Sir Philip Sidney begins a May 1578 letter, "Few words are best." Happily, Frank and Anita Kermode, the editors of this 500-page collection, disagree. Thanks to them, we can now guiltlessly eavesdrop on writers such as Elizabeth I, Pope, Keats, and the most verbal Marx Brother. When Warner Brothers objects to the title A Night in Casablanca, Groucho innocently responds, "I just don't understand your attitude. Even if you plan on re-releasing your picture, I am sure that the average movie fan could learn in time to distinguish between Ingrid Bergman and Harpo. I don't know whether I could, but I would certainly like to try." A paragraph later, Groucho tells the studio, "Professionally, we were brothers long before you were." The ironies just keep on coming.
But The Oxford Book of Letters goes beyond (actual, literary, and Hollywood) royalty. It also includes letters home from emigrants, "a sprightly Birmingham schoolmistress," and other uncelebrated individuals. Some are witty, others bizarre, and still others contain "jokes and teases that depend on a prior intimacy but can sometimes be enjoyed by the voyeur." In their fine introduction, the editors term 1700-1918 "the great age of letter-writing," though their selections from other eras are a long way from weak. They are right, however, about the fact that there will be fewer future epistolary contenders. Fortunately, this book--and the many from which it is pillaged--will still be on hand.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
The husband-and-wife editors (he is a former professor of English literature at Cambridge and editor of The Oxford Anthology of English Literature; she is a retired professor of English who has taught at various U.S. and British universities), have compiled a wonderful collection of some 300 letters written by Britons and Americans from 1535 to 1985. According to the Kermodes, the golden age of letter writing was from 1700 to 1918, and they therefore emphasize this period in their collection. There are selections from many well-known personages such as philosopher Edmund Burke, feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and writers Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens and Henry James, as well as selections from a number of lesser-known immigrants to Australia and South Africa who vividly describe their experiences. Included is a heartrending account of the death of the poet Shelley in a letter written by Mary Shelley to a friend. The majority of letters are from the writers' private correspondence and testify to the importance of letters in maintaining love affairs, friendships and family ties. An interesting and important record of a dying art.
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