I am deep in the midst of Julie Phillip’s biography of Alice Sheldon, better known within the Science Fiction community as James Tiptree, Jr. It’s a fascinating and brilliantly written analysis of a complex and intriguing woman, and I am utterly seduced by the Ms. Phillips’ recounting of her life and explanations of the factors that helped form and shape the woman who would take that famous pseudonyms.
I am particularly interested in Tiptree’s epistolary skills; he wrote in a Victorian fashion, crafting erudite, witty and personable letters that garnered him friends and admirers around the country. He was able to discourse in a voice that was part conversational, part diary, and thoroughly engrossing.
I find myself completely unable to write such letters. I have been raised on emails; I can shoot off succinct and witty briefs, but little more. I don’t have the patience to write reams of pages describing events and shaping my opinions and examining art or philosophy to my friend. I prefer to simply call them if a conversation is in order.
But there is something utterly beguiling about such letters – about receiving and writing them, the anticipation, the delight, the friendships. Is it merely a matter of practice and diligence that allows one to develop such a voice, a habit of writing fascinating letters? A Victorian discipline that can be painstakingly acquired through dint of hard labor and perserverance? Or am I so temperamentally and habitually opposed to such labor that it is beyond my grasp? I know that I can’t write by hand any longer; my fingers cramp, my handwriting degenerates and I write far too slowly. But perhaps I could find a blend between email and Victorian letter, a happy medium in which I can develop a similar pleasure that Tiptree and his friends enjoyed not so long ago.