Archive for July, 2010

A reply from Frederique to Elizabeth, also recovered from the archives of the Perth library. Unfortunately Elizabeth’s entreaty to Frederique, to ask her to marry him, has been declined. Miss Wagner suggests that the letter does not paint a favourable picture of Frederique’s character  – he comes across as somewhat self serving. And one might question the quality of his declared friendship loyalty to Elizabeth given that he has actually spelled her name wrong. But as always, Miss Wagner will allow the readers to decide for themsleves.

My dear Elisabeth,

I must apologise for my tardiness in replying. If I were but half the gentleman that you are a lady, I would have rushed to reply to your urgent post.  But I have an excellent excuse. I have been involved in a horrific car accident.  Elisabeth – I know you will draw in your breath sharply at this – I narrowly escaped death. Of course, it was the other driver’s fault.

It meant a lot to me that you think I am similar to honeycomb. I definitely prefer a crunchie over a violent crumble, although I’m not sure whether that’s relevant.

Elisabeth, you are a treasured friend, which is why I invariably seek out your wise counsel at times of need. Of which there are many.  I had thought you might appreciate the Freudian analysis of my relationship with my mother.  Had I known that it would bore you, I would never have raised it.

Please consider this a grateful and dignified rejection of your generous offer for me to ask you to marry.

I am not ready. There is no better woman than you (at the moment), but I am simply emotionally unavailable.

I hope we can continue to be friends, to drink coffee by candlelight, and to smell the scent of ambrosia together, but without any romantic undertones.

And of course, I understand if you wish to look for another suitor.

I am ever your loyal (but platonic) friend,

Frederique Von Trapp.

PS. I cannot help but admire your passion, as I too, am an artistic and passionate person. But please do not do anything rash.  

**Miss Wagner is pleased to announce that she has almost finished her research findings in Perth and will begin the long trip home tonight. Sadly, much of her research was stolen just before she was about to leave. As was her money, a book, some lipstick, a SkyBus ticket, and her cell phone. But as the Honourable Miss Gillard would say – ‘moving forward’!


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Miss Beeton hereby revokes the doubts she cast on the character of Mr Lawrie.  It appears that he is indeed a true gentleman.

My dearest Miss Beeton

I poured for some days over whether I might risk being so forward as to write to you as ‘my dear Eth-May’.

However, my fear of being seen as perhaps too forward, too presumptious, too un-gentlemanly outweighed my intense desire to become quite informal with you.

You see, Miss Beeton, this last little while has seen me quite overwhelmed at times with your passion for the world around us.  So, without further hesitation, I am singularly delighted to indeed confirm that you too hold a special place in my heart.

I have barely an inch of your artistic talents, Miss Beeton, but as a humble response to your most fetching portraiture, I offer you the below representation.

Yours Always

Ebenezer Fortescue Lawrie

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When I went to the post office today, I was assailed by a group of young folk wearing skinny jeans and beatnik glasses. They looked quite fashionable, and they had a bag of letters to post. They told me that they had been following our blog and had found it most instructive. Prior to this, I had been feeling quite depressed and unmotivated to add to this compedium of model letters – I just wasn’t sure if anyone was actually reading it. Filled with new enthusiasm, I have compiled this list of questions to explain the history of letter writing, hoping to inspire others to take up this wondrous art.

How were letters delivered in the olden days?

In ancient civilizations, letters were delivered through messengers, who might be robbed, injured or killed on the way. Then for a long time, mail was only a tool of governments, militaries and kings. In the 6th century BC, the Persian Empire (now Iran) developed a relay system that went up to 100 miles a day; when horses got tired, they were traded for a fresh one. The Greeks, typically, employed athlete runners to deliver their mail – Philonides, courier and surveyer for Alexander the Great, once ran from Sicyon to Elis – 148 miles in a day. The Arabs had a system too – using pigeons. Caesar had a relay similar to the Persians, with stopping points – or ‘post houses’ – where couriers could rest and trade horses. But after the Roman Empire fell, the mail network collapsed, and so did organised communication throughout Europe.

When did letter writing really take off?

The reinvigoration of letter writing can be traced to the invention of the printing press, the increasing availability of books, a change in the outlook of religions, and rising literacy rates. Sweden, ahead as usual, achieved a 100% literacy rate in the 18th Century after the Lutheran Church ordered that everyone had to be able to read the word of God, not only pastors and priests as had previously been ordained in many Christian religions.

In England, between 1500 and 1900, literacy rates rose from 10 to 95% for men, and from less than 5% to 95% for women.

