I am seriously worried about the possible future state of biographies and our libraries as being the storage houses of the letters and documents of great, or at least, famous, people. I have been reading biographies lately, and in each person’s case, letters serve to not only enlighten their biographer, but are carefully preserved in a library somewhere as insights into the subject’s life for scholars and the idle curious. In each case, the biographer writes in the foreword that he or she used this or that library located in a major city to help them piece together the life of their chosen great person.
One book about Julia Child is solely letters between her and Avis DeSoto, while another book about her says her husband, Paul, had written hundreds of letters over a period of many years to his brother, chock full of scrapbook items and sketches. Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green Gables, among many other books, wrote dozens of letters to two friends over the years, one of them being 74 pages long, also full of scrapbook items, and these were preserved in boxes pending the day the biographer arrived.
Which of course begs the question: How did the recipients know that these letters would be important later on, or were they just pack rats, never letting go of the detritus that builds up? Continue reading