Since the publication of The John Lennon Letters, I’ve been starting to browse through collections of memoirs and personal letters (currently making my way through Vincent van Gogh’s letters).

Once upon a time, it was commonplace for people to write intimate letters to friends and family. The only ‘intimate’ writing that I ever did was the diaries that I kept as a eight(ish)-year old. But these diaries contained thoughts that no one else could know about, and were often short lived – I realised that writing things down was counterintuitive to my attempts to keep them away from the prying eyes of other people. Keeping a “TOP SECRET” diary did as much good for my privacy as a secret told to a eight(ish)-year-old friend with instructions to keep the secret secret.

I love reading these letters for their intimacy, but it also feels a bit ‘wrong’ to read them – especially because I know that I would struggle to make similar disclosures. So much is expressed in these letters that you can almost grasp the author’s thoughts and state of mind. These letters capture a vulnerability that feels so foreign in a modern era.

One cannot always tell what it is that keeps us shut in, confines us, seems to bury us, but still one feels certain barriers, certain gates, certain walls. Is all this imagination, fantasy? I do not think so. And then one asks: My God! Is it for long, is it forever, is it for eternity? Do you know what frees one from this captivity? It is very deep, serious affection. Being friends, being brothers, love, that is what opens the prison by supreme power, by some magic force.

(Vincent van Gogh, in a letter to his brother July 1880)


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