In 1932, renowned Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung wrote a largely critical piece for Europäische Revue on the subject of Ulysses, James Joyce's groundbreaking, controversial, and famously challenging novel. From Jung's essay:

I read to page 135 with despair in my heart, falling asleep twice on the way. The incredible versatility of Joyce’s style has a monotonous and hypnotic effect. Nothing comes to meet the reader, everything turns away from him, leaving him gaping after it. The book is always up and away, dissatisfied with itself, ironic, sardonic, virulent, contemptuous, sad, despairing, and bitter […] Yes, I admit I feel have been made a fool of. The book would not meet me half way, nothing in it made the least attempt to be agreeable, and that always gives the reader an irritating sense of inferiority.
In September of that year, Jung sent a copy of his article to Joyce along with the following fascinating letter. Joyce was both annoyed and proud. Interestingly, two years later Jung treated Joyce’s daughter, Lucia, for schizophrenia. It was around this time that Joyce wrote in Jung’s copy of Ulysses:
To Dr. C. G. Jung, with grateful appreciation of his aid and counsel. James Joyce. Xmas 1934, Zurich.
(Source: A Companion to James Joyce; Image via Wikipedia.)

Küsnacht-Zürich
Seestrasse 228
September 27th 1932

James Joyce Esq.

Hotel Elite
Zurich

Dear Sir,

Your Ulysses has presented the world such an upsetting psychological problem that repeatedly I have been called in as a supposed authority on psychological matters.

Ulysses proved to be an exceedingly hard nut and it has forced my mind not only to most unusual efforts, but also to rather extravagant peregrinations (speaking from the standpoint of a scientist). Your book as a whole has given me no end of trouble and I was brooding over it for about three years until I succeeded to put myself into it. But I must tell you that I’m profoundly grateful to yourself as well as to your gigantic opus, because I learned a great deal from it. I shall probably never be quite sure whether I did enjoy it, because it meant too much grinding of nerves and of grey matter. I also don’t know whether you will enjoy what I have written about Ulysses because I couldn’t help telling the world how much I was bored, how I grumbled, how I cursed and how I admired. The 40 pages of non stop run at the end is a string of veritable psychological peaches. I suppose the devil’s grandmother knows so much about the real psychology of a woman, I didn’t.

Well, I just try to recommend my little essay to you, as an amusing attempt of a perfect stranger that went astray in the labyrinth of your Ulysses and happened to get out of it again by sheer good luck. At all events you may gather from my article what Ulysses has done to a supposedly balanced psychologist.

With the expression of my deepest appreciation, I remain, dear Sir,

Yours faithfully,
C. G. Jung



In 1945, weeks after graduating from high school and with no support from the child’s father, 17-year-old Maya Angelou gave birth to her only son. Two months later, desperate for independence, she moved out of her mother’s home, found accommodation of her own, and began to raise her son. Over the next 70 years, Maya Angelou achieved more than most as a celebrated and award-winning author, poet, educator, dramatist, actress, filmmaker, and activist. The first of her seven autobiographies, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is considered a classic.

Eight years ago, she wrote a letter of advice to her younger self. It was reprinted in the book, What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self.

(Source: What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self; Image: Maya Angelou in 1993, via Wikipedia.)

Dear Marguerite,

You’re itching to be on your own. You don’t want anybody telling you what time you have to be in at night or how to raise your baby. You’re going to leave your mother’s big comfortable house and she won’t stop you, because she knows you too well.

But listen to what she says:

When you walk out of my door, don’t let anybody raise you—you’ve been raised.

You know right from wrong.

In every relationship you make, you’ll have to show readiness to adjust and make adaptations.

Remember, you can always come home.


You will go home again when the world knocks you down—or when you fall down in full view of the world. But only for two or three weeks at a time. Your mother will pamper you and feed you your favorite meal of red beans and rice. You’ll make a practice of going home so she can liberate you again—one of the greatest gifts along with nurturing your courage, that she will give you.

Be courageous, but not foolhardy.

Walk proud as you are,
Maya



Dear USA,

Today is very exciting, for me at least, for one particular reason: the beautiful US edition of Letters of Note is released at long last, which means that you can finally get your hands on a copy in all sensible American book shops, or by ordering one online. I’m very, very proud of the book and the letters it contains, and think that Chronicle Books have done a grand job with this gorgeous edition.

To learn more about the book, see some photos, and find links to online stockists, etc., click here.

I cannot wait to hear what you think of it. Please do get in touch when you’ve had a chance to dive in.

Huge thanks,

Shaun

email: shaun@lettersofnote.com
twitter: @lettersofnote



Published in 1962, Silent Spring was a pioneering book that alerted the public to the devastating harm being caused by fertilisers and pesticides—a hugely important exposé which, according to many, triggered the modern environmental movement. In 1960, as she worked on the book, its author, marine biologist Rachel Carson, was diagnosed with the cancer that would eventually take her life. Seven months before she died, with her health failing, Carson spent a morning at the coast with her dear friend, Dorothy Freeman, watching the migration of monarch butterflies; that afternoon, she wrote her friend a letter.

