Jonathan Fryer

Michael to Christine to Michael

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 21st December, 2009

The art of letter-writing is dying, indeed in most parts of society it is moribund. Modern technolgy has its advantages of course; I couldn’t manage my freelance writing and lecturing life in so many parts of the world without the Internet and emails. But I lament the increasing superficiality of human communication and dread to think what future writers and historians will make of our age without the richness of material provided by letters (one of the major reasons why I have tended to concentrate on the late 19th and early 20th centuries for my research and books).

I have been once more reminded of this while reading Robin Hope’s recent, privately-published collection of wartime letters between his parents, Michael to Christine to Michael, which is not only a beautifully produced book (designed by Patrick Eley) but also a gem of a period piece in which two contrasting but complementary characters reveal themselves and sustain each other across their separation. The book is also very funny in parts. I loved the vignette of an infant Antonia Pakenham (now Lady Antonia Fraser) going into a bathroom where an adult male house-guest was having a bath, as recounted by Christine: ‘Suddenly Antonia burst in, rushed over to the bath & gazed down at Freddie’s penis, saying “Please may I have a look at it? Mummy says it’s all right!”‘ Text messages couldn’t summon up such images and although the powers that be in Britain and the rest of the EU are insisting that communications companies retain everyone’s emails for some years, I fear these will be of minimum use to historians and biographers, and of even less interest to readers.

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