The Strange Destiny of the Unsent Letter

Caroline Atkins


Letters are, as the critic Janet Malcolm puts it, ‘fossils of feeling’: once written and sent, their sentiments cannot be taken back. But what if, once written, they’re not sent – or never arrive?

What a Hazard a Letter Is is the first book to look at unsent letters in all their forms:

  • the expressions of love left unsaid that could have changed two people’s lives

  • the shooting from the hip outbursts that, if not thought better of, would have landed the author in hot water

  • the plot twists in novels caused by letters going astray

  • the letters that events conspired to leave unsent, by death, disaster or providence

  • the habitual un-senders of letters, from Emily Dickinson to President Truman

This endlessly surprising book ranges from George III to David Nicholls’ One Day, and from Beethoven’s mysterious muse to Iris Murdoch, in unsent letters that are by turns magnificent tirades, unbearably poignant, and all too often tell truths too near the mark to send. 

Caroline Atkins is a writer and editor for the Mail on Sunday’s You Magazine. She has written several books on design, and edited magazines for the National Magazine Company. She lives in London.

September 2018
jacketed hardback

198 x 129mm
ISBN-13: 978 0 9932911 7 3

Caroline Atkins writes about letter-writing in the February issue of  Country Living

Caroline Atkins writes about letter-writing in the February issue of Country Living

‘This is an enchanting book and, quite soon, any country house bedroom that doesn’t have it on one of its occasional tables won’t be worth sleeping in… Don’t deprive yourself a moment longer. Buy the book.’ Clive Aslet, Country Life

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‘A curious, astute and entertaining collection of famous unsent, unreceived (and a few unwritten) letters in history and literature… Some of the most heartbreaking are imaginary… But others still, wild and dashed-off as they might seem, are literature of the highest order… This utterly original compilation takes in Saul Bellow’s manic letter-writer Moses Herzog, television’s The Young Ones and the wily response of John F Kennedy to Nikita Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis… A charming book, witty, original and wise’
Christopher Hart, Sunday Times

‘The deserved success of Shaun Usher’s marvellous anthology Letters of Note has inspired several imitators, and Caroline Atkins’ sparkling collection makes an ideal companion volume. Here are missives both literary and otherwise… Some are grave, some are tender; some are funny, several are vengeful or self-justifying. It’s a great idea for a book’ Cressida Connolly, Spectator

‘[A] gloriously varied collection… Within these fascinating pages jostle Beethoven, John F. Kennedy, Van Gogh, Boris Johnson, Oscar Wilde, John Major and more — all putting pen to paper (or fingers to keys) and then thinking better of it.’ Bel Mooney, Daily Mail

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