In class we looked at illustrated letters. I found these very interesting because it is so much more engaging than just a letter with only words. Although at the same time it could be very overwhelming depending on how much art there is. I have always enjoyed doodling and drawing little things but with illustrated letters the drawings really have to mean something or add to the letter whereas doodles are just whatever comes to mind. I think it’s also important that the person is able to follow the text and not get too distracted by whatever else is happening on the paper. It makes me think that while illustrated letters are really cool and engaging it might be better in some cases to only have words on the page. I think the tone and the topic of the letter determine whether or not it should have drawings in it. If there is only text that means the text should definitely be focused on. With illustrated letters it probably also takes a longer time to make it than writing a normal letter. There is more planning because you have to figure out what the drawings will be and the layout of the page. I am interested in the history of illustrated letters because, especially before phones and other kinds of quick communication, illustrated letters must have been the quickest or easiest way to describe something to someone. I’m wondering if most of these kinds of letters were just art or if some of them actually were trying to show something. It can also depend on how the person receiving the letter interprets it. To someone it may be a picture but to others it could have a deeper meaning. Another thing that could be important in illustrated letters is making sure people will actually be able to see and know what the picture is. Although anyone can do an illustrated letter it is definitely more helpful if you are good at art or drawing. I really liked the illustrations from the Letters From Father Christmas book. The whole purpose of the book and the commitment put into it was also very sweet. Being Jewish, I didn’t grow up with Santa or other Christmas traditions but I liked the way everything was done in the book. The drawings made it look kind of like it was taking place in space or in some other futuristic world. I liked that because it was so different from how we see Christmas nowadays. It was interesting to see Christmas being portrayed without so much light and color. Even though one drawing shows the house breaking, overall it feels really peaceful and quiet. I also thought the polar bear letter was so cute.
This week we learned about what to include and not include in a cover letter. This was really helpful because I wasn’t sure what a cover letter was and I hadn’t needed one for any of the jobs I’ve done in the past. I now know how important they are to have especially for someone my age in college who will be soon looking for jobs. It was also helpful seeing different examples of cover letters and what either made them effective or not effective. We also looked at two very different cover letters from Eudora Welty and Robert Pirosh. The one from Welty was more like a traditional cover letter as she gave background information about herself and included the skills she has. The cover letter from Pirosh was interesting because although he did talk a little about his background he spent most of the cover letter talking about the kinds of words he likes. It made me think that the effectiveness of a cover letter also depends on who is it going to and what the job is. In some cases it may be ok to be a little humorous while most times it is probably better to stay serious. In this case his writing was effective because Pirosh was able to show he knew a large variety of descriptive words which is necessary for the job he wanted as a screenwriter. Even though he didn’t talk a lot about his past experiences I think it still shows that he knows what he is doing or wants to do. I think especially in Hollywood he knew that he would have to be very creative and think outside the box if he wanted to secure a job. In Hollywood he would have more potential to be creative than in his job at an advertising agency. The letter ended up getting him three interviews and a job as a junior writer. Even though the cover letter from Pirosh is very interesting and engaging, I think that the cover letter I make for myself will be a lot more like the one from Eudora Welty. I think the jobs I’m interested in align better with her style of writing. It was also interesting looking at potential careers and taking a survey to see what careers were a good match for me. It was helpful seeing what level of education you need for certain jobs. I’m definitely going to use the website to my advantage in the future because I learned a lot. The website also included what jobs are becoming more popular and jobs that are common in certain areas of the United States.
