"Because of Kenner and Davenport’s shared sense of trust, these letters show both scholars working out their thoughts, unafraid to express ideas that are incomplete, messy, even downright wrong. After Kenner outlined some ideas he wanted to include in one of the books they worked on together, he admitted, “Many of these mutually incompatible, I know. Just stabs in the dark.”
The dashed-off quality of a letter invites such stabs in the dark. In comparison to an essay—which needs a thesis and some sort of structure, and is written over hours, days, weeks, sometimes years—a letter is a half-formed thing, made in the warm lamplight of a moment, and describing nothing definitively except its moment. Whereas an essay is an expression of pride—those of us who write and publish them are either explicitly or implicitly saying, “Here are my thoughts, laid out in a crystallized argument, which I deign to offer up for public consumption”—a letter is a thing of shame, often betraying a writer’s insecurities, uncertainties, eccentricities, contradictions, imperfections, antipathies, and prejudices, unadorned with the normal niceties and lacking any softened edges. “Sorry for all the acid I manage to spill into letters,” Davenport wrote."