Special Delivery

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Special Delivery: A Packet of Replies by Branch Cabell.

This late book by Cabell consists of a dozen unposted letters and ten posted ones. The ten are each brief and polite (if sometimes just detectably arch) replies to unsolicited mail received in the course of a career as a professional man of letters. And in each case, there follows a much longer corresponding unsent “draft” letter, in which Cabell declares his real sentiments regarding the matter raised, the sorts of correspondents who raise such matters, and tangent issues of various sorts. The opening and closing letters are addressed to the reader and to the writer himself, respectively.

If you’re up for witty slams against book collectors, professional reviewers, aspiring and mediocre writers, this volume offers them in abundance. It also touches on sexual mores, the creative process, magic, drugs, and religion (but I repeat myself). The letter I found most surprising was “About Loveliness Revised,” addressed to a former lover and given the honor of finishing the series.

“The reader is asked to believe that all the correspondents addressed in this book are imaginary persons. Should the reader not comply with this moderate and civil request, the author must decline to accept any responsibility for such stubbornness.”

The foregoing disclaimer is not only more urbane, but a good deal less categorical than the one typical in today’s works of fiction. What’s more, if we observe the addressees of “The Epistle Explicative” and “The Epistle Egoistic,” and complete the syllogism, we discover that we are requested to believe that both Branch Cabell and the readers of this book “are imaginary persons.” I think this consequence was the author’s intention, and not an oversight. [via]