The most dreadful lie you ever told me
A mixed mailbag
It’s Friday again. We did it.
There’s no theme today. Just a pile of snippets I’ve bookmarked over the past few weeks, plucked from letters I’ve been mulling over for various reasons. It occurred to me a few hours ago that I should share a list of my favourite books—published letter collections that I presume at least some of you would enjoy.
So that’s what I’m going to do, very soon1.
Have a great weekend.
you once wrote me a letter (i know you hate my remembering these things) telling me that i would never be lonely again. i think that was the first, the most dreadful, lie you ever told me.
Letter to Stanley Hyman
9th September 1960
Today I was expelled from the maths class because Mr Palafox said that I was too much of a troublemaker, and although they may tell you things about me, they are not true; that old man is very mean and it is true that I am a troublemaker, but not to the extent that I need to be expelled from class. Toledano will send you a letter at noon with my father, but do not pay attention to anything he tells you, because they are a bunch of lies.
Frida Kahlo, aged 16
Letter to her mother
15th September 1923
As for my happiness: I live from day to day and hour to hour. I know elation. I know despair. A doctor has prescribed pills for depression, which I take from time to time, as instructed. I still have life in me as an artist. I have finished another book. It contains one-hundred and twenty drawings by me, as well as prose. My understanding is that I am so odd emotionally and socially that I had better live alone for the rest of my days. During my last years with Jane, there was a formless anger in me which I could deal with only in solitude. Jane did not like it. There is no reason why she should. Nobody likes it. What is it? Well—if I had to guess, I would say that it was caused by a combination of bad chemicals in my bloodstream and the fact that my mother committed suicide. I have finally dealt with that suicide, by the way, in the book I just finished. My mother appears in it briefly at the end, but keeps her distance—because she is embarrassed by the suicide. And so she should be.
Letter to to José and Maria Donoso
2nd November 1972
(From Kurt Vonnegut: Letters)
I, myself, have been made to bloom like a Persian rose-bush, by the enormous love-making of a cross between a Brandenburger and a Pomeranian, one Theodore Roethke2 by name. He is very, very large (6 ft 2 and weighing 218 lbs) and he writes very very small lyrics. 26 years old and a frightful tank. We have poured rivers of liquor down our throats, these last three days, and, in between, have indulged in such bearish and St Bernardish antics as I have never before experienced.
Well! Such goings on! A woman of my age!3
Letter to Edmund Wilson
22nd June 1935
A psychiatrist I know [sent a] book about death, which is about being kind to cancer patients and full of photos. I got so mad I decided that the only return present was a stone angel with FUCK OFF engraved on it. One doesn’t need pictures of people getting thinner and thinner and being grateful to their spirit-guides: one needs flowers and books and music and friends; a scented and satisfactory house.
Letter to Margaret Laurence
5th May 1984
Mama, it is a play5 that tells the truth about people, Negroes and life and I think it will help a lot of people to understand how we are just as complicated as they are—and just as mixed up—but above all, that we have among our miserable and downtrodden ranks—people who are the very essence of human dignity. That is what, after all the laughter and tears, the play is supposed to say. I hope it will make you very proud.
Letter to her mother
19th January 1959
There has been a lot of activity, internally, yesterday & the day before & I thought he was going to jump the gun, but it’s all settled down, now. Thank goodness, since nothing is ready—my taxes not filed; the bedroom not painted; Mark’s kiln not built; just a couple of sacks of second-hand babygros & a Moses basket leant by my oldest friend stacked up in the hallway. I am the size of a house & sleep approx. 18 hours a day. They tell me to make the most of sleeping, as it will be the last chance I have for some months, if not years. But all goes well, basically, & I’m sure he won’t care if the bedroom isn’t an interior decorator’s masterpiece.
Whether he’ll care if the tax inspector takes his mother away to prison is another matter.
Angela Carter (8 months pregnant)
Letter to Rikki Ducornet
19th October 1983
Of course, I’ll probably make this far more complex and time consuming than it needs to be and publish it in 6 years, by which time everyone will have stopped listening to me. Wish me luck.
Roethke won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry 19 years later.
For the record, she was only 37.
Engel was being treated for the cancer that would kill her nine months later.