In 1862 English artist Barbara Bodichon wrote to her friend, Irish poet William Allingham: “I am always rejoiced when I see the facteur plodding up the asphodel field, and I rush down to seize the fat packet of papers, books, and letters with great delight.” More than a hundred and fifty years later, this scene sounds familiar to many of us, at least to those born before the irruption of the e-mail. Many of us have felt, at some stage, the impatience of receiving a long-awaited letter and the thrill of opening and discovering its content. During my childhood and teenage years, I exchanged tens of letters all along the school year with my “summer friends” – boys and girls from Spain and abroad that used to spend the summer in the same seaside village where my parents still have a beach apartment. Every morning, I would punctually be the first at home to check the mail for letters and parcels. We didn’t have a letterbox and the postman would leave the bundle of letters in the meter box, built-in the wall, next to the entrance door. I have since a recurring dream (still now!): suddenly I realize I have forgotten to open the meter box and I discover I have a pile of letters, unopened and unanswered. I wake up feeling the same excitement as when I received letters when I was younger – a delicious feeling that, after a couple of seconds, once I’m aware it was only a dream, fades away and gives room to a slight feeling of sadness. I feel melancholic because, deep down, I have the impression I will never feel again the titillation of receiving a letter. After all, none of the thousands of e-mails I have received up to now have made me feel the same tingle of excitement as when I opened the meter box and saw the bundle of letters awaiting.
I still have each of these letters. I even kept the answers I drafted, and which I carefully put inside their corresponding received envelop. I once read them over, almost a couple of decades later. I didn’t spot any blatant lie but I was surprised to discover how different this (pre-)teenage girl was from my self-perception then and from how I remember now being a girl. I have since been fascinated by the way we project ourselves to others, intersubjectively, textually and visually – be it in a letter, in an e-mail, in a photo, or on Facebook. Reading past manuscript letters permits me to study how historical subjects used to communicate, present themselves to others and narrativize themselves into stories via the “e-mails” of the time as well as to re-discover the magic of personal correspondence.
In a digital era where the only correspondence we find in our letterbox is reduced to bills, advertising flyers and discount vouchers, my interest in Epistolarity is a celebration of the golden age of manuscript letters: for their richness and magic and, above all, for their power as feminist tools! If you want to discover how the apparently anodyne daily gesture of letter-writing used to be a feminist “weapon” (), keep on browsing my blog. You’ll be startled by how sharp and witty Victorian ladies were! So rich and intense are the epistolary conversations of Bodichon and her friends that, next time you check your postal letterbox, you’ll feel the nostalgy I mentioned before when you discover it only contains… your latest Internet bill!