'Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be'
Please excuse my manners as I empty a bag of letters on your doorstep and flee
Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers, “Please will you do my job for me.”
C. S. Lewis Letter to a young fan named Joan Lancaster June 1956
Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure will she have for it even as an accomplishment and a recreation. To those duties you have not yet been called, and, when you are, you will be less eager for celebrity.
Robert Southey Letter to Charlotte Brontë 12th March 1837 (10 years before Jane Eyre)
Oh, Henry, I can’t bear to be writing you—I want you desperately, I want to open my legs so wide, I’m melting and palpitating. I want to do things so wild with you that I don’t know how to say them.
Anaïs Nin Letter to Henry Miller 6th August 1932
I would rather be a dog’s or a pig’s wife than yours!
Miwnay Letter to her husband, Nanai-dhat 4th Century
Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shining and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one's sense of one's own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man's world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar: and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations.
James Baldwin Letter to his nephew 1962
I have the villain of a headache, my eyes are two piss holes in the sand, my tongue is fish-and-chip paper.
Dylan Thomas, mid-hangover Letter to Trevor Hughes One Spring morning, 1934
DO NOT, repeat DO NOT be so bloody vulnerable. To hell with God damned “L’Amour.” It always causes far more trouble than it is worth. Don’t run after it. Don’t court it. Keep it waiting off stage until you’re good and ready for it and even then treat it with the suspicious disdain that it deserves.
Noël Coward Letter to Marlene Dietrich 1956
Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.
Kurt Vonnegut Letter to Xavier High School 5th November 2006
If the felicity of last night has had the same effect on your health as on my countenance, you have no cause to lament your failure of resolution, for I have seldom seen so much live fire running about my features as this morning when recollections, very dear, called forth the blush of pleasure, as I adjusted my hair.
Mary Wollstonecraft Letter to William Godwin 13th November 1796
Such a delight to receive this into my inbox. In particular the letter from C.S.Lewis resonates. I spend most of my time gently guiding my students in precisely this way! Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for the work you do. I enjoy reading everything you send.