Literature and Longing in 1937

March 5th, 1937

Dear Will,

You are really sweet to write me such a nice cheerful letter.  I almost envy the girl who you say is a good friend of yours.  Sometimes I think if we had not lived so far apart and could have been together more, we could have understood each other better.  Anyway that is past history and perhaps all worked out for the best to all concerned. 

It is so nice for you to have Saturdays.  That gives you more time for rest and recreation.  I know you don’t mind that.

When I got your letter, I hadn’t heard of “Live Alone and Like It.”  I began at once to try to get a Sunday American.  Soon I learned I could get the whole story in book form at the city library.  So I did.  It seems to be a very much talked about book right now.  The edition I read had printed on the wrapper “Men absolutely forbidden to read this.”  However, I decided my salary would not permit all of the expenditures that author called for.  If I did all she mentioned my savings would be even less than now.  

Have you read “Gone With the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell?  The author is an Atlanta lady, and the setting is in Georgia in the time of the War Between the States.  I have also read recently “90 Degrees in the Shade,” another southern book.  The last one was written by a Mr. Cason, a University of Alabama professor, who afterwards committed suicide.  The book is a criticism of the south.

Last weekend I visited a lady in Leighton.  She and I were good friends and taught together before she married twelve years ago.  This was the first time I had visited her since she married.  I surely had a grand time.  Leighton is a small place, but most of the people there live in beautiful old homes, have wealth, and keep servants.  She gave a party Saturday afternoon and I met some nice people.  Sunday I met more at church.

Tomorrow I am going to Birmingham to spend the day.  One of the other teachers is driving down and asked me to go.  

I am not sure whom you mean by the gentleman I was so interested in.  If you mean Harry, he married Christmas.  Boo-hoo!  I’ll tell you all about it someday if I ever see you again.  

My club is giving a benefit bridge party to-night.  For several reasons I decided at the last minute not to go.  I had rather give my part out-right.  We are trying to raise money to pay for a scholarship that the club is giving to a poor girl to the University Center.  

Are you tired of reading all this I am writing?  I hope not for I just felt like writing and writing and writing.

A Friend,

Florence

P.S. Sometime when you have a little time to spare, you might remember I like to get a letter from you.  

This 1937 letter from Florence to J.W. Key was actually the first one I ever read from my collection.  I’m not sure why I haven’t written about it yet, because it’s easily my favorite I’ve come across thus far.  This letter is the one that sparked a desire in me to record these pieces of history.  It’s the catalyst behind this blog and reading it made me pause to realize that I had just found something vitally important to preserving our shared human experience.  This one isn’t just a letter to me.

There are so many things I love about this one:  the slight longing in Florence’s tone for J.W. to return her affection, her eloquent writing, the flirtation, and the historical context provided by the literature references.

I had never heard of Live Alone and Like It until reading this letter.  It was written in 1936 by author and Vogue editor Marjorie Hillis, with the intention of teaching single women how to live lavishly and enjoy being alone.  Notable chapters include “A Lady and Her Liquor” and “The Pleasures of a Single Bed.”  Hillis advocated that women should have breakfast in bed whenever possible, own several pairs of luxurious pajamas, and keep a bottle of the best whiskey money can buy.  Sounds like a plan to me, Marjorie.  She also coined the phrase “Independence is its own reward.”

One of the sentences that made me fall in love with this letter is when Florence says, “Have you read ‘Gone With the Wind’ by Margaret Mitchell?”  Gone With the Wind was published the year before this letter was written in 1936.  The iconic film was released on January 17, 1940, three years after Florence wrote to J.W.  I wonder if they saw it and what they thought of it.

The third book she mentions, 90 Degrees in the Shade, was a collection of essays written by Clarence Cason in 1935, two years before this letter was written.  One of Cason’s main arguments was against the practice of lynching, which was still prevalent (though declining) in the 1930s.  Lynchings were most common in the southern United States from the 1890s to 1920s, and Cason was among a class of southern intellectuals who both loved his home and was simultaneously appalled by it.  He killed himself before the book went into print, and though no suicide letter was left behind his colleagues believed he feared the backlash 90 Degrees in the Shade would receive.

Finally, the part of the letter I love most is Florence’s “P.S. Sometime when you have a little time to spare, you might remember I like to get a letter from you.”  It makes me wonder if J.W. wrote to her more, if their letters grew increasingly flirtatious, or if time came between them once and for all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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100yearsofletters

Welcome, I'm Jessica. I renovated and moved into my grandparents' old home in early 2018. When my grandmother Jane was alive, she loved to sit outside on a swing with her cat Boots (who still lives here) and read. As we were cleaning up around the house I found a box of letters sitting in a swing outside that she was going through in the time before she passed. I stored them away and recently started reading through them myself. 100 Years of Letters is intended to share those family letters (some of which are over 100 years old) with the world and to keep the history behind them alive. Curl up with your coffee, a cozy blanket, and possibly a cat, and join me on this journey through history!

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