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Dear sincerely valued clients,

This is just a quick note to inform you, belatedly, that The Dead Letter Office, while still dedicated to the preservation of epistolary culture and considered communication, is no longer able to maintain its website. Due to funding constraints, we have had to make a decision between crude, vapid online communication, and the more thoughtful printed letter. We chose, as we know you would have wanted, the latter.

We hope you are all well and look forward to seeing you again, perhaps in wintry Banyule.

We remain your most loyal and obedient servants,

Miss Dolores Wagner and Miss Ethel May Beeton

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The letter-writer produced this in response to the exercise at the DLO’s workshop about writing to a favourite movie or TV star. Although of tender years, she shows early promise. Perhaps one day she too may be able to make her living as a lady of letters, although as we know, it’s getting harder and harder to crack into the industry.

Dear Hermione Granger from Harry Potter,

I love your seris of movies – Harry Potter. You are a fantastic actress and can perform great facial expressions.

What is your favourite movie out of the whole series? I love all of them, even though all of the movies haven’t come out and my mum won’t let me read the books after the fifth.

Anyway, you are a great actress and should be in many more movies to come.

S____________

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Dear Stefanie

The Dead Letter Office likes this. It was written by an ESL speaker at our workshop. There is something simple, dignified, even Germanic about the tone. Again, the scenario was a letter to someone who’s about to make a bad decision, advising them to take another path. The letter writer implies, but does not directly state, that there is something wrong about marrying someone with a very similiar name. It is a useful technique. The letter-writer has broken the golden role about not crossing, but this is redeemable as he can always do a second draft – I’m not sure that he’s sent the letter yet. The crossed parts are included here as they offer a useful insight into the letter writer’s state of mind. I think he was prudent to cross them out, don’t you?

Dear Stefanie

I was deeply disturbed by the news of your decision to marry Stefan. There are so many things that I could have offered to you that Stefan cannot.

Do you remember the days we spent together at the local playground, where we vowed to stay together and love each other until the end of days? Until this day, I was of the conviction that there still was a future for us, and that things could be fixed, regardless of what happened in the past. [Crossed: Stefan is not right for you] 

Stefan is not the right man for you and he never will love you in the way I do and always will. I beg you to reconsider your choice.

[Crossed – I can offer you so much more, and not least any impressive portfolio of investment than Stefan

With eternal love,

Jonathan

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Another gem from Miss Wagner as part of the ‘lucky dip’ letter writing exercise at a DLO workshop. Miss Wagner selected a scenario about writing to someone who is about to make a bad choice. Miss Jolie seemed to fit into that category. Miss Wagner used a standard line in advice letters, which is useful for added diplomacy. See if you can pick it! Miss Jolie has not yet responded to Miss Wagner’s concerned epistle. She must be very busy indeed.

I’m not sure the marriage congratulations are quite appropriate. I think Miss Wagner is a bit behind the times, Ms Jolie and Mr Pitt wedded many years ago now.  

Dear Miss Jolie,

You do not know me – I don’t think, at least, but I am a very great fan of your work. My favourite movie of yours is Girl Interrupted.

I ask you to reconsider your decision to adopt your 7th child. You say in Womans Weekly (18/05/10) that you ‘are attracted to children who are already born.’  This may be so, and I can well understand it, but it does not follow that you will be able to give that child the care and attention it needs.

How is it that you did not perceive this immediately, since you usually see so clearly and judge so correctly?

But belated congratulations on your marriage to Mr Pitt.

Yours most respectfully,

Dolores Wagner (Miss)

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Summary

“The Life & Age of Woman – Stages of Woman’s Life from the Cradle to the Grave”, a ca. 1849 U.S. print illustrating 11 chronological stages of virtuous womanhood (with the 30’s evidently considered to be the peak years), each accompanied by a descriptive verse couplet. At left is a flourishing green tree, at right a symbolic weeping willow.

An approximate transcription of the verse couplets in the image (some of the words are quite hard to read):

1) Infant in cradle:

“A wailing infant, first she plays,
Unconscious of her future days.”

2) Young girl with doll:

“Her girlish pastimes reveal for show
The cares which woman’s life must know.”

3) Late teen girl in grownup clothes:

“Her ripened beauty all confess
And wonder at her loveliness.”

4) Bride in white dress and veil:

“A husband’s arms, in hope and pride,
“Enclasp her now, a lovely bride.”

5) Young mother holding baby:

“A mother’s anxious love and care
With toilful(?) heart is hers to share.”

6) Dressed to go outdoors (i.e. now that she no longer has babies or toddlers in the house, she can now take an interest in matters outside the home — though in a strictly private and individual charitable capacity, of course):

“Now to the poor her hands dispense
the blessings of benevolence.”

7) Middle-aged woman (first declining step):

“Absorbed in household duties now,
The weight of toil(?) contracts her brow.”

8) In black bonnet and holding handkerchief (suggesting the latter stages of mourning, perhaps her husband has died):

“She now resigns all earthbound care
And lifts her soul to heaven in prayer.”

9) Old, wearing spectacles:

“At eighty years, her well-stored mind
“Imparts its blessings to her kind”

10) Bent over, using cane:

“The hoary head, us all should bless,
Who abound in ways of righteousness.”

11) Sitting in chair, knitting(?):

“The body sinks and wastes away,
The spirit cannot know dismay.”(?)

Vignette under arch: Funeral scene.

There are smaller vignettes under each of the nine steps of the arch.

Edited from image http://memory.loc.gov/master/pnp/cph/3g00000/3g03000/3g03600/3g03651u.tif at the Library of Congress website.

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To my dear Ms Blanch

Thank you so much for your kind words of encouragement.  Indeed, thank you for your attendance at our humble workshop.

I must confess, over the past few months in the Dead Letter Office, Miss Wagner and I have often been plagued by self-doubt.  We fretted that our presentation might appear ‘school-marmish’ or conceited, or even simply irrelevant.  While our research is naturally of deep interest to ourselves, we feared that our passions might only be of passing interest to others.

So, you can imagine the joy that we felt when our modest presentation met with your enthusiastic reception.  We are so thrilled that we could take your creative mind and obvious talent with words away from the gruelling task of washing the lacy tablecloths of others. 

Thank you so much for sharing your letters with us.  We will proudly present them in our upcoming edition of our letter-writing manual.

We remain, as always, your humble and faithful servants.

Sincerely Yours

Ethel May Beeton

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Dear Ms Beaton and Ms Wagner,

Firstly, I must ask for your forgiveness, as I have not been educated in the art of ‘good and proper’ letter writing given my humble beginnings into this world. I do hope my innocent attempt does not insult you. You have inspired me on this very day when I attended your workshop at the Ivanhoe library. Your grace and wit was a delight to hear. My long-suffering ears are punished with the bawdiness of the drinking houses since childhood and letter writing was far from conversation. Your knowledge of etiquette, your grace of sharing has left me with a longing to practice this art form. I wish to thank you also for the eloquent setting and music. Those beautiful lace table pieces (which I have dreamed of owning instead of washing and ironing them for others) somehow added to the beauty of our meeting. I do hope my humble letter meets with your approval. May your days be filled with future adventures at the DLO.

Sincerely Yours

Ms Rosemary Blanch

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