We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

Women's Autobiography: at Montreal · 4 April 06

Dear Marianne,

I had planned to write summaries and commentaries on the papers and sessions I heard at the Montreal ASECS in my next few letters the way I did for the MLA conference this past Christmas, but when I looked at my stenographer’s pad, I discovered I covered nearly half the book’s sheets on one side, scratching away, now with Pitman sten, now with the alphabet.

It’ll take me more than a few letters. No matter. Doing this will enable me better to remember, make coherent and memorable, and understand what I heard. Unless I write it up it will fade from my memory and thus from life in me. And I know there was at least one paper whose thesis and strategy would be perfect for me to use for a paper on the memoirs of Anne Murray, Lady Halkett. So it behooves me to know precisely what was the speaker’s theory about women’s autobiography as the words and thoughts could be so useful.

More centrally—as John R. and I got to talking about—for me experience exists to be written about. I am not like Boswell in that I chose to have an experience so that I may write about it, but I am glad of those kinds of experiences that lend themselves to writing. I told him how much I enjoy writing because it cheers me up. He said he thought that was true of Boswell too. He noted that I like to write directly and to someone, piece after piece, but he (John) prefers to weave everything together and make a more complex web consistent in itself. Mine is a more immediate, visceral need. I come alive through writing and feel I reach what counts in others most when they write back honestly, openly, from the heart in turn. He wants to make sense of the pieces in relation to one another.

From the heart does not necessarily mean emotionally: people can be seriously themselves at play, when they are ironic and light, and when they debate issues too.

So the first day, Thursday, I heard a number of excellent papers on women’s autobiographies, on their epistolary writings and friendships, how Parisian courtesans projected (false) identities by choosing certain kinds of furnishings for their apartments, and on how women interacted with and wrote about landscape. I have 10 papers on these topics to go over.

But I can no more tonight, so bid you pleasant dreams, and will continue this letter tomorrow.


Posted by: Ellen

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