Concerning a letter, to three wives

Concerning a letter, to three wives

This film, ‘A Letter to Three Wives’, directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, was distributed in 1949. The blurb says it’s a comedy in which three wives, when together, receive a joint letter saying that one of their husbands has run off with the letter-writer. They are told they will know which of the husbands this is by the end of the day.

This is not much like the letter I received today, which was from the local Constabulary and concerned whether my burglar alarm was still being maintained. It’s about the only alarm in the village, as our main delinquency problem is deer who eat flowers. There are other reasons why this humdrum communication is different from the letter in the title of this film, which in a way was three letters, but via just the one written version.

Could such a film be made now, and could such letters be written now? The answer is almost certainly no to both, or rather no to the second question, and a qualified no to the first unless the film was a historical one. Would anyone actually refer to the women concerned as ‘wives’ in this non-ironic way? Would anyone write a letter under such circumstances? The letter as a device appears because it is a more anonymous kind of communication than a telephone call or turning up on the doorstep. [‘Hullo, three Mrs Things, I may be running off with one of your husbands later today.] If such things were done, they would more likely be done clandestinely, found out through carelessly leaving evidence about or simply by the man’s absence, or else by being announced by the errant man to his partner, and not by the person he may be running off with.

It might be countered here that nowadays letter-writing is the preserve of either very formal communications, as from the Lancashire Constabulary, or utterly personal ones, of a I love you or dear John/Joan I no longer love you kind. But, extrapolating from this, perhaps – as a politeness too far – announcing that you, a stranger, are running off with someone’s nearest and dearest might indeed require a letter.

Last updated: 26 October 2017


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