front cover of The Art of Letter Writing
The Art of Letter Writing
Edited by the Bodleian Library
Bodleian Library Publishing, 2014
While many bemoan the lack of good manners in society today, the most courteous among us would feel mightily out of place across the dining table from a Dowager Countess. Upholding the highest standards of social decorum was of utmost importance for the 1920s British upper class and even more so for the aspiring middle class that sought to emulate it. Yet the path to perfect comportment seemed strewn—then as now—with pitfalls, from befuddling arrays of silverware to less-than-gracious houseguests. Originally published in the 1920s, the petite guides in the Bodleian Library’s series offer time-honored advice to avoid such pitfalls.

The Art of Letter Writing provides more than fifty examples of well-crafted correspondence that will lend confidence whether one needs to break off an engagement, accept an invitation to a country house weekend, complain about a courier, or write to a countess.
Charmingly presented, The Art of Good Letter Writing is by turns humorously old-fashioned and timeless, and it makes the perfect gift for all who miss this elegant bygone era.

front cover of Blessed Are the Peacemakers
Blessed Are the Peacemakers
Small Histories during World War II, Letter Writing, and Family History Methodology
Suzanne Kesler Rumsey
University of Alabama Press, 2021
An uncommon and intimate account of the lives of two conscientious objectors
In the summer of 2013, Suzanne Kesler Rumsey discovered hundreds of letters exchanged between her late grandparents, Miriam and Benjamin Kesler. The letters, written between 1941 and 1946, were filled with typical wartime sentiments: love and longing, anguish at being apart, uncertainty about the war and the country’s future, and attempts at humor to keep their spirits up. What is unusual about their story is that Ben Kesler was not writing from a theater of war. Instead, Ben, a member of the Dunkard Brethren Church, was a conscientious objector. He, along with about 12,000 other men, opted to join the Civilian Public Service (CPS) and contribute to “work of national importance” at one of the 218 CPS camps around the country.

In Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Small Histories during World War II, Letter Writing, and Family History Methodology, Rumsey has mined not only her grandparents’ letters but also archival research on CPS camps and historical data from several Mennonite and Brethren archives to recapture the narrative of Ben’s service at two different camps and of Miriam’s struggle to support herself and her husband financially at the young age of seventeen. Ben and Miriam’s life during the war was extraordinarily ordinary, spanning six years of unrecognized and humble work for their country. Ben was not compensated for his work in the camps, and Miriam stayed home and worked as a day laborer, as a live-in maid, as a farmhand, and in the family butcher shop in order to earn enough money to support them both. Small histories like that of her grandparents, Rumsey argues, provide a unique perspective on significant political and historical moments.

Blessed Are the Peacemakers also explores the rhetorical functions of letter writing as well as the methodology of family history writing. Ben and Miriam’s letters provide an apt backdrop to examine the genre, a relatively understudied mode of literacy. Rumsey situates the young couple’s correspondence within ars dictaminis, the art of letter writing, granting new insights into the genre and how personal accounts shape our understanding of historical events.

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