"Writing Direct to Kindred Souls Among the Public"
"It should give the impression of delightful conversation"
Sieveking's received letters point to a circle of friends and family supportive rather than dismissive of her intellectual endeavors. In this letter, dated July 8, 1901, her cousin, Everard Hopkins, writes to "dear Isabel" with "great interest and affection" about one of her manuscripts. An editor of The Pilot: A Weekly Review of Politics, Literature, and Learning as well as a contributor to the satirical magazine Punch, Hopkins uses his editorial experience to help Sieveking revise the "form" of her argument, as well as to give financial advice about what to expect from various types of writing careers.
While some of Hopkins' more basic advice "to make a rough draft," to "rearrange" ideas in the "best sequence," and always to "come back to [the] main thesis" might easily read as condescension, there is a touchingly genuine earnestness throughout his letter. His desire to help his cousin improve and succeed with her writing is evident and sprinkled with a self-conscious "despair" at not "hav[ing] said anything really helpful as...intended." This attitude seems remarkable at the turn of a century in which women were still fighting for equal access to education and from which the most frequently remembered writing advice to aspiring female authors remains Robert Southey's infamous assertion, in a letter to Charlotte Brontë, that "Literature cannot be the business of a woman's life, and it ought not be."
This letter also provides important insight into persuasive tactics that established a significant link between writing and activism in Sieveking's own life through her involvement in the women's suffrage movement. Hopkins points to the delicate balance between the occasional "outburst" of passion and "the impression of delightful conversation" which establishes a natural link with the reader and achieves "the greatest effect." The "personal note" must be combined with a formal restraint, "a moral into a mould," that will be both strategically composed and create the illusion of "direct" engagement of "kindred souls among the public." A persuasive argument is therefore as accessible as it is passionate, as intricately structured as seemingly organic in the conversational tone adopted by the author.
Ironically, given Sieveking's later support for militant resistance, Hopkins suggests the famous Victorian poet and critic, Matthew Arnold, as "an excellent model of easy lucid prose" for her to emulate. Although a supporter of the Reform Bill of 1869, which expanded voting rights for men by doing away with certain property requirements, Arnold argued adamantly against the mass protests preceding its passage. In Culture and Anarchy, he called them an "anarchic impulse" that must be suppressed by a "firm state power." For Sieveking, adopting Arnold's persuasive form and style as a vehicle for her own more radical political purposes would be in keeping with the popular suffragette strategy of arguing against opponents on their own terms.