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Contest! Help Me Identify This Mystery Letter

January 11, 2010
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UPDATE: We have a winner! Our esteemed official accounting firm of Dewey, Cheatham and Howe have pulled the winning name from their official accounting hat — a bowler, of course — and drawn the name of Lisa P., writing from her home in the south of France. Congratulations, Lisa! Which magazine prize do you choose?

The answer: The lost correspondent was “clearly Sebastian Flyte to Charles Ryder,” Lisa wrote, naming the protagonists of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Lisa also answered correctly the follow-up bonus question, identifying “A—” as Aloysius, Sebastian’s stuffed bear.

About Lisa: Lisa humbly suggested that, as a native Englishwoman, she should perhaps withdraw on account of her presumably unfair edge over AngloFiles’s presumably American readers. But, as AngloFiles chief, I didn’t even require the professional services of D., C. and H. to overrule all such unnecessary modesty. “Readers is readers,” I reasoned, with my usual literary flair.

Just to make the rest of us jealous, Lisa offered this about her location:

Greetings from the south of France, where this morning we woke to a light dusting of snow!  (Lest I sound too horribly glamorous about the whole thing, I’m not noddling around Nice, but looking out of my sitting room window at the castle of Puilaurens!).

Chateau Puilaurens, onetime Cathar fortress.

In 2005, when AngloFiles was playing FrancoFile, she visited a different Cathar fortress — teetering similarly on a rocky tor near Puilaurens, which she includes here just for fun:

Queribus (photo by Mandy)

For a taste of quirky history, look up the Cathars — 11th-century feminist, vegetarian, religious free-thinkers. Brutally quashed by Crusaders and the French monarchy, of course.

The original contest: Help! Wedged between her inlaid-satinwood secrétaire and the wainscoting behind, your favorite AngloFile found a letter “written on, and enveloped in, heavy late-Victorian mourning paper, black-coroneted and black-bordered.” [Late-breaking hint: Don’t let the paper’s provenance distract you!] I’ve lost the envelope, alas, and the signature– well, you can see for yourself, below.

I need your sleuthing to identify the writer, who may be fictional (like my secrétaire). If you can tell me who wrote it, via email to anglofilesmail@gmail.com, on or before February 1, you could win a copy of a British magazine — your choice of either British Vogue or British Heritage.

In case of multiple correct i.d.’s, AngloFiles will draw a winner after placing the names of all eligible entries in this Sevres bowl, her favorite for white raspberries.Here’s the letter. Sleuth away:

Dearest C.,

I found a box of this paper at the back of a bureau so I must write to you as I am mourning for my lost innocence. It never looked like living. The doctors despaired of it from the start.

Soon I am off to Venice to stay with my papa in his palace of sin. I wish you were coming. I wish you were here.

I am never quite alone. Members of my family keep turning up and collecting luggage and going away again, but the white raspberries are ripe.

I have a good mind not to take A— to Venice. I don’t want him to meet a lot of horrid Italian bears and pick up a lot of bad habits.

Love or what you will.

S.

Dearest C…, —

I found a box of this paper at the back of a bureau so I must write to you as I am mourning for my lost innocence. It never looked like living. The doctors despaired of it from the start.

I am never quite alone. Members of my family keep turning up and collecting luggage and going away again, but the white raspberries are ripe.

I have a good mind not to take A— to Venice. I don’t want him to meet a lot of horrid Italian bears and pick up a lot of bad habits.

Love or what you will.

S.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Lisa permalink
    January 29, 2010 1:39 pm

    Clearly XXX to XXX.

    [NB: Comment edited before posting (by MK), for obvious reasons.]

  2. Lisa permalink
    February 4, 2010 11:50 am

    Oh, I’m thrilled to have won! I think a copy of “British Heritage” might look quite nice on my coffee table. Thank you!

    Thanks also for posting the lovely pictures of the Cathar castles of Puilaurens and Queribus. They really are as beautiful “in the flesh” (or should that be “in the stone”) as they look in the photos.

    There’s an interesting story loosely attached to Puilaurens. One of the towers in the castle is called “La Dame Blanche” (The White Lady), and the name is presumed to be a reference to Blanche of Bourbon (1339-1361), who may (or may not) have stayed at Puilaurens during her journey from her home in Vincennes to her wedding to Pedro I (“The Cruel”) of Castile in Andalusia.

    There don’t seem to be many verifiable facts about Blanche, but legend has it that she was murdered on the orders of her husband, Pedro the Cruel!

    “All very Franco-File and vaguely interesting, but where’s the Anglo connexion?” I hear you ask.

    Well, Blanche’s story is referred to in Chaucer’s “The Shipman’s Tale”, and you can’t get much more Anglo than Geoffrey Chaucer….

    Which only goes to show, you can find Anglo-File connexions in the most unlikely places!

    • February 4, 2010 12:07 pm

      Thanks for the backstory, Lisa!

      You really have to hope no “dame” would willingly approach the altar to marry anyone with “the Cruel” in his name. “The Great,” fine. “The Kind,” moreso, or better still, “the Uxorious.” But I’m not so sure about “the Bald,” “the Fat,” or “the Red” (sounds choleric). And I can rule out categorically “the Cruel,” “the Hammer” (Charlemagne’s grandfather) and — Lord help us — “the Pious”!

      • Lisa permalink
        February 5, 2010 1:42 pm

        On balance, I think “the Generous with Tiaras” would suit me best! Right, now where’s my copy of “The Observer’s Book of European Princes”……..

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