A Life in Letters: The Untold Story of Julian Barnes


Julian Barnes is a name that might not be familiar to the casual reader, but for literature enthusiasts, he is a force to be reckoned with. His diverse and prolific writing career spans over four decades, with multiple accolades and awards to his name. However, few people know the personal and intimate side of this celebrated author. In this article, we delve into the untold story of Julian Barnes, through the lens of his lifelong love for letter writing.

Barnes grew up in a household where literature was highly prized. His mother was a teacher and his father an English professor, who often took him to bookshops and introduced him to the works of great writers. At the age of 10, Barnes embarked on an ambitious project to write two novels, both of which he completed and later burned. This early exposure to the world of writing and storytelling would shape his future career.

As a young man, Barnes studied Modern Languages at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he cultivated his love for literature and writing. It was during his time at Oxford that he discovered his passion for letter writing. He would often send lengthy letters to his friends and family, detailing his thoughts and experiences. This habit of letter writing continued throughout his life and became an integral part of his personal and professional life.

In 1977, Barnes’ first novel, “Metroland,” was published to critical acclaim. This marked the beginning of a successful writing career, with many of his subsequent novels winning prestigious literary awards. However, amidst the fame and recognition, Barnes continued to write letters to his loved ones. These letters not only showcased his wit and humor but also gave insight into his personal thoughts and struggles.

One of the recurring themes in Barnes’ letters was his love for France. In 1980, he moved to France and immersed himself in its culture and language. He became a fluent French speaker and even wrote his works of fiction in French, which he would later translate into English himself. This deep connection with France is evident in his writing, as many of his novels are set in the country or feature French characters.

Barnes’ letters also reveal his deep admiration for other writers, particularly those he considered his role models. He often wrote to renowned authors such as Julian Symons and Penelope Fitzgerald, seeking their guidance and advice. These letters not only showcase Barnes’ humility but also highlight the importance of mentorship and support within the writing community.

In addition to his personal letters, Barnes also wrote open letters addressing various issues, from politics to the publishing industry. These passionate and thought-provoking letters demonstrate his strong convictions and his commitment to using his platform for social change.

Barnes’ life in letters is a testament to the power of the written word. His letters not only provide us with a glimpse into his private life but also offer a unique perspective on his writing process and influences. They also serve as a reminder of the enduring value of letter writing in a world that is increasingly reliant on technology and instant communication.

In conclusion, Julian Barnes’ life in letters is a testament to his passion for literature and the written word. Through his letters, we see a man who never stopped learning, evolving, and searching for inspiration. His letters are a rich and invaluable archive, revealing the true depth of his character and the impact he has had on the literary world. And while Barnes continues to write and publish to this day, his letters remain a heartfelt and poignant reminder of his enduring legacy.