Monday, 22 May 2017

Epistolary

Who writes letters now? I did, in my analogue youth. I was, I guess, playing at being grown up, because writing letters was what grown-ups did. I even had a pen-pal, Marie Delemotte, mention of whom has been previously made. (I was with her in London in 1992 on the day I met Anita Brookner - see 'A Fraudulent Encounter'.)

Brookner characters write letters - long, highly emotional letters they either later regret or do not send. We get to see them in all their horror, get to witness at close quarters the collapse of the Brooknerian reserve. They're terrifying performances. No one would want to receive such letters. There's one, a comparatively short one, in chapter 7 of Altered States, and the valediction gives something of its flavour: 'I am yours devotedly, in spite of, or rather because of, everything, Alan.'

With the publication of the letters of Philip Larkin and later of Kingsley Amis (both born in 1922), critics suggested the age of literary correspondence might be at an end. Of course we all still write to one another now - but differently, ephemerally, perhaps less stagily.

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