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This article is taken from PN Review 276, Volume 50 Number 4, March - April 2024.

Servus neminis
for Jude Walton
Lucy Sheerman
Dearest, if I may,

I want to describe how I came to use letters to express the complexity of navigating the page and its relation to a world, the desire for a reader who might anchor that uncertainty. Or perhaps just the desire for a reader.

When we first moved to Yorkshire it was a joy to discover how close to the Brontës’ former home we lived. Like us, they were three sisters and one brother. Like ours, their father was a figure of interest and influence, whose roots in poverty meant he had discovered freedom in books and the capacity to invent the world he built for his children. Our father, newly elected as a local politician, moved his family near to his work, just as Patrick Brontë had done.

If you were to ask me why I choose the letter form, I might confide in you the need to write to someone, to make myself heard. It’s akin to whispering. I suspect it was arriving in Yorkshire as a young child with a Welsh accent that drew me to writing. Pinned into the moment of a question left me silent, unable to think. Far from my old friends and our extended family, letter writing became a natural place of expression. I was constructing a place where I might be understood or at least able to explain myself, where I was not other, although the form presupposes separation.

The Brontës understood this type of isolation. Ellen Nussey describes how her friend Charlotte arrived at school with an Irish accent. She hadn’t spent enough time away from ...


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