Letter collection

Compiling a selection of letters for publication is a vexing task. Inclusions and exclusions tend to satisfy only the editors. Specialist readers will inevitably find their particular interests inadequately represented, while others will find material included to be offensive or inappropriate. The success of this volume has been secured partly because both editors have worked on books of Grainger letters before: Teresa Balough with Comrades in Art: The correspondence of Ronald Stevenson and Percy Grainger, 1957–61, and Kay Dreyfus with her ground-breaking volume The Farthest North of Humanness: Letters of Percy Grainger, 1901–1914. Also, only 181 letters between Cross and Percy and Ella Grainger were available, which minimised the scale of the cull. The editors chose to exclude seventy letters, the quotidian content of which immediately flagged their redundancy.

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The Letters of Cole Porter edited by Cliff Eisen and Dominic McHugh

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April 2020, no. 420

Sometime in the early 1970s – his health poor, his country’s no better – the English composer Benjamin Britten asked his good friend and publisher Donald Mitchell to write his biography, imploring him to tell the truth about his long-term relationship with the tenor Peter Pears. In the ten years that followed Britten’s death in 1976, Mitchell amassed thoughts and notes, all the while deflecting the common query among friends and those outside the hallowed circle, ‘How’s the biography going?’

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Ian Fairweather: A life in letters edited by Claire Roberts and John Thompson

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November 2019, no. 416

Artist, hermit, instinctive communicator, a nomad who built studio nests for himself all over the globe, Ian Fairweather is a consistent paradox – and an enduring one. In an art world of fragile and fluctuating reputations, his work retains the esteem with which it was received – by his peers – when he landed in Australia in 1934 and, with their help, exhibited almost immediately. His way of life – eccentric, solitary, obsessive – was extraordinary then, and continued so until his death in 1974. Success never sanded off his diffident, abrasive edges. When presented with the International Cooperation Art Award in 1973, he mused, in a letter to his niece, Helga (‘Pippa’) Macnamara:

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The tall, handsome, socially adept if emotionally reticent scion of a wealthy, well-connected family and the crumpled, physically unimpressive, excitable son of an alcoholic travelling salesman seem to be an unlikely pair to form a long-standing friendship. For both James Laughlin and Thomas Lanier ‘Tennessee’ Williams ...

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Sylvia Plath wrote her last letter to the American psychiatrist Dr Ruth Beuscher a week prior to her suicide on 11 February 1963. In it, Plath castigates herself for being guilty of ‘Idolatrous love’, a concept she drew from psychoanalyst and philosopher Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving. ‘I lost myself in Ted instead of finding myself ...

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‘A letter always seemed to me like immortality because it is the mind alone without corporeal friend,’ wrote Emily Dickinson. Yet part of the lure of letters – and life writing generally – is a sense of the corporeal, the promise of discovering the writer herself. As Jacqueline Rose suggests, writing about biography and ...

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On his death in February 2012, Leslie Nicholl Walford, the man who right from the outset of his career had determined to shift Australian taste away from drab interiors filled with Victorian brown furniture, was saluted as one of Australia’s most influential interior designers. With a sensibility honed in Paris, where he attended ...

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‘Absolutely charming – slim, handsome, nice speaking voice and manner, a super-gent’: it might be a line from an old-fashioned dalliance column, but it is from one of the letters published in this volume, and Patrick Leigh Fermor, writing to one of his most regular and lustrous correspondents, Debo Devonshire, youngest of the ...

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Dear Editor, It was disappointing to read Stephen Mills’s commentary on my recent Making Modern Australia: The Whitlam government’s 21st century agenda (ABR, 11/17). From a collection of eleven chapters Mills refers to just four and fails to mention the remaining seven. In doing so, he renounces any realistic attempt at a ...

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In her novel Jacob’s Room (1922), Virginia Woolf wrote: ‘For centuries the writing-desk has contained sheets fit precisely for the communication of friends. Masters of language have turned from the sheet that endures to the sheet that perishes ... and addressed themselves to the task of reaching, touching, penetrating the individual heart.’

Ch ...

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