Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A letter to end the year

Not mine. Not even from someone I know.


You know how there are books of famous speeches that kids used to be encouraged to mug up, for elocution competitions and such? I once thought (and said in some blogpost I can't find) that it would be a great idea to have an anthology of fictional speeches; that is, speeches characters make in books, but which are fantastic and stirring and all that. I was thinking, mainly, of Andre-Louis Moreau from Scaramouche, but that's just me. Cat said, with perfect truth, that any anthology of fictional speeches that left out Gussy Fink-Nottle's prize-giving speech at Market Snodsbury, did not deserve to exist. How can anyone disagree with that?

Speeches are all very well. Anthologies even more well. (Weller. Something.)

I want to now propose, in the last few hours of this old year, that someone do an anthology of fictional letters. Letters written by characters that, if taken out of their context and placed in the world, would deserve to be in Volume 2 of Letters of Note.

This, naturally, disqualifies epistolary novels, because they're all letters and we're not doing volume two of My Dear Bapu.

But I want to nominate this letter below for that imaginary anthology: it's between Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, in Gaudy Night. Now Dorothy Sayers, like a couple of other writers, is on an emergency shelf of books that are comfort reading. I have recently re-read Have His Carcase, but the big gun, the cannon, is Gaudy Night and it's usually saved for emergencies.

But I found this letter here and as love letters go, it is delicate and gorgeous; as a way to end the year, it is perfect. Here it is in full:
Dear Harriet,

I send in my demand notes with the brutal regularity of the income-tax commissioners; and probably you say when you see the envelopes, ‘Oh, God! I know what this is.’ The only difference is that, some time or other, one has to take notice of the income tax.

Will you marry me?—It’s beginning to look like one of those lines in a farce—merely boring till it’s said often enough; and after that, you get a bigger laugh every time it comes.

I should like to write you the kind of words that burn the paper they are written on—but words like that have a way of being not only unforgettable but unforgivable. You will burn the paper in any case; and I would rather there should be nothing in it that you cannot forget if you want to.
Well, that’s over. Don’t worry about it.

My nephew (whom you seem, by the way, to have stimulated to the most extraordinary diligence) is cheering my exile by dark hints that you are involved in some disagreeable and dangerous job of work at Oxford about which he is in honour-bound to say nothing. I hope he is mistaken. But I know that, if you have put anything in hand, disagreeableness and danger will not turn you back, and God forbid they should. Whatever it is, you have my best wishes for it.

I am not my own master at the moment, and do not know where I shall be sent next or when I shall be back—soon, I trust. In the meantime may I hope to hear from time to time that all is well with you?

Yours, more than my own,

Peter Wimsey

On that letter of note, dear ones, here's wishing you a very happy year ahead.

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