It does seem as if various little tweaks to these letters could improve them considerably.
L1: Now this is interesting. Your supervisor constantly has little "crises de nerfs," and spends much of the workday in a state of considerable Upset with a clearly capital U (like Mrs Oliver in *Dead Man's Folly*) making demands on you for your sympathy. You, good sir, are working for Mrs Bennet of *Pride and Prejudice*.
Mrs B, as any reader of P&P will instantly recall, is inclined to react to any vexation, be it minor or major, from Kitty's coughing to Mr Bennet's saying he will not visit a new neighbour who happens to be a highly eligible bachelor to Elizabeth's refusing the proposal of marriage from a man she despises who happens to be the future inheritor of the family estate, with loud lamentations that noone appreciates her suffering or has any compassion for her poor nerves. It's difficult to know exactly how to rate Mrs Bennet's judgment. One is inclined to dislike her so much that it is difficult to rate her conduct with objectivity. Yet, to judge by results, she comes out almost tolerably well. Her judgment is seriously off for thinking that Elizabeth could ever find Mr Collins even a tolerable husband, but then again she does manage to get Jane and Bingley together with speed, and her results exceed even her own expectations. Not bad for a woman of little or no understanding and illiberal mind.
I wonder about LW1's supervisor. Does she spend her entire day going from employee to employee sobbing her poor little heart out while forming and dismantling vendettas at whim? It doesn't seem terribly likely. It might be entertaining to determine why she singles out LW1 and what he might have in common with any other favourites of hers at the office.
But I suspect that the real problem just does not appear in the question, and might not even have occurred to LW1 yet. The strange conduct of his wife is what concerns me. LW1's wife knows that Another Woman is telling LW1 her Feelings - the most sincere, precious and important communication any woman can ever disclose to a mere man - and her extremely unwifely reaction is to be so completely sanguine and to encourage such an outrageous assault on the entire foundation of American Family Values to continue? This will not do. Mrs LW1 is clearly cheating on her husband, or at least wishes to do so, probably with another woman. Unless LW1's lifelong fantasy is to be the Creme Filling in an Oreo Cookie, he must divorce her at once.
Moral: Reverse the genders of the couple, and would this even be a letter? Make the couple gay and bisexual males for maximum number of interesting side lines to pursue.
L2: This one is creeping me out a bit. Here I shall have to draw a parallel between a rather spaniel-like human and an actual dog. LW2 has returned home to find that his best friend has turned into Mrs Norris from *Mansfield Park*.
Mrs Norris might well make a rewarding case study, perhaps one of the most rewarding case studies in all of Austeniana. Beginning life as Miss Ward, with a fortune of seven thousand pounds, she has the remarkably mixed blessing of seeing her sister Maria marry up after captivating a baronet. Shortly thereafter, Miss Ward finds herself obliged to become attached to Mr Norris,a clerical friend of her brother-in-law's. On the plus side, Sir Thomas can give his friend a living, and the Norrises begin their career of conjugal felicity with an income (that would satisfy Elinor Dashwood) of very little less than a thousand a year. On the minus side, this throws Mrs Norris into a lifetime of scrounging and toadying to her inactive sister, a situation slightly similar to that of Sir Walter and Miss Elliot at the end of *Persuasion* when they are forced to find their only consolation with Lady Dalrymple - that to follow and flatter others without being followed and flattered in return is but a state of half enjoyment. However much Mrs Norris might enjoy the direction of affairs at Mansfield Park to the extent that she can act in Lady Bertram's stead, she has noone to whom she can openly feel superiour, which, one must presume, grates on her during the course of her marriage until the action of the novel begins.
Fortunately for Mrs Norris, there were three Miss Wards. While Miss Maria married up, Miss Frances married considerably down. By the time of her ninth confinement, her last recourse is to appeal to her sisters (primarily Lady Bertram) for relief. This is all Mrs Norris could request of life, and it is no coincidence that the scheme to raise Mrs Price's oldest daughter at Mansfield comes from her older, poorer and more active aunt. After more than a decade and a half of subordinating herself to the Bertrams, Mrs Norris has a relation to whom she can condescend, and the treatment Fanny receives at her hands is about what one might expect from someone who has had to repress herself for so long and now finds an object ideally suited both in temperament and situation to all the worst excesses within her character.
As to what LW2 should do, I'm just too sick that he went around consulting others instead of taking action at once. That he sorta-kinda-should-woulda-coulda tried to do the right thing is all very nice and cute, but if I had my way LW2 would spend a day (with only the same recreation breaks provided) in a cage meant for someone rather smaller than he is for every day he knew the abuse to the dog to be continuing and did nothing to stop it. We can deal with the friend and determine whether he's a likely serial murderer or just very sick later, but the main thing is that the dog must be saved. Buy the dog. Blackmail the friend if necessary, just do not let the poor animal live through another day of mistreatment. Do it at once, yesterday, last week. If you really want to worry about the friend later, be my guest.
