February 14, 2015, by S Colborne
A love of letters
Guest blog by Ellen Hart – Subscriptions Manager at The Letters Page and third year English Language & Literature student.
In keeping with the season and its sentiment, this is a blog about love and correspondence (and a love of correspondence). In my job as Subscriptions Manager at The Letters Page I spend a lot of time with my colleagues reading letters written to us from around the world, as far flung from our office as Chile, and as close as the same building. We are a group of people utterly smitten with the handwritten letter; we value every signature and every illegible squiggle; we collect postmarks like other people collect stamps; we also collect stamps. We are not mad. We are a literary journal in letters that publish out of the University of Nottingham’s School of English. We have an editor, Professor Jon McGregor, who is the University’s Writer in Residence. We do not feel alone in our love of letters; we know that there is a reason why people still feel the need to put pen to paper sometimes; a reason why old love letters are kept, why private letters are published in volumes and stowed away in archives and pored over again and again, long after their primary relevance has passed. For myself, there is something magical about the letter as form that I find quite hard to pinpoint; I know that it has something to do with deliberation, something to do with the manual act of penmanship, and something to do with a journey, but my work with letters is ongoing.
My role at The Letter’s Page informs my undergraduate dissertation. I am extremely interested in the value of the literary letter, and its relationship to ‘genuine’ letters of correspondence. Visiting Manuscripts and Special Collections at the University has allowed me to examine personal correspondence between members of historically prominent Nottinghamshire families; the Papers of the Mellish family and the Chaworth-Musters family respectively provide a wonderfully intimate insight into the relationships between members, with the latter’s collection of correspondence during the First World War of particular note. The sheer volume of the collection allows you to trace, through letters, the emotional lives of these individuals, providing a rich observation of subjective experience during a period of immense historical poignancy. Engaging with writers’ penmanship, observing the style and proficiency of the handwriting change over time, enriches epistolary study and is something that I have found particularly enjoyable when working with the archive material.
I would encourage anyone with an interest in correspondence, be it historical or literary, to visit Manuscripts and Special Collections at Kings Meadow. While the capacity of each collection can appear daunting at first, the comprehensive online catalogue and the readily available advice from staff members allows ease of access. As a lover of letters, the greatest benefit in using the archive material is the ability to engage with the physical aspects of the letter form; the size and style of the writing; the number of leaves of writing paper used – these aspects, often eliminated when letters are transcribed and published, are exclusive to the archive papers. At The Letters Page we value these features of the letter form and endeavour to include them in our publications by scanning in excerpts from every handwritten letter we publish. Issue 5 of the journal is available to download now, and you can also access previous issues through our archive, where you can read handwritten letters from award-winning writers and authors. I would further encourage anyone with an interest in literary letters to subscribe to The Letters Page; each issue will then be emailed to you, downloadable in a variety of PDF formats, which can then be printed out and posted on with ease through the use of our envelope template on the front page. Why not send an issue to a loved one this Valentine’s Day?
As well as subscribing (Issue 5, the protest issue – has letters from Naomi Alderman, Karen McLeod, Melissa Harrison, Evelyn Conlon, Andrey Kurkov, and more), you can read The Letters Page blog or follow them on Twitter @TheLettersPage
The letters in the archives are available for anyone to consult in the Reading Rooms at King’s Meadow Campus. For more information about Manuscripts & Special Collections, visit our website or follow us @mssUniNott.