(Source: Always, Rachel: The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman; Image: Rachel Carson, via Post Gazette.)

September 10, 1963

Dear One,

This is a postscript to our morning at Newagen, something I think I can write better than say. For me it was one of the loveliest of the summer’s hours, and all the details will remain in my memory: that blue September sky, the sounds of the wind in the spruces and surf on the rocks, the gulls busy with their foraging, alighting with deliberate grace, the distant views of Griffiths Head and Todd Point, today so clearly etched, though once half seen in swirling fog. But most of all I shall remember the monarchs, that unhurried westward drift of one small winged form after another, each drawn by some invisible force. We talked a little about their migration, their life history. Did they return? We thought not; for most, at least, this was the closing journey of their lives.

But it occurred to me this afternoon, remembering, that it had been a happy spectacle, that we had felt no sadness when we spoke of the fact that there would be no return. And rightly—for when any living thing has come to the end of its life cycle we accept that end as natural.

For the Monarch, that cycle is measured in a known span of months. For ourselves, the measure is something else, the span of which we cannot know. But the thought is the same: when that intangible cycle has run its course it is a natural and not unhappy thing that a life comes to an end.

That is what those brightly fluttering bits of life taught me this morning. I found a deep happiness in it—so I hope, may you. Thank you for this morning.

Rachel



On the evening of February 1st, 1924, the New York Symphony Orchestra played Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at Carnegie Hall in New York, conducted by Walter Damrosch. Thankfully for those who couldn’t attend, the performance was broadcast live on the radio. A couple of days later, the orchestra received a stunning letter of thanks from the unlikeliest of sources: Helen Keller, a renowned author and activist who had been deaf and blind from a young age. It can be read below.

Eight years later, Keller wrote an equally evocative letter in which she described the view from atop the Empire State Building.

(Source: The Baton, Volumes 2-3, via Marcus Williams; Image: Helen Keller “listening” to the radio, c.1929, via Angelfire.)

93 Seminole Avenue,
Forest Hills, L. I.,
February 2, 1924.

The New York Symphony Orchestra,
New York City.

Dear Friends:

I have the joy of being able to tell you that, though deaf and blind, I spent a glorious hour last night listening over the radio to Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony.” I do not mean to say that I “heard” the music in the sense that other people heard it; and I do not know whether I can make you understand how it was possible for me to derive pleasure from the symphony. It was a great surprise to myself. I had been reading in my magazine for the blind of the happiness that the radio was bringing to the sightless everywhere. I was delighted to know that the blind had gained a new source of enjoyment; but I did not dream that I could have any part in their joy. Last night, when the family was listening to your wonderful rendering of the immortal symphony someone suggested that I put my hand on the receiver and see if I could get any of the vibrations. He unscrewed the cap, and I lightly touched the sensitive diaphragm. What was my amazement to discover that I could feel, not only the vibrations, but also the impassioned rhythm, the throb and the urge of the music! The intertwined and intermingling vibrations from different instruments enchanted me. I could actually distinguish the cornets, the roll of the drums, deep-toned violas and violins singing in exquisite unison. How the lovely speech of the violins flowed and plowed over the deepest tones of the other instruments! When the human voice leaped up trilling from the surge of harmony, I recognized them instantly as voices. I felt the chorus grow more exultant, more ecstatic, upcurving swift and flame-like, until my heart almost stood still. The women’s voices seemed an embodiment of all the angelic voices rushing in a harmonious flood of beautiful and inspiring sound. The great chorus throbbed against my fingers with poignant pause and flow. Then all the instruments and voices together burst forth—an ocean of heavenly vibration—and died away like winds when the atom is spent, ending in a delicate shower of sweet notes.

Of course, this was not “hearing” but I do know that the tones and harmonies conveyed to me moods of great beauty and majesty. I also sensed, or thought I did, the tender sounds of nature that sing into my hand—swaying reeds and winds and the murmur of streams. I have never been so enraptured before by a multitude of tone-vibrations.

As I listened, with darkness and melody, shadow and sound filling all the room, I could not help remembering that the great composer who poured forth such a flood of sweetness into the world was deaf like myself. I marvelled at the power of his quenchless spirit by which out of his pain he wrought such joy for others—and there I sat, feeling with my hand the magnificent symphony which broke like a sea upon the silent shores of his soul and mine.

Let me thank you warmly for all the delight which your beautiful music has brought to my household and to me. I want also to thank Station WEAF for the joy they are broadcasting in the world.

With kindest regards and best wishes, I am,

Sincerely yours,

(Signed)

HELEN KELLER