I brought a really interesting book home from the library today. Actually I discovered it in my online meanderings and requested it from interlibrary loan on a whim, but I have a feeling it may end up being a little treasure. I think I was searching around for books by women about WWII when I was working on compiling this list. Intrigued by not only the war aspect of it, how could I pass up a book of letters as well? I'd not heard of Joyce Grenfell before, but it sounds like she's quite famous in the UK. Joyce and Ginnie: The Letters of Joyce Grenfell and Virginia Graham is a collection of letters covering a fifty year correspondence. Imagine!
I don't know if I'll read the book straight through (it's pretty massive and a heavy hardcover that would have to be lugged around), or if I'll just dip into it and maybe read the letters covering the war years. Perhaps I'll start reading and be so captivated I'll just keep going. I thought I'd share a few interesting bits that I've read in the preface and introduction that have me thinking this is a book worth spending time with (and would of course fit in perfectly with my other letter-writing-reading I am doing this year).
This is Virginia Graham and Joyce Grenfell. The two met first when they were seven and became close friends when they were teenagers. They began their correspondence when they were nineteen and it lasted until Joyce's death in 1979. Joyce was an actor, writer, comedian and musician and Ginnie was a writer. When they were apart they wrote almost daily.
In her autobiography Joyce wrote:
"My only continuous practice of putting words to paper was in the diary-letters I wrote to my mother and in the letters I had written to Virginia ever since we were about fifteen and one of us was away from London. These were unedited communications: they rambled on, were sometimes graphic, occasionally funny, sad, 'holy', thoughtful. Their main merit was their liveliness. Virginia told me they read as I spoke. It is amusing to compare how differently in the war, I described the same incident to my mother in America and to Virginia, then living in Bristol to be near Tony who was with an anti-aircraft battery. Because I knew my Ma was agonised about my being in and near London during the bombing, I was gentle about what I told her, played down the unpleasantness of the raids and made light of the damage done. To Virginia, undergoing her own noisy raids in the West Country, I was not so delicate. You would hardly think the letters were written about the same events, or from the same pen."
In writing about Joyce, Virginia notes:
"These letters, written daily when she was not in London, provide a very thorough survey of the world development over the past fifty years in all fields save the political, and as fodder for future historians they are surely invaluable. Joyce wrote at great speed and just as she spoke: if anyone wants to know the price of a Melton Mowbray pie in 1962 or what one wore to a wedding in 1949, it is all here. Here, too, in detail, a whole assortment of people and birds and flowers, all of which she loved. Incidentally, in writing letters she not only demanded of herself full particulars, but also accuracy."
At a time when the US postal service is faltering to a point that it is stopping Saturday delivery and annually raise the prices of stamps, I am amazed to read that in the early days of their correspondence, "sending letters was a fast and efficient business: there were five deliveries to homes a day. A letter posted at breakfast-time reached its destination by tea-time." The two women were close friends and had an obvious affection for each other. Joyce wrote nearly 4,000 letters to Virginia, and Virginia wrote more than 2,000 to Joyce which I also find sort of amazing. Letter writing really is a lost art I think. I am trying to be a better correspondent to my own friends (because there is nothing like writing about the world--even if it's not necessarily the larger world--and getting a reply back). I'm looking forward to dipping into the book as well as reading more books of letter or books on letter writing this year. I'll let you know how it goes.