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Loved letters

June 3, 2009

sylviaHave just picked up, once again, the book of gorgeous letters between the writers Sylvia Townsend Warner and William Maxwell, The Element of Lavishness.  

It is one of my favourite, favourite books – forty years of correspondence between Warner, in England, and Maxwell, in the US, which began when Maxwell was fiction editor at The New Yorker, and they corresponded over her stories. But they soon became everlasting friends. 

As I’ve said here before, one of the things I love about letters as opposed to biographies is their discursive intimacy and their domesticity … which of course includes lots of fleeting references to food, often more enjoyable for the fact they are throwaway remarks, yet so well written.

Here’s Sylvia on ice cream:

We make a wonderful variety with blackcurrant jelly, it is a deep vicious mauve, the exact shade I used to see on highclass fallen women when I was young. I notice the recognising and awed start of recognition in any one of my generation to whom we offer our blackcurrant ice.

Shop ones here have air pumped into them, and are like ectoplasmic cream, and very nasty. 

And decades later, in response to the news that she’d been elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters:

I am really extremely pleased and set-up and cockahoop, and was on the brink of telling the butcher about it, since he happened to be the first foot to my honours; but he was busy tieing up a round of beef for Mrs Lamasys.

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