Famous Letters from Some of the World’s Best-Known Novelists
Thanks in large part to modern inventions such as cell phones and the internet, letter-writing is becoming far less common than it used to be. In fact, a recent survey found that a whopping 60% of adults in the UK have not sent more than five handwritten letters or cards in the last ten years. In times past, however, handwritten letters were often the only way a person could communicate with other individuals who did not live in his or her immediate area.
Letters have always been valuable tools for historians eager to learn how people in bygone eras thought, lived, worked, and cared for each other. Famous letters from world-renowned novelists are even more fascinating as they not only offer historical insight but also a peek into the lives of people who have shaped the emotions and opinions of tens of millions of people the world over. Following is a look at famous letters from two particularly renowned authors.
George Orwell’s Letter Collection
Eric Arthur Blair, or George Orwell as he is more commonly known, has been ranked as the second-greatest British writer since 1945, and it’s not hard to see why. His signature book, 1984, added a plethora of new words to the English vocabulary, including “Orwellian”, “memory hole”, “Newspeak”, “Big Brother”, and “thought police”. Many also believe he may have been the first person to use the iconic term “Cold War” to describe the simmering hostilities between the United States and the Soviet Union. However, even those who are familiar with Orwell’s novels are often unaware that he was not only a great novel writer but also good at personal correspondence. In fact, through his personal letters alone, readers can see the full story of his life as told to family members, friends, fellow artists, and political figures. Those who wonder, for instance, why Blair chose the pen name George Orwell have only to look at one of his letters to his literary agent in which he suggests four potential pen names and asks for advice on each one.
Kurt Vonnegut’s Letter Collection
Kurt Vonnegut was a prolific writer known for his wit and dark sense of humour. He published multiple novels and story collections throughout a career that spanned more than fifty years and additional writings were published after his death. Like many authors of his period, he was a prolific letter writer who enjoyed discussing a wide range of topics, including art, science, commerce, and the publishing industry. He also wrote about personal matters, some of which offer insight into the characters in his well-known books. In one letter, he tells of being freed from a German prisoner of war camp and his horrific recollection of the firebombing of Dresden, an experience that would later serve as the backdrop to his remarkable novel Slaughterhouse-Five. In another letter, he explains to a friend that the lead character in his short story Harrison Bergeron may have originated from the jealousy and self-pity Vonnegut felt as a misfit high student.
Fans of any work of fiction are sure to find the famous letters from their novelists to be a fascinating read. However, even those who have not read the outstanding literary works of the authors outlined above will find much to enjoy and learn from in their personal correspondence. The letters, written at various times and to many different types of people, are sure to elicit a range of emotions as readers connect with two men and learn how their way of seeing the world influenced their personal lives and literature.