A Collection of Compelling + Fascinating Letters from History
From the editor of the New York Times bestseller and instant classic Letters of Note comes the companion book Letters of Note: Volume 2. Shaun Usher compiled more than 125 captivating letters, and the result is a collection of correspondence that spans centuries and place—written by the famous, the not-so-famous, and the downright infamous.
To give you a taste of this splendid book, here are three letters to pore over: Ursula Le Guin to John Radziewicz, Bertha Brewster to Daily Telegraph, and Jack London to Anna Strunsky.
Ursula Le Guin to John Radziewicz
In 1987, multi-award-winning author Ursula Le Guin was asked to supply a blurb for Synergy: New Science Fiction, Volume 1, the first in a new four-part series of anthologies edited by George Zebrowski intended to showcase science fiction stories from authors both established and up-and-coming. And here is her response.
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
111 5th Ave
New York NY 10003
Dear Mr. Radziewicz,
I can imagine myself blurbing a book in which Brian Aldiss, predictably, sneers at my work, because then I could preen myself on my magnanimity. But I cannot imagine myself blurbing a book, the first of a new series and hence presumably exemplary of the series, which not only contains no writing by women, but the tone of which is so self-contentedly, exclusively male, like a club, or a locker room. That would not be magnanimity, but foolishness. Gentlemen, I just don’t belong here.
Ursula K. Le Guin
Bertha Brewster to Daily Telegraph
Not until the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act in 1928 were women in the UK finally given the same voting rights as men. Campaigners had been pushing for such a development for decades. However, progress had been far too slow for some. In 1903, a small group of frustrated activists, headed by Emmeline Pankhurst, broke away from the Suffragists and chose to attack the system more aggressively by smashing windows, burning down buildings, and chaining themselves to Buckingham Palace, all in an effort to be heard, even if it did mean spending time in prison—and for one of these “suffragettes,” Emily Davison, death, when she stepped in front of King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby. On February 26, 1913, with the protests as forceful as ever, this letter appeared in the Daily Telegraph, written by a suffragette named Bertha Brewster.
Everyone seems to agree upon the necessity of putting a stop to Suffragist outrages; but no one seems certain how to do so. There are two, and only two, ways in which this can be done. Both will be effectual.
1. Kill every woman in the United Kingdom.
2. Give women the vote.
Jack London to Anna Strunsky
April 3, 1901
Jack London (1876–1916) and Anna Strunsky (1877–1964) first met in 1899 at Stanford University, instantly connecting on an intellectual level, and four years later they would co-author an epistolary novel, The Kempton-Wace Letters, in which a poet and scientist discuss love through correspondence. Though it’s thought that their relationship remained platonic, London and Strunsky had very strong feelings for each other, as evidenced by this letter, written in 1901, at which point London was married to another woman. He went on to become, thanks to novels such as The Call of the Wild (1903) and White Fang (1906), one of the most famous authors of his generation. In 1917, following his untimely death, Strunsky wrote Memoirs of Jack London.
Did I say that the human might be filed in categories? Well, and if I did, let me qualify—not all humans. You elude me. I cannot place you, cannot grasp you. I may boast that of nine out of ten, under given circumstances, I can forecast their action; that of nine out of ten, by their word, or action, I may feel the pulse of their hearts. But the tenth I despair. It is beyond me. You are that tenth.
Were ever two souls, with dumb lips, more incongruously matched! We may feel in common—surely, we ofttimes do—and when we do not feel in common, yet do we understand; and yet we have no common tongue. Spoken words do not come to us. We are unintelligible. God must laugh at the mummery.
The one gleam of sanity through it all is that we are both large temperamentally, large enough to often misunderstand. True, we often understand but in vague glimmering ways, by dim perceptions, like ghosts, which, while we doubt, haunt us with their truth. And still, I, for one, dare not believe; for you are that tenth which I may not forecast.
Am I unintelligible now? I do not know. I imagine so. I cannot find the common tongue.
Largely temperamentally—that is it. It is the one thing that brings us at all in touch. We have, flashed through us, you and I, each a bit of the universal, and so we draw together. And yet we are so different.
I smile at you when you grow enthusiastic? It is a forgivable smile—nay, almost an envious smile. I have lived twenty-five years of repression. I learned not to be enthusiastic. It is a hard lesson to forget. I begin to forget, but it is so little. At the best, before I die, I cannot hope to forget all or most. I can exult, now that I am learning, in little things, in other things; but of my things, and secret things double mine, I cannot, I cannot. Do I make myself intelligible? Do you hear my voice? I fear not. There are poseurs. I am the most successful of them all.
– – –
You can watch some of the letters being performed live in the links below:
- Gillian Anderson reading a letter by Helen Keller
- Benedict Cumberbatch reading a letter by Alan Turing
- Andrew Scott reading a letter by Spike Milligan to George Harrison
- Geoffrey Palmer reading a letter by Evelyn Waugh to his wife
To read hundreds of more letters like these, be sure to check out Letters of Note: Volume 2 today.
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