• On 6 March 1901, James Joyce wrote a fan letter to Henrik Ibsen, wishing the playwright a happy birthday. He was an eighteen-year-old undergraduate at the time, and, remarkably, had just managed to get a review of Ibsen’s latest play published in the prominent Fortnightly Review. The Norwegian playwright, having read the review, sent his compliments to Joyce via his translator. The young Irishman was understandably elated, and wrote gushingly to the older writer: ‘I can hardly tell you how moved I was by your message . . . to have earned a word from one who held so high a place in your esteem as you hold in mine.’

 

jamesjoyce1902
 

 

  • While fan mail can be flattering, not everyone can hope for the insightful paeans received by Ibsen or Joyce.  For Shirley Jackson, fan mail was often ‘irrational and annoying’. She put her letters into categories: the kind that ‘asks if I’m the Shirley Jackson who taught fifth grade in Toledo, Ohio, in 1902’; that ‘says I have stolen the correspondent’s name for one of the characters in a book’; or in one instance, claimed that a picture of Jackson in a magazine showed her ‘with a dog that was stolen from him several months ago; I was either to send him back his dog or a check for the dog’s sentimental value, which he set at two hundred dollars’.

 

 

henry-viii-love-letter
 

  • While Henry VIII must hardly have expected the evidence of his inconstancy to be pored over by scholars of the future, other correspondents write letters with the public in mind. In an open letter to Wikipedia, Philip Roth takes the website to task over the inaccuracies it propagates regarding his life. ‘Dear Wikipedia, I am Philip Roth,’ he begins, complaining that an English Wikipedia Administrator did not view him to be a credible source on his own life.

 

Diane Williams In Conversation | Podcast
Olivia Laing | Is Travel Writing Dead?