This week in class we did our letters of note presentations. Each one was really interesting especially because everyone chose such different letters to focus on. At the same time though I was able to make some connections with my letter to other peoples letters. One similarity I noticed was there was a theme of some writers being homosexual and either having to hide it or getting in trouble for it. I found the letter I picked really interesting because it was between two very well known writers. Even though I knew who Bram Stoker and Walt Whitman were I enjoyed getting to learn more about them. I know I had read their work before but I never actually really got to look into who they were as people outside their writing. I resonated with how Stoker admired Whitman and really wanted to meet him because I know I have definitely felt that way about authors after reading certain things. I would love the chance to get to ask authors about their books and I think this project has shown me that now it’s even easier to get in touch with people. I still have questions about Stoker and Whitman that I could do more research on that weren’t necessarily related to my project. For example, I want to know more about Dracula. I had read it in school awhile ago and I remember being really interested in it but now I’m wondering more about Stokers influences and why he decided to write this story. From what I can remember it is very different from Walt Whitmans writing. Whitman seems to talk more about issues or things in real life while Dracula is definitely fiction. I think it could be interesting to further compare and contrast their work. I had also forgotten that Dracula as letters and diary entries so it really relates to this class. I would love to know why Stoker chose to write it this way. It seems a lot more difficult than only having one narrator or main character. I thought it was also interesting researching Stoker because I was able to make connections with his life and mine. Even though it was a very long time ago, he went to the college that my friend goes to in Ireland so I felt like I already knew a little bit about it and I could picture what it looks like.
In 1876, Bram Stoker wrote a letter to Walt Whitman. Stoker, the future author of Dracula, was a big fan of Whitman and admired both him and his book of poetry, Leaves of Grass. With his letter, Stoker also included a draft of a much longer letter he had written but never sent to Whitman. The letters reveal a lot about Stoker including some things that he may have not intended for many people to see. It shows how intimate and personal letter writing can be and how people are able to express feelings they may not be able to say in person. Through analyzing the letters and researching the backgrounds of the two writers, it seems possible that this could be a love letter from Stoker to Whitman. There is evidence for why they would have wanted to keep this exchange private for various reasons. To understand the relationship between Whitman and Stoker, it is important to know about the background and content in Leaves of Grass. Leaves of Grass was Walt Whitman’s only book of poetry and it was first published in 1855. The book’s main subject was America with poems about topics such as democracy, love, social change, the natural world, and the Civil War (“A Guide to Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass”). The poems are notable because Whitman emphasizes praising the senses during a time when displays like this were thought of as immoral (“Leaves of Grass”). Through this book of poetry, Whitman became an activist for many different causes. He was inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson who at the time expressed the need for a uniquely American poet and Whitman decided he could do it.
With Leaves of Grass came some controversy and mixed responses. At one point, the book had been banned for talking about sensuality yet at another time it was praised for the same reason. Whitman faced charges of obscenity and immorality for his work but this actually ended up increasing the popularity of his book (“Leaves of Grass”). In fact, some of the poems reminded people of bible verses. This may show one of the reasons why Stoker was so attracted to them. He could’ve thought of this book as his version of the bible and the way he talks about it in his letter makes it seem like it is something he worships. It spoke to him in a way that the actual bible didn’t. Some people thought that Whitman was homosexual. Although he never said it, there is evidence that this could be true. After his death, romantic letters to a male streetcar conductor from him were published. In that time period, homosexuality was not allowed and Whitman could have been putting himself and others in a lot of danger. In fact, Emerson tried to stop Whitman from publishing poems about sex and sexuality but he didn’t listen (Masel). Today Whitman is seen as a champion of same sex love.
The letter from Stoker can be seen as a love letter whether it’s love towards the book, the person, or both. Although the love letters read in class were all to people, it doesn’t necessarily always have to be that way. He could have been professing his love for the book but it seems more like it is for the author. From his letter, one can make the conclusion that Stoker could also be homosexual. Many readers appreciated Whitman’s statements about the body and how he valued manly love (Masel). Love letters don’t have to use very romantic language and that can be seen in this one. It shows there are so many ways to express how you feel about someone. Love letters seem to be very effective but it may also depend on the circumstances you are in. In the case of Stoker, this could have been one of his only ways to express his feelings to someone who may have been going through the same thing without people finding out about it. Bram Stoker was able to write his letters in a way where he was able to get his point across without being too explicit. While his letter may look like just fan mail, on a deeper level of analysis it can be seen as a love letter between two people needing to keep a secret.