In 1870, compulsory education was introduced in Australia as a means of forging a penal colony to an organised society and helping combat ignorance, which was considered by government to be a contributor to high crime rates. Sounds like a good idea for the present time!

In the US, there was a religious injunction that believers must read the bible themselves, achieving a 100% literacy rate.

The letter writing manuals so fondly consulted by myself and Miss Beeton started coming out 1750-1800, with 400 such works in the US alone.

Until this point, it was assumed that only men wrote letters. But from the mid to 18th century, gender division of letter writing began to be questioned publicly.

In 1763, the Ladies Complete Letter Writer was published. Later this month, readers, I will be sharing a letter on the Amusements of the Female Sex. I will also be analysing the respective contents of Ladies’ as opposed to Gentlemen’s letter writing manuals.

Letter writing was an important part of childhood instruction in England and America.

In 1860, the post office was invented, and then it really took off.

What about typewriters, and where were women in all this?

In 1868, the typewriter was invented, and in 1873, the first Remingtons were on the market. Mark Twain (author of Huckleberry Finn and many fine non-fiction essays) bought one of the first models, in 1874, and was the first author to submit a manuscript typed on one. But early users were generally stenographers and typists, and most of them were women. These were some of the first women to enter the office, and the workplace became more sexually chanrged. In 1892 in Atlantic City, two high profile court cases were fought over men who married their ‘typewriters’ – their relatives tried to argue that they were not of sound mind when they entered into a relationship.

So what’s a Dead Letter Office?

This was where all the misdirected mail ended up. The staff weren’t actually dead, but a few dead things did show up in the mail sometimes, as well as some live things.

A report in 1874 revealed that among the curios to turn up in the DLO were a horned frog (alive), a still squirming stage beatle, white mice, snails, an owl, a kingfisher, a rat, carving knives, a fork, a gun, and cartridges.

So what’s happening with letters these days? Are they in decline?

Most letters we get these days are either from business or government – they are requests (or demands) for money or requests for favours.  Sometimes the Greens put fliers in the mail. Truly personal letters are in decline. I promise to provide more detailed information about this lamentable state of affairs at a later date.

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Miss Wagner and I both recommend the practice of encouraging children to write letters to their friends and family.  In this letter, the writer is an eight-year-old child writing to her older sister who is abroad.  While the letter has a certain stream-of-consciousness quality, it provided much amusement to the reader.

Dear Anna

I really miss you so much.  This is a picture of how much I miss you_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

but that’s only minus 10,000 how much.  I’m at school at the moment, but I’m having a pretty good time.  It’s still pretty good having Mrs Stevens and that.  Mrs Stevens, the best thing about having her as a teacher is that she always has a good idea for art.  Every week she has something for us to do.

Acting school is good but the best thing about it is that after the last play we did everybody had a really good feeling that all the audience had had a great time and that we’d done a really good job.  The last play we did was about a coffee shop and a market and Peter Piper who steals a peck of pickled peppers.  I was a waitress in the coffee shop.  I had the hardest line in the play.  It was: a proper cup of coffee in a proper copper coffee cup.  It was so much fun standing up there in front of about 60 people saying those lines but that was in June.  I’m in a new play now called Traffic Jam and the Chicken Joke.

So.  I had my party last night.  It’s Saturday so we had to clean up the mess.  But for 10 girls all 8 years old 6 litres of fizzy drink is a lot.  But the party was ok.  Some of us got hurt at the park and some of us got so hot that if we stopped breathing for 6 seconds we really did look like a radish.

My party also was a pancake party except I didn’t get a piece of my own cake or a pancake because Mum didn’t make enough.  But you can’t blame Mum, because it just goes to show that you should not get packeted things because they never come out actually having 36 pancakes.  They turn out only having 11.  What I didn’t like was that Dad threw out the last piece of cake which I had waited for till last like a real gentleman.  Not saying that I really want to be a real gentleman.  Still it could be quite fun, so I would not mind if I woke up one morning and I was in a tuxedo.

I suppose you know that we will probably be getting a new Kingswood or we will never go on holidays again.  Unless you want to walk to Bournda.  Or use Nana and Pa’s car except that they would not have enough room to fit in and nobody is going to get me in that car to sit on the floor for ten hours driving to Bournda.  Nobody.

And I also thought that I might tell you this last in case you get upset but the Bombers lost against Geelong.  But Essendon one the better song lyrics because Geelong’s song is like this, listen to this if you think Essendon’s song is boring:  We are the best YES YES YES YEAH because we are Geelong bym bym bym bym BECAUSE we are Geelong bum bum bum. Essendon were still winning at half time except they lost the game.