Moral: Talk about Good Men Doing Nothing...
L3: As if L2 weren't bad enough. Now we go all the way to Miss Austen's juvenilia, with a fiance who could have been a model for a title character in her story, "Jack and Alice." The Johnsons were a devoted family and, though a little addicted to the bottle and the dice, had many amiable qualities. At least LW3's intended does not gamble, so far as we know. Jack, sadly, does not get to do very much in the story. He appears in the opening chapter, at the masquerade to celebrate his father's birthday, and then is not mentioned until he dies young (considerably assisted in this endeavour by alcohol), an event which, as it makes her her father's sole heiress and thus increases the possibility of her being considered worthy to marry the exquisite Charles Adams, is a source of pleasure to his sister.
It might be possible to spend a long afternoon asking questions about how LW3 had it drummed into her that judgment was such a negative quality, but taking any interest in such an exercise would be considerably assisted by feeling at least the tiniest piece less contempt for her. In fact, I think her course of conduct is quite clear. She must get herself both spayed and neutred just to be safe, move with him to Manhattan where he will not have to drive ever again, and marry him at once. In fact, my heart may be more set on this pair marrying than on any other pair that has ever appeared in this column.
Moral: I suppose it's progress of a kind if the general reaction to the situation would be the same with the genders reversed. Would it be? I'm not sure.
L4: I could spend the rest of the day trying to decide whether this is an improvement or not over the previous letter from the woman who did reconnect with her (Swoon) First Love and then had a Psychic Dream about his dying. In a way, working off my previous moral, it's a little interesting to see LW4 producing a letter that looks like such a bad fake it almost has to be genuine (unless it had been written by a novice female staffer who had not yet taken a course in How to Sound Male). And I am going to give LW4 at least a few points for sounding a lot less crude than the LW of some weeks ago whose old flame was married to the demented man and who could neither write two sentences without mentioning the strength of her sex drive or instance even one point of merit in the poor woman's character.
But I would refer LW4 to *Persuasion* and how Captain Wentworth and Anne Elliot may have gone on with their lives, but neither of them married and had children even though they were neither expecting nor hoping to meet again. As Eleanor of Aquitaine said to Henry II in *The Lion in Winter* - Save your aching arches; that road is closed.
LW4's manner of mentioning his wife in passing opens up all sorts of possibilities. I think I should cross-examine him along the line of finding out exactly what the trigger was that woke him up one day to his being in late middle age with nothing much in his life except a sense that his Golden Past seemed to suggest so much more Promise in his future than life actually delivered. I think the comic strip *Mary Worth* recently had a not-too-dissimilar story line. Wilbur Weston, a man of about 50 who writes an advice column called, I think, Dear Wendy, had a recent brush with his past. A young man appeared briefly in his life; his mother had been Wilbur's college sweetheart and Wilbur just might have been his father. He wasn't, apparently (I only saw the Sunday strip and a rare one on a weekday and didn't think to follow it on line), but I recall a strip or two of reminiscence about Abby and what a free spirit she was, and how she and her son basically grew up together. Unfortunately, Wilbur Weston is widowed, but LW4 might as well be for all the interest he seems to be showing in his marriage. (Perhaps his wife expected him to buy her an expensive engagement ring and never got over it, so that now she is free with her affections only when she receives presents that will fetch a decent amount at the pawnbroker's.) That seems a decent long along which to start; he doesn't really give off the impression of having been half-consciously obsessed with his (Swoon) First Love all the time, though the cross could easily transpose into such a vein.
As for what LW4 should do, this seems one of those times when a heartfelt note would be genuinely heartfelt. It would be easy enough to omit any little details that would be less than comforting to the grieving family. And their could be a side benefit in such a course of conduct. If the family happen to reply, LW4 might learn a thing or two of interest, such as whether his (Swoon) First Love ever mentioned him to her children, or perhaps compared him favourably to their father, or maybe even went so far as wish she'd had them with LW4 instead and openly cried to them every night that she'd thrown away Her One Chance At True Love - well, a LW can dream, can't he? And if it had happened that his (Swoon) First Love had turned him into her family joke, at least the relations would probably be sufficiently polite to keep that from him.
Moral: This sort of letter really needs something like non-matching sexual orientations in order to give it sufficient seasoning. Otherwise it just comes out all swoony and droopy.