I have found a new gem on my bookshelves. My new discovery might not be a Booker Prize winner, but it's provided me with literally minutes of entertainment. It is the rather gorgeous General and Social Letter Writing by A. G. Elliot. Published by Paperfront in 1956, I'm not even sure how it found its way on to my shelves, but I'm glad it did. Part of its charm for me is that a non-fiction book written in 1950's English reminds me of the way my dad speaks. In fact, I own a letter which my father sent to his parents when he was a young man and it sounds so similar, it's really very charming.
This book not only contains letter-writing tips on style, thickness of paper, correct forms of address and punctuation, but gives sound advice on all sorts of letters from apologies to acceptances, from complaining to government officials to giving references. It also contains examples of many different types of letter. Here are some examples from Mr. Elliot, to get you through your Tuesday afternoon:
Should you need to break off an engagement with John, you could perhaps write to him beginning like this:
"I hardly know how to start this letter, because it is written on a matter about which I never imagined I should have to write. John, dear, will you ever forgive me if I ask you to release me from my engagment to marry you. My heart is broken on your account, because I do know how much you love me." (This letter goes on to explain how Howard has been "motoring me home" on Fridays after work and how "I have always been attracted to him", which seems too much information, but then, I'm not the expert.)
Should John then set fire to your coat in a jealous rage, do not allow the insurance company to fob you off with a measley offer... "Do you consider your offer of £3 against a coat worth £10 is fair treatment? I did not claim the larger sum with any intention of entering into negotiation for its reduction, because the coat had only been worn twice and was obviously still worth its original value, or within a few shillings of it." You tell 'em A. G.
If you and Howard elope to where John can't find you and end up on honeymoon, you may like to write a postcard home with such entertaining details of your ski-ing trip such as, "They make everything very easy for the visitor going up even to the extent of a special "lift" which takes you to the mountain-top and which I was delighted to use."
There are many more charming examples of letters in this book (check out the pictures!), from being "thrilled" to receive a gift of a dozen eggs, to what to do if you are a "girl who has met a young man on holiday whom she likes but who, although friendly, has shown no special interest in her. She rightly feels if he could get to know her better he might one day fall in love." I especially love the jaunty little jokes and scattering of exclamation marks with which his letters are punctuated.
Do you love writing letters? I've been writing to my best friend from nursery school for 20 years now, ever since we were cruelly torn apart from each other when her family moved house when we were six years-old. To me, getting personal letters in the post always brightens my day. How about you?