What a Hazard a Letter Is: The Strange Destiny of the Unsent Letter

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Why would anyone write a letter and then not send it?`What a Hazard a Letter is,' wrote the poet Emily Dickinson, thinking of `the Hearts it has scuttled and sunk'. Once sent, a letter cannot be taken back: it is like a depth charge dropped into the future, into other people's lives. The moment they're written, letters become, as Janet Malcolm puts it, `fossils of feeling': they fix and freeze the sentiments we had at the time, though our lives may quickly move on and we may all too soon have second thoughts.

But what if, once written, a letter is not sent - or never arrives?What a Hazard a Letter is is the first book to look at the strange phenomenon of the unsent letter. It collects together some of the most remarkable examples, from fiction and from real life, and explores the fascinating reasons why they came to be unsent, and the consequences - sometimes farcical, sometimes agonisingly poignant, and sometimes actually changing the course of history. Here, then, are authors from Ian McEwan to Iris Murdoch, Abraham Lincoln to Ernest Hemingway, and Virginia Woolf to Van Gogh: magnificent tirades written in the red mist of rage, delicious to read but all the better for not being mailed; letters whose non-arrival sets a novel's plot careering down a new track; and tender words of love that never quite got said - all, in their way, a little more eloquent for being unsent.

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Binding: Hardback