Dear Ms Nowell, Many thanks for your letter. I have now considered your widely publicised decision to withdraw your application for a place to read Law at Magdalen College, Oxford and I regret to inform you that your rejection letter does not quite reach the standards required to enter the annals of history. Thank you for the brief diversion – we all enjoy a letter that "goes viral" – but in future you may wish to bear in mind the following advice.
Is it possible to reject a rejection letter? I hope so. This week, A-level student Elly Nowell (pictured) turned the tables on Oxford University and, following an interview she described as intimidating torture, sent them packing with a regretful rejection before they could offer her a place. Whether or not you agree with her precocious sally – I happen to think that shooting yourself in the foot is rarely the way to get ahead – the flurry it provoked highlighted the allure of the written rebuff.
We've all had them, in one form or another, and we've all longed to parlay the pain they bring into a snooty response of our own. Nowell's letter, though, lacks the qualities of a true classic – neither fiery nor chilly enough. She would have done well to stick to a single killer line, or really let rip and vent her spleen properly. She would have done well, in fact, to do her homework and check out the brilliant Letters of Note blog – soon to be a book – which republishes historically significant correspondence daily to a delighted audience.
It has some excellent examples of the sling-yer-hook genre. There are the hindsight classics where future greats are let down, from Atlantic Monthly who skipped over Kurt Vonnegut's juvenilia for not being "quite compelling enough", to Moma who rejected a work sent by Andy Warhol with the crushing postscript: "The drawing may be picked up from the museum at your convenience."
The best rejection letters, though, are the ones which go to extremes of honesty.
Nothing chills the veins more than the haiku-like simplicity of this reply to the hapless would-be student Harvey Wax: "In reply to your recent letter, I regret that we must inform you that Princeton University has no Law School."
By contrast, take Hunter S Thompson's response to a piece submitted to Rolling Stone. It begins, "You worthless, acid-sucking piece of illiterate s***! Don't ever send this kind of brain-damaged swill in here again!". My favourite, though, is the standard negative response from record label Sub Pop which begins simply: "Dear Loser". Sometimes, you just have to be cruel to be kind.
* Not Helen, the face that launched a thousand ships, but Domnica, the blonde who sank one. As a week of ever more incredible revelations about the Costa Concordia disaster draws to a close, the media have been thrilled to add a "mystery woman" to the mix. Domnica Cemortan, a dancer from Moldova, was allegedly seen on the bridge with the captain Francesco Schettino shortly before the horrifying crash. Reports suggest that the "slim blonde" may have distracted the captain with her womanly wiles, or that he might have been trying to impress her with a "showboating" sail past Giglio. Male drivers of the world can breathe a sigh of relief – as usual, it turns out to be a woman's fault.
* Three cheers for Sue Townsend. Not just because 30 years ago she gave birth to Adrian Mole, acne-ridden bard of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, but also because she provided an uplifting moment this week. Asked on Radio 4's Today to choose her second favourite of her own books (after the Mole volumes), she answered: "My favourite book is always the one that sells least ... Oh God. What's it called? I can't remember." Her publishers were no doubt wringing their hands but for the rest of us it made a lovely change from the self-publicists who clog up morning radio and television most of the time.