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Letter from a lady to an admirer, enclosing a miniature portrait

Emboldened by Miss Wagner’s found letter from Eliza to Frederique, I ventured to write to Mr Lawrie, who as I state, has a special place in my heart.  Unfortunately, he has now violated one of the key rules of letter-writing: the letter-recipient should reply if possible within 24 hours of receipt of a personal letter. How common it is to see this rule neglected in present society!  Perhaps I might revise my estimation of his gentlemanliness.

Dear Mr Lawrie

How might I begin to write of the deep regard that I hold for you?  On our recent outing to the snow, I confess I was taken by the boldness of your telemark turns and the vigour of your skiing!  And yet, this is but one of example of the sincere pleasure that I take in your company.  Spent with you, hours pass as if they are mere minutes.  Your enquiring mind and lively conversation are a constant source of delight for me.  I think often of our time together, and look forward to your presence each time we part.

May I be so bold as to confess that you hold a special place in my heart?  I hope only that your feelings towards me are similar.

Humble as it is, I enclose a miniature of myself as a token of my enduring affection.  I hope that you might keep it with you and think of me often.

Please write, my dear Mr Lawrie.

Ever yours.

Ethel May Beeton


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Readers – I found this letter in the national archives of Perth’s public library. It was not dated, but I suspect it to be written in the 1940s/50s. It is unclear who Eliza or Frederique are, their ages, or whether Frederique ever accepted Eliza’s invitation. The letter is badly written, and violates one of the key rules of letter-writing, i.e. never write in a letter what you would not say in person. It also begins sentences with ‘But’, which is strictly forbidden by the DLO. Of course, this dictum applies equally to electronic communications. Despite this flaws, this letter is exhibited here because of the purity of sentiment conveyed. Because Eliza speaks from the heart, much else is forgiveable. She is also extremely bold – until recently, it was unheard of for women to propose to men or to express such unabashed passion. Regards – Ms Wagner.

Dear Frederique,

I was so pleased and excited to see you last night. As the train set off to our friend’s house, where I would meet with you once again, I said ‘God speed.’ Even the remarkable efficiency of the Transperth bullet train could not carry me to your side fast enough.

Last night was the perfect opportunity for you to ask for my hand. Our friend, tactfully, left us alone for a few minutes. Then, under the mesmerising influence of candlelight, Brahms playing on the wireless, a mild hint of ambrosia on our tongues, the time was right for you to raise the prospect of our future.

Frederique, I wanted you to speak of a gay wedding, little ones, renovations, and a house in the countryside. But instead, you spent the time talking about how your mother continues to insist on sewing your buttons back on, which makes you feel infantile. I did find this interesting, but I was madly, hopelessly, wanting you to touch upon other matters.  

Your dark past is no secret to me, nor is your existential angst – Frederique, I would love it all, because – you are – as golden as honeycomb to me.

I am growing increasingly frustrated. I fear I shall keel over from desire. Please, I beseech you, cut yourself loose from your mother and give yourself to me. It will be an irresistable cocktail of unconsumated passion and lifelong commitment, and you will be a better man for it.

I am ever yours, if ever you want me, just please don’t wait too long,


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Dear Mr Gareffa,

I am writing to express my distress at your decision to sell horses for human consumption, as revealed in The West Australian today.  

I was dismayed by your insistence on actively promoting the slaughter of these noble creatures by setting up a stall on Hay St and inviting passers by to sample your horsey hors d’oeuvres. 

Seeking out further information online, I found an article in which you compared yourself to the Horse Whisperer. But the latter used his special powers to help horses, whereas, you have only harmed them.

I was perhaps more disappointed though, by the comments of a supposed vegetarian passerby who wished to be known only as ‘Tracey.’ She was somehow tempted by the meat, sampling a piece and saying, ‘It’s very tasty, it’s sort of like a veal taste.’ Her ‘vegetarian’ credentials appear questionable. 

Mr Gareffa, please reconsider your ethical choices.  I realize that there is some kind of hypocrisy about considering some animals more worthy than others; horses, turtles, whales, dolphins, they have an almost spiritual significance to humans, probably because we’re quite selfish creatures and we like things we consider similar to ourselves.

I personally wouldn’t eat any animals unless I was extremely hungry.

Greatly perturbed and urging you to reconsider your ethical choices,

Miss Wagner.

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