Lately, I've been asking myself, what good is it having a blog if you don't use it to shamelessly promote the work of your friends and family members?
I'm lucky in that my friends and relatives who do creative work are very talented and their work is of such high quality that I would read (or look at or listen to) it, even if I didn't know them personally.
Sure, fix me with that skeptic's smirk, but I don't think I've steered anyone wrong yet.
So, when I announce this new volume, I'm not telling you about it only because it was written by a family member. I'm telling you about it because I know it's a good book. It's already garnered praise here and across the pond, as we say. You don't have to take my word for it.
March 12 is the official U.S. launch date for The Pen and the People: English Letter Writers 1660-1800... by Susan E. Whyman
. Yes, there's a similarity in last names. You might say the last names are identical. That's because Dr. Whyman is my mother-in-law. And I'm not doing this for brownie points, not at all! She really doesn't need my help.
According to a History Today
review by James Daybell, The Pen and the People
is "[an] impressive new book...breaks significant new ground [by] arguing for the 18th century as the period that witnessed the emergence of a popular culture of letter-writing. [It] will undoubtedly have considerable impact on the field while the fascinating case studies will appeal to the more general reader."
The author spent more than 10 years poring over original documents, unearthing new treasure troves of letters that other historians were convinced did not even exist. As a result, The Pen and the People
explores original, cutting edge ideas on the history of writing, reading and the novel. There are actual discussions, found in these previously unknown letters, of marriage, poverty, poetry, and the emotional lives of servants.
The book interests me as an illumination of a newly uncovered piece of history, but also because letter-writing is a disappearing art form. Please don't suggest emails are the new letters. Emails are not letters. They're built for speed and brevity, full of abbreviations, typos, and ill-thought-out expressions. They're meant to be disposable, more often than not, and they only hang around when they're meant to embarrass CEOs and government officials.
When something is handwritten, the words seem much more carefully chosen. The labor of writing by hand makes the letter a project in itself. How many of you had a pen-pal when you were a kid? Do you remember the eager anticipation, waiting to get a letter back? No more; everything happens instantly. There is no time spent in the pleasurable agony of waiting for some special communique. What about love letters? You know you saved them. Somehow, a flip email punctuated with emoticons just ain't the same.
Think how the sense of urgency of so many of our communications would be redefined if we had to write them by hand and then wait for a response for more than the minutes it takes to get a return email? Believe me, I wouldn't want to return to those days completely, but on the other hand, I can't remember the last time someone wrote me an actual letter on actual paper. I'm not a luddite (here I am, blogging---), but I miss that.
In Susan Whyman's book, you can see some of what we've lost. Ordinary people began to speak their minds, and, 300-plus years later, their handwritten words remain. What's the message there?
The Pen and the People: English Letter Writers 1660-1800
by Susan E. Whyman is the author's third book. It can be ordered from Amazon
or directly from Oxford University Press