Q. I would appreciate your advice for a healthy and respectable way to treat a past incident that is disrupting my present peace of mind.
A year ago, I received a copy of a literary magazine from an arts and letters society of my alma mater. I was an active member of the society and continue to support its current student activities. I was horrified to read a short story by a gifted alumna I had known from the society, in which she portrayed a character by my name (a somewhat unusual name) as an unhappy, disheveled misfit. I was angered by what I read. I felt betrayed and humiliated, since the magazine is circulated to the rest of our former colleagues.
I was sensitive to her portrayal, because she'd used my unusual name, and also because I still felt some unresolved remorse about a painful process of growing up in college. In this anger, I wrote her a brief, bitter condemning letter, to which she responded with a brief letter of intolerance and denial. I felt truly hurt.
Eventually, my anger dissipated, and I forgot the incident until last autumn, when I learned that she had married the young man I had loved during college and had lived with for almost two years. I thought it was a good match: They are both intelligent, somewhat eccentric and culturally erudite, and in my heart I wish them well. However, I could not help but feel as though my past was being invaded.
Worse, a mutual colleague informed me that this woman has been working on a short novel for which she plans to draw on her knowledge of past acquaintances and colorful perceptions. She may well decide to elaborate on what she perceived about me, including what intimate things she may learn from her husband. I feel now that my angry letter to her was also a revealed intimacy.
Most of our college friends acknowledge her excellent writing talent as well as her streak of mischief, which seems to have a malevolent cast. I would like to be free of concern. I feel helpless, although in my prior distress I had considered legal action, charging her with slander or similar action. That would probably only call attention to her mean characterization of my namesake.
Our society holds reunions, and I will probably see her or her husband sometime in the next few years. Frankly, I feel sad about the entire situation. What is the appropriate way to behave? Is there anything I can do to protect myself from her potentially malevolent artistry?
A. Your problem is such an interesting one that Miss Manners hates to insist that you turn it over to a libel lawyer.
Indeed, however, that is the thing to do. As she has used your name, circulated her writing among your mutual friends, and has announced further plans, you need hardly fear calling attention to yourself in this matter. Miss Manners imagines that a telephone call or two from a lawyer to the magazine editor and whoever else is contemplating publishing such material will have an immediately discouraging effect.
Unfortunately, in turning you over to another professional, Miss Manners has left herself only the task of telling you how to behave toward someone whom you are threatening with legal action.
Do not write letters to her. Do not make remarks to her or people likely to repeat them back. You may exercise your feelings by quietly cutting her (that is, looking past her without a glimmer of recognition) should you encounter her. This is a form of etiquette that Miss Manners rarely allows, so make the most of it while awaiting the effects of the other counselor's efforts.