It always saddens me to learn of letters burned or destroyed; including those we will never see because Jane Austen’s sister destroyed them after Jane’s death.  Here Edmund de Waal tells us of what may have been an epistolic treasure trove burned by his grandmother. 

And he notes she was an advocate for the letter, which makes one wonder what prompted her to burn them. 

There are the places in the memory you do not wish to go with others.  In the 1960s, my grandmother Elisabeth, so assiduous in her letter-writing, such an advocate for the letter (‘write again, write more fully’), burnt the hundreds of letters and notes she had received from her poetic grandmother Evelina.  

Letters take time and effort to write, but there is something precious about doing so and it provides a snapshot of your own state of mind and state of life at the time of writing.  After repeatedly failed attempts to write a journal, I am increasingly using copies of my letters as an alternative version.

And how great a pleasure it is to find one in the letterbox – hand-addressed envelope, stamped rather than franked, sometimes responding to things said or asked months before. 

Letters are a dying art, and it’s doubtful if they are being replaced as a detailed repository of memory and thought by the ephemera of social media.  

Source: Edmund de Waal, The Hare with Amber Eyes: A hidden inheritance (London: Chatto & Windus, 2010), p. 347


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