The Lost Art of the Handwritten Letter

Dear Eleventh Stack Readers,

Even in (or perhaps despite?) this digital age I live in, I’ve always loved handwritten letters. There’s just something special about someone willing to take the time to craft a newsy letter and it’s even more fun to receive it in the mail; it’s a bonus if it’s handwritten on lovely paper. For over twenty years now, I’ve corresponded with a grad school friend whom I have not seen since 1991 but, every month, we exchange letters. In fact, she refuses to correspond with me via email and, to tell the truth, it wouldn’t be the same. Email makes it too easy to be short and abbreviated but, with paper and pen, I can take my time telling my news; it’s almost meditative.

My minimalist tendencies, however, get in my way. Currently I am trying to use up all of my stationery stock before I even consider buying more. But it has made me even more creative (okay, let’s face it, cheap) and I’ve even taken to using old library book due date cards and old postcards. My friend, on the other hand, always seems to have a limitless supply of beautiful writing papers and cards for every occasion.

I love to write so writing letters and coming up with things to write about has never been a problem for me but, if it is for you, the library has several books to help:

For the Love of Letters : a 21st-Century Guide to the Art of Letter Writing by Samara O’Shea

The Art of the Handwritten Note : a Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication by Margaret Shepherd

Just Write : the Art of Personal Correspondence by Molly O’Shaughnessy

In closing, as an English major, I can’t let the moment go by without mentioning a few of my favorite epistolary novels that tell a story through letters:

Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos

Lady Susan by Jane Austen

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Until next time,

P.S. There’s even a lovely little zine in our Zine Collection about letter writing:  All This is Mine #12 by Sugene

Source: All This is Mine


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12 responses to “The Lost Art of the Handwritten Letter

  1. Few things are more fulfilling than sending (or receiving!) a letter on real paper to a real friend. I couldn’t agree with you more.


  2. Reblogged this on ReLoaded and commented:
    True, true…

  3. Linda

    I, too, look forward to a handwriiten letter in the mail and equally enjoy writing one to send to someone else. Somehow it just seems more personal than an email. One drawback to letterwriting today is trying to find some stationery. Just a few years ago there was still quite a bit of lovely paper available in the stores for handwritten notes. Today the choices are few and far between. with many stores not even carrying any or only having very fancy paper to use for special occasions. Still, I will persevere in keeping this form of communication alive.

  4. freedomactionnow

    “84 Charing Cross Road” is an absolute delight. Mel Brooks (“Blazing Saddles” &c) so liked it that he bought the book for his wife, Anne Bancroft.

    Not just the book, but the rights to the story, which turned out to be an equally fine movie, with Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins.

    Letter-writing is a form of communication – a personal one. I remember the days when we not only write letters, but we used fountain pens with real ink from an ink bottle.

    I also remember the Ken Burns Civil War documentary, which included a lot of letters written by soldiers. Even the enlisted men wrote beautifully. I suspect that not everyone wrote as did the men in the selection, but still – I doubt that more than a handful write that way today.

    Email is just too seductive. No paper, no stamps, no post office, no waiting for a reply. On the other hand (which may not be a positive), you can’t burn your email.

    Speaking of writing, I’m reminded of a quote about William and Henry James:

    “Henry wrote novels like a psychologist while William wrote psychology texts like a novelist.”

  5. I always write my personal letters and cards by hand, never gotten used to mere emails ~wonderful reminder! Thanks Deborah

  6. How lovely to see so many letter writers out there and those who appreciate the elegance of it!


  7. jamesmarino

    Lovely post! Written just like a letter. This also reminds me of all the historical letters that are archived in libraries all over the world. Not only do they have historical information but they give us insight into the culture and language of the time. I certainly is becomeing a lost art.

    • lizzy

      I, too, am an ardent letter writer and send many a letter and card. I have an ongoing correspondence with a woman from New Zealand since the 1990s and love seeing that ‘airmail’ envelope in my mailbox! (and all due to an overdue library book and an article in the NZ paper)… FYI that Marshall’s still carries a lot of beautiful paper products–blank cards and stationery that are quite economically priced. I always stock up there.

  8. Sarah Louise

    this is exaxctly my life! I have a friend who I really only communicate via letter and she always has nice stationery too.

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  10. I have never communicated through letters .. Though it is in my Must-do list.. .I’ve only seen my mum’s old letters to her best friend at a time when Phone wasn’t a common household thing ..I agree , there is a personal touch to it …My mum totally lost touch with her best friend and hopes to find her out some day .. Whenever I see those letters there is a feeling of a bit of her in those letters :)

    Speaking of epistolary novel , I read “The Perks of being a wallflower” recently and I’m quite inspired to write a hand written letter :)

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