Gaskell has many Jane Austen touches in cheerily summing up lightweight characters. But inconsequent as the letter and the writer might be, letters themselves were a lifeline of news and contact. People would sit together while one of them read out a letter that had been received (skipping over anything too personal).

‘The next morning brought Margaret a letter from Edith. It was affectionate and inconsequent like the writer.’

Source: Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South (London: John Murray, 1925), p. 277

‘The receipt of Cynthia’s letters made very agreeable events. She did not write often, but her letters were tolerably long when they did come, and very sprightly in tone.’

Source: Elizabeth Gaskell, Wives and Daughters (London: Penguin Classics, 1986 (1866)), p. 496

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