Letter to Elizabeth Jolley

by
April 2007, no. 290

Letter to Elizabeth Jolley

by
April 2007, no. 290

Dear Elizabeth,

Well, it seems our long correspondence is over. Actually it ended some years ago, didn’t it? Your last letter to me is dated Christmas Eve 2001. I continued writing to you into the following year, not immediately realising you were unable to reply, even though your later letters spoke of confusion and of unaccountably getting lost in familiar streets.

It’s been a long goodbye. I hope you know that during your last illness there were always people beside you, your son in particular, and some close friends who regarded it as a privilege to be with you, to repay some of the kindness you had shown to them. Even when you weren’t able to talk and laugh with them any longer, they felt sure of lively activity happening inside your head. They sent me a lovely photograph of you having lunch with them one Christmas in the leafy courtyard of your nursing home. You are wearing a straw hat at a jaunty angle, and your face bears an unreadable expression. Wise? Amused? Baffled? Hard to say.

Your inscrutability is one of the things I miss most about you, Elizabeth; you could encompass multiple meanings into the simplest statements. When confronted with an enthusiastic interpretation of one of your characters or stories, you would invariably hesitate briefly and then say, ‘But how clever of you! I would never have thought of that myself.’ It was impossible to tell if you meant exactly what you said or if you considered the interpretation too banal or absurd for words. In any case, you would never crush anyone who had taken the trouble to read your work with sufficient care to formulate ideas about it, though you were secretly irritated by reviewers who insisted on laying out your whole narrative on the slab, thus threatening to spoil discoveries other readers might prefer to make for themselves. ‘But I have had some lovely reviews from people who can read’, you said, in one of your last letters, as if to excuse yourself for having voiced a gentle complaint about the others.

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