was gone and I must admit it was so difficult! I was successful but it is a dying art.

  29. Willow, I've posted another photo of Ste. Chapelle - the exterior.

  30. I loved 84 Charing Cross and in my life have always gravitated to diaries, letters between friends, lovers or enemies. I was the most hesitant about e-mail, as I used to be a letter writer. I spent hours picking stationery, buying pretty stamps and pens and ink. I now keep in touch MORE than with letters (it was usually a one way thing anyway), and find thatthe blog world has opened up the "journals" of more strangers and friends than I could possibly have seen otherwise.

    But I still prefer the feel of pen on paper, and have a respectable amount of fountain pens and blank books waiting to be filled. journaling has been the single thing that I have done consistantly for the last 40 years,and I have every single one of them (about 400) save about 2 that I have lost along the way. I remember those losses as if they were losing limbs. Love having found a kindred soul!

    Here is a blog site you might like.

  31. Sydney, I know what you mean about emailing keeping me more in touch than the old fashioned letters. And I, like you, loved writing them. And I agree, I am fascinated by the whole sphere of blogging. It is a combination of journals and correspondence of a broader sphere than I ever could have imagined!

  32. Dear Willow, sorry to be so late in getting here! And thank you for the award, what a lovely surprise, you are very kind.

    I really love that pic of Katharine Mansfield and like you I also enjoy letters and journals, they are a real insight into an author's life. I will seek out the titles you mention.

    PS. Re your question.
    It is only our second 'big' flood in eleven years so I mustn't complain. (Still praying for dry weather though!)

  33. It's a beautiful post, willow, which is the more poignant when one remembers the circumstances under which several historical figures put thoughts to pen to paper.

    And marvellous portrait, too.

    Greetings from London.

  34. Willow, in the letters and/or diaries of Virginia Woolf, you'll find some interesting stuff on her relationship with KM, who Woolf considered her only serious living rival during KM's too short lifetime. Woolf's famous initial impression on meeting KM: "We could both wish that one’s first impression of KM was not that she stinks like a – well civet cat that has taken to street walking.”

    I have no idea how or if a civet cat stinks.

    That is indeed a lovely portrait of KM.

  35. Civet cat? Hmmm...I'll have to look that up. Sounds like Ms. Woolf was a wee tad jealous, doesn't it?!

  36. Funny you mention letters...I just started reading a book last night called Adventures of a Hollywood Secretary. It's a collection of private letters of a secretary of Samuel Goldwyn's during the 1920s and the transition from silent films to talkies, the Jazz age and movie star gossip.

    It's like being a voyeur and already I can't put this little book down. There's something about reading someone's letters that just cuts to the heart of the matter.

  37. This sounds like a book I would love, especially since I'm so into letters right now. I'm adding it to my library list...thanks for the suggestion! :)

    Yes, I like the way you put it...letters do "cut to the heart of the matter".

  38. OMG. You are blessed to be able to read these. How wonderful!

  39. I would love to read that book too, finding letters so fascinating as you know. What tresaure to have those ones you have.


Inject a few raisins of conversation into the tasteless dough of existence.
― O. Henry (and me)