Friday, October 24, 2008

Folly - The word for the day is Epistolary

Epistolary is such a great word! The word itself just seems to have no bearing whatsoever on what it means.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines Epistolary as:
Of or pertaining to letters or letter-writing. Contained in letters; of the nature of letters; carried on by letters.
You may be more familiar with the word Epistle - the Bible has the Epistles of Paul. From the OED again, the definition of Epistle is:
A communication made to an absent person in writing; a letter.
What on Earth does all this have to do with Folly? King uses a lot of letters and journals in Folly, to fill in holes, give background, and to establish personality. This is interesting because she points out the fact that the letters and journal entries gloss over or entirely avoid aspects of the topic under discussion.

There's a whole genre of writing called Epistolary Novels. Most of these tell the entire story in either letter or journal format. King's treatment of the letters and journals in Folly makes me think hard about the other epistolary novels I've read. What is the character leaving out? Some examples are Bridget Jones's Diary and Dracula.

I'm pretty sure that Fielding's Bridget Jones probably doesn't have a lot of substance that's not included in her journal. But Stoker's Dracula is so abbreviated that it's spawned an entire mini-genre of "the real story of Dracula". (Fred Saberhagen's series shows Van Helsing as saditic lunatic, Harker as a dim-witted boob, and Mina as grateful to get away from Harker's blandness... Cate Cary's Bloodline suggests that Mina's son by Harker exhibits some disturbing superhuman characteristics... Tim Lucas' Book of Renfield tells the story from Renfield's point of view.)

Rae is very up-front about leaving details out of her letters to Petra. So, what does that say about all the scholarly histories based on contemporary letters and journals?

How much detail do you leave out of your letters, memos, facebook page, etc? How do you decide what to include and exclude? And how does this affect how people see or remember you?

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