Suddenly, it’s as if I had woken up from a dream. It’s as if I had been reborn again to this world after a long stay in the past. I have come to this conclusion only in the last few days. At last my mind, once locked in the ivory tower of literature, has come to its senses. My common sense, once corrupted by paper books, has regained its balance. Now that I own a smartphone, a tablet computer, and that I read e-books, I can clearly see after such a long time. I can actually see as if it was the first time.
I can see speed. The world is spinning round and round in my smartphone, and everything that hopelessly lives between heaven and earth is consumed in just a millisecond. All happens instantly in my smartphone. Inextricably entangled, I can see speed, despair, and consumption.
I’m not concerned with the Two Chief World Systems. I will not tell you, dearest readers, that I don’t like what I see. I only can give you a single, small example of how speed, despair, and consumption influenced the general ban on one of the literary genres I love the most. I will actually try to defend and to point out the qualities of that genre despite knowing that the big e-book tide will flood it in a few years.
Dearest readers, I am surprised that most of the people with whom I talk about books (therefore some of you, I guess) consider the epistolary genre quite inaccessible. Still, masterpieces like Clarissa, Dangerous Liaisons, The Sorrows of Young Werther, The Last Letters of Jacopo Ortis, Frankenstein, and Dracula were written in epistolary form. And if these books seem too remote from you, please note that Guido Piovene’s Confession of a Novice, Natalia Ginzburg’s Dear Michael, David Grossman’s Be my Knife appeared in the 20th century. These all are epistolary novels, like Federico Roncoroni’s Un giorno, altrove (One Day, in Another Place), published in 2013, where the paper letter exchange is substituted by an e-mail correspondence.
Anyway, are epistolary novels really to be rejected? As much as I force myself to do so, I hardly can understand the reasons of such definitive verdict.
Do you perhaps get bored when you read a sequence of letters without a single description or a dialogue in them? Are you hungry for actions and not for reflections? For high speed and not for pauses of meditation? However, actions and reflections alternate in Dracula and in Dangerous Liaisons.
Do you perhaps feel like voyeurs, obliged to follow events told almost exclusively in the first person? Do you think that the psychological study belonging naturally to letters is no more up-to-date? Or that it cannot take you anywhere? I guess this depends on when those books were written, when the accurate analysis of the characters was far more important than it is today. The psychological study can be very interesting, though.
Is perhaps the verbosity of letters that annoys you? Today it’s well known that every communication longer than five lines (hence also this editorial) is classified as ponderous, dusty, unreadable. A well-written letter, even if long, can actually be engaging and piercing like a short scene.
Do epistolary novels perhaps appear like a completely outdated genre to you? This is probably the right answer. However, to say that epistolary novels are unreadable because they contain letters is just like to say that black and white films are unwatchable because they have no colours.
Before dismissing epistolary novels, I do hope that you can approach them – the best of them – with no prejudice at all and that when reading them, you may forget despair, speed, and consumption only for just a while.
In the Celluloid Words section of this Inkroci issue you will find a review of the epistolary novel Dangerous Liaisons, followed by a short commentary on the films taken from the story narrated in the book.