For some, It is easier to express feelings in letters especially if the feelings are something that wasn’t allowed or accepted at the time. Stoker had many reasons for writing this letter but he must have also known that besides the distance between them, the letter format was most likely the only way he could talk to Whitman and without anyone else seeing it. “I have been more candid with you – have said more about myself to you than I have ever said to any one before.” (“You are a true man”). In one part of his letter Stoker says, “I know I would not long be ashamed to be natural before you.” (“You are a true man”). This quote comes from his draft that he never sent. It is interesting he didn’t initially send this version because it is so open and descriptive. That could be the reason why he never sent it. He may have thought he was being too vulnerable with someone he doesn’t personally know. The much longer draft of the letter also has a seemingly angrier tone in the beginning. Stoker tells Whitman he can burn the letter if he wants to but then talks about how much he admires him. “If you are the man I take you to be you will like to get this letter. If you are not I don’t care whether you like it or not and only ask you to put it into the fire without reading any farther.” (“You are a true man”). It could have been that he was going back and forth with himself on whether he should write as his authentic self.
Stoker also describes himself in a lot of detail for Whitman. “I know you from your work and your photograph, and if I know anything about you I think you would like to know of the personal appearance of your correspondents.” (“You are a true man”). He didn’t have to do this and if he was just sending this out of appreciation for the book, he probably wouldn’t have added details about his appearance. Again, he is being very open. He also knows Whitman values and appreciates the body. And even though it can be uncomfortable he knows this is a way to get his attention. It is seen a lot now that people will do ridiculous things for attention of someone they admire even if it is a risk. With love, or just like, comes risk and Stoker was willing to do that if it meant even the chance of meeting his idol. Many people have respect for authors in general or ones who are trying to make a statement. It is also possible to feel like you know someone well even if you haven’t met them. Stoker initially not sending this letter could be because he wasn’t well known at the time like Whitman. Even though he wants to be friends, he also says in the letter that he sees them as having a pupil and master relationship. This is acknowledging that Whitman is higher up than him and he sees him as someone he has learned from. Whether it is friends, romance, or idol, in general he is hoping for some kind of relationship but also to make his admiration known. Stoker even adds in his letter that he has seen other people write to each other and become friends.
Letters don’t have to use what we normally think of romantic language to express love or admiration. There are many different ways to show your love for someone. The privacy or intimacy of letters allows people to be more vulnerable when writing them because it is going to and meant for one person. Stoker was able to write as if he was writing to someone he knew well and he shared things that he hadn’t shared with other people. This could be because he saw similarities with himself and Whitman. The letters from Bram Stoker to Walt Whitman show admiration and the want to have some kind of relationship with the person being idolized. It shows how it hasn’t always been easy to express your feelings and the things people had to do to make their feelings known. Especially during the time when this was written, Stoker wouldn’t have been able to express out loud his true feelings and Whitman was also already being punished for some of his writing. Through his writing, Whitman was trying to make a statement and that resonated with Stoker. There may not have been many authors back then like Whitman who were willing to write so truthfully even when they were told not to. Whitman can definitely be seen as an idol and someone who deserves appreciation.
This week in class we watched and discussed the film, Can You Ever Forgive Me?. The topic of the movie was very interesting and surprising. I was surprised that Lee Israel did the forgery in the first place but also that she was able to get away with it for such a long time. As a writer she should have known how wrong and dangerous that was and that she was not only affecting herself but also the bookstore owners and collectors. I feel like even though she was desperate, she should have known the importance of original work and I think that she probably wouldn’t have wanted the same thing to happen to her. I was also very surprised by the punishment she got. For all that she did, it did not seem like the punishment matched the crime. I was expecting her to go to jail for some period of time but she was put on house arrest. She is also told to go to alcoholics annonymous but in the movie she is seen at a bar drinking. I don’t know how accurate this part is or if it was just done for the movie but I’m wondering why she wasn’t being more careful. I’m interested in reading more about her and seeing what was done for the movie and what actually happened in real life. It’s interesting to me how movies kind of have to alter a story to make it more scandalous or intriguing when the original story itself is already so crazy. I’m also wondering if Lee Israel was forgiven and by who and more of the legacy she left behind now that she’s dead. Did this whole thing make her more popular or well known and is that a good thing? I think it shows that you can still do bad or wrong things and become well known. It’s not for the right reasons but at the same time she was getting her name out and it probably made people want to read her work. In a way did doing something wrong actually help her more than it hurt her? I had never heard of Lee Israel before but now I’m very curious about learning more about her and I also want to read her book. I would like to also hear from the people she was tricking to understand better how they figured it out and what gave it away.