12 Must-Read Collections of Famous Authors’ Letters

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Letters of Note, the popular website that publishes exactly what its name implies, has finally put out a book filled with letters sent by everyone from Virginia Woolf to Nick Cave to Jack the Ripper. Not too surprisingly, that collection is also titled Letters of Note.

What might draw us to these letters is the fact that we just don’t send physical mail as much as we used to. Email correspondences are locked behind passwords, and no great thinkers have offered up the contents of their inbox to be published in a book (yet…). Letters of Note, both the site and this new collection, is a throwback of sorts, but the letters it publishes also help us understand famous people we are interested in, and give us a different way of looking into their thoughts.

The letters from writers are especially interesting, as they give us a glimpse into their innermost thoughts and feelings in a way their professional work might not. For those of us who need more than just one letter from an author, here are a few other great books that collect single writers’ correspondences.

Saul Bellow: Letters

While Bellow’s popularity among contemporary readers has been called into question in the last few years, this collection, edited by Benjamin Taylor, offers a unique glimpse into the world of this private Nobel Prize winner, as well as a rare snapshot of the life and times of a public intellectual in the postwar era.

P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters

Wodehouse is the type of writer who you think you may know because his writing style is so easily recognizable, especially in his hilarious Jeeves books. But this book of his letters, some sent to fellow writers including Agatha Christie, Evelyn Waugh, and George Orwell, distinguishes Wodehouse the author from Wodehouse the person. There’s also plenty to be learned from his experiences during the Second World War and time spent in a Nazi internment camp.

Between Friends: The Correspondence of Hannah Arendt and Mary McCarthy 1949-1975

As our own Michelle Dean pointed out in a New Yorker piece, the friendship between two of the 20th century’s greatest minds was one filled with ups and downs — but these two figures saw it all, and were in close proximity to some of the most important people and events of their time, making their correspondences especially engrossing to read.

A Life in Letters: F. Scott Fitzgerald

This collection goes in and out of print every few years, but you’re likely to track it down just by stopping at your local used bookstore. Fitzgerald has been a source of obsession for literature fans for many years, and everything from his early letters through his life lessons to his daughter are compiled here.

A Literate Passion: Letters of Anaïs Nin & Henry Miller, 1932-1953

It’s all right there for your reading pleasure: one of the great literary love affairs of all time, in all its postmarked glory. Nin and Miller wrote to each other even after the affair was over, and that’s what makes this collection all the more interesting.

Letters Home: Correspondence 1950-1963

Scholars and fans have combed Plath’s letters for years, attempting to discern exactly when things starting going really wrong for the doomed poet and novelist.

Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh

“Darling Nancy

We are so delighted that you will be godmother.”

These are the lines that kick off this collection of correspondence between two of England’s greatest chroniclers of the British aristocracy. For over 20 years, Mitford and Waugh kept in close contact, and these letters tell the story of a wonderful literary friendship.

Thinking of Home: William Faulkner’s Letters to His Mother and Father, 1918-1925

These private letters, sent from the Nobel Prize-winning Faulkner to his parents, show a side of the author most readers aren’t familiar with: proud but still unsure of the world and his abilities. Although we remember his toughness and brilliance, this collection reminds us that even Faulkner had a softer side.

Graham Greene: A Life in Letters

Literature and politics dominate this collection of letters from the British literary heavyweight, and the addresses from which they’re sent — from his own England to Estonia and Vietnam — reveal that wherever he went, Greene was keen on discussing his observations with his loved ones, fellow writers, and other intellectuals of his time.

The Letters of Edith Wharton

Her books uncover the scandalous side of the Gilded Age, and Wharton’s letters show us aspects of one of America’s great writers that her fiction never could. From her friendship with Henry James to her love for a man who wasn’t her husband to her encounters with the next generation of writers and her thoughts on them, Wharton’s letters deserve a place on your bookshelf alongside her most famous works.

The Letters of Virginia Woolf

Between Virginia Woolf’s fiction and criticism, there’s plenty of work to obsess over from one of the 20th century’s greatest writers. But once you get finished with all of that, there are also several volumes of her letters, and all the wisdom hidden within them, to get through. Further proof that Woolf pretty much never stopped writing.

George Orwell: A Life in Letters

We’ve written about the collection of Orwell’s letters that came out this year, but it is worth repeating that they give us a whole new way of looking at this writer who many people consider a prophet.