The postcard pictured above was sent on 12 April 1988 from Wadebridge in Cornwall to Oxford. It is one of those cards you yourself might recall having written to your own grandparents during a family summer holiday.
Above is the reverse side. The note underneath the drawing and the address were in all likelihood added by an adult. They identify the card’s author as ‘Jessie’ and the addressee as ‘Granny’. Jessie, apparently, was too young to produce a complex drawing, let alone write.
You may ask yourself – just as I do – : did child or parents initiate the ‘writing’ of the postcard? who chose it? did the child tell the parent to add the note?
This postcard is a wonderful example of what I would call a ‘composite object’: a letter, postcard, or text/drawing in a different format, that is the result of a collective effort of several authors – in this case: a child and an adult. Their relationship is marked by a complex mix of agency and dependency: the child’s agency seems both curtailed and extended: they depend, for instance, on the parent for a range of activities – such as buying the postcard and adding the correct address; but they are also enabled to participate in ‘grown-up’ correspondence and to express themselves freely – and, in this case, ‘colourfully’.
The parent’s position of power notwithstanding, the traces of their emotional investment, imagination, and enjoyment in taking part in this shared project are also obvious – not least from the little, incomplete smiley appended to the child’s name. By adding the note and addressing the card to ‘Granny’, the parent even assumes the child’s perspective – and with that their ‘voice’; they write not only on their child’s behalf but in their name.
Similar forms of collaborative writing and mutual investment can also be found in late eighteenth-century children’s letters. I am currently working on a case study of the letters written by the children of the German philosopher, theologian and cultural historian Johann Gottfried August Herder in the 1780s and 90s; the period I am particularly concerned with are the years 1788 / 89 during which Herder travelled to Italy.
The first results of my research on this material will be published in a collection of essays entitled Was ist ein Brief? – Aufsätze zu epistolarer Theorie und Kultur / What is a letter? Essays on epistolary theory and culture which Caroline Socha (Basel/Switzerland) and I are currently preparing for publication with Königshausen & Neumann. If you, dear Reader, would like to read more about children’s correspondence and maybe, also, about epistolary theory and cultures more generally, this book might be of interest to you.
Quite independently of that, I very much hope you enjoyed this short missive and that you will come back in time for more.
Marie Isabel Matthews-Schlinzig
PS: I chanced upon the postcard pictured above in one of Oxford’s many Oxfam shops. I also found a few others there which I might share with you at a later stage. If you happen to be ‘Jessie’ or know (of) them, I would appreciate it very much if you could get in touch.