Yes, there is that small ceremony that precedes the reading of a letter, particularly a hand-written one delivered by post.  You look at the envelope, the stamps, the hand-writing (familiar or new?), the franking date and place.  Then you open it and examine the paper and writing.  Is it a short note or a long letter?  Legible or scrawled?

Only then do you begin reading.

At least, that’s how I do it, as I cherish hand-written letters.  Not because they have become a rarity, but because they have magic about them.  I treasured them even when they were the standard form of long distance communication.

And of course, in this case, we know that the letter was pregnant with possibility and could change the lives of the sender and the recipient. Perhaps the care and detail with which Austen describes the pre-reading, including the time at which it was written, underscores the letter’s momentous import.

‘Elizabeth opened the letter, and to her still increasing wonder, perceived an envelope containing two sheets of letter paper, written quite through, in a very close hand. The envelope itself was like-wise full. Pursuing her way along the lane, she then began it.  It was dated from Rosings, at eight o’clock in the morning.’

Source: Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice (Oxford, World’s Classics, 2008; 1813), p 150


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