Tales of Mail: Epistolary Novels

~posted by Rebecca K.

A previous post discussed the pleasure of writing letters. Today let’s explore letters in fiction. The epistolary novel is defined in The Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms as “a novel written in the form of a series of letters exchanged among the characters of the story, with extracts from their journals sometimes included.” Today this genre has extended to also include emails, memos, legal documents, blog posts, and other online and official means of correspondence and communication.

Griffin & SabineA mesmerizing work in this genre is Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence, originally published in 1991 but timeless in its intrigue. A peculiar tale of mystery and friendship across oceans, the lavishly illustrated, interactive book consists of a collection of letters exchanged between a London artist and an artist in the South Pacific. The volume is a visual and tactile feast, with each page containing an envelope with a letter tucked inside. There is something fun and a bit risqué about reading other people’s letters and getting a peek into their lives and thoughts. A 25th-anniversary edition of Griffin and Sabine will be released March 22, 2016.

Here are some recent novels where letters feature prominently. All can be found in the Library’s collection:


The breezy Keep Me Posted by Lisa Beazley is a modern-day story of two harried sisters, one in New York and one in Singapore, who decide to break from technology and communicate via handwritten letters, resulting in a rigorous outpouring of confessions and epiphanies.

In Sarah Jio’s sunny novel Goodnight, June, the title character returns to her hometown of Seattle after the death of her great aunt Ruby, and learns through found letters about the friendship between her aunt and author Margaret Wise Brown of Goodnight, Moon fame.

Delicious! is acclaimed food writer Ruth Reichl’s first novel and follows the adventures of an editorial assistant who discovers a trove of letters exchanged between a Midwest teenager and the great chef James Beard during World War II.

Dear Mr. Knightley, a modern version of Jean Webster’s 1912 novel Daddy Long Legs, chronicles an orphaned young woman’s opinions and experiences in college through her letters to the anonymous benefactor who covers her expenses.

Visit the Central Library next week to see letters come to life! On Tuesday, March 29, 2016 at noon, in celebration of the First Folio exhibition at The Seattle Public Library, The Juliet Project will give a live, original 30-minute performance inspired by letters that people http://www.spl.org/library-collection/first-foliofrom all over the world have written to the protagonist of Shakespeare’s timeless, perpetually popular play, “Romeo and Juliet.” Through movement, song, humor, and heartache, the diverse cast will explore the connection that people throughout the past and present have with the Bard’s tragic heroine, regardless of their age, race, gender, or sexual orientation.

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