“Love Letters of Great Men and Women” edited by Ursula Doyle
(First publication: 2009 / This edition: Pan Books 2010)
Taken during a Sunday brunch at One Ounce for Onion. Love that coffee joint.
If you’ve seen “Sex and the City”, the movie, you’d know that Carrie had a book that was a compilation of all the “love letters of great men”—where she was trying to get inspiration from, and kind of ironically and pathetically, Mr. Big ends up getting inspired by.
This book is inspired from that. It’s a compilation of the greatest romances in history—and the love letters—of all the great men and women. We have here Anne Boleyn (to Henry VIII), Katherine of Aragon (to Henry VIII), Queen Victoria (to Prince Albert), Emily Dickinson (to Susan Gilbert), Victor Hugo (to Adele Foucher), Charles Darwin (to Emma Wedgwood), Gustave Flaubert (to Louise Colet), Mark Twain (to Olivia Langdon)… and many, many more couples.
I got this book on a book sale at my university back in 2014. (Why would such a special book like this ever go on sale?!) I kind of picked it up randomly, because—well, even though it is such a special book, it does kind of have that “novelty gift” feel to it. It just reminded me of “Sex and the City” (and Carrie Bradshaw was pretty much my religion back in high school).
I’ve been reading it on and off every now and then—just picking it up to read a letter or two. I’ve mostly just read the letters by the people I know or have heard of. But what’s good about this book is that before you read the letters, there are little introductions about the biography of the writer (of the letter) and their love story. It really gets you in the mood and mindset—gets you to understand what situation they were in when they were writing these letters.
Since it’s almost Valentine’s Day, I just felt like sharing some of my favorite passages from some letters.
Here’s an excerpt from Victor Hugo’s letter to his wife, Adele Foucher, in 1820.
[…] Do I exist for my own personal happiness? No; my whole existence is devoted to her, even in spite of her. And by what right should I have dared to aspire to her love? Am I, then, more than an angel or a deity? I love her, true, even I; I am ready to sacrifice anything gladly for her sake—everything, even the hope of being loved by her, there is no devotedness of which I am not capable for her, for one of her smiles, for one of her looks. But could I be otherwise? Is she not the sole aim of my life? That she may show indifference to me, even hate, will be my misfortune, that is all. What does it matter, so that it does not injure her happiness? Yes, if she cannot love me I ought to blame myself only. My duty is to keep close to her steps, to surround her existence with mine, to serve her as a barrier against all dangers, to offer her my head as a stepping-stone, to place myself unceasingly between her and all sorrows, without claiming any reward, without expecting any recompense. (pg.80-81)
This next one is from Gustave Flaubert’s letter to Louise Colet (between 1846-1854):
[…] Your love ends by penetrating me like a lukewarm rain, and I feel myself soaked in it down to the very bottom of my heart. Hast thou not everything needful for me to love thee — body, mind, tenderness? You are simple of soul and strong of head, very little poetical, and extremely a poet; there is nothing by good in you, and you are entirely like your bosom, whit and soft to the touch. Those I have known va, were not equal to you, and I doubt whether these that I have desired were your equal. I try sometimes to image to myself your face when you are old, and it seems to me that I shall love you as much, perhaps more. (pg.109)
This last one is from Mark Twain to “Livy” on her thirtieth birthday (1875):
Six years have gone by sine I made my first great success in life and won you, and thirty years have passed since Providence made preparation for that happy success by sending you into the world. Every day we live together adds to the security of my confidence, that we can never any more wish to be separated than that we can ever image a regret that we were ever joined. You are dear to me to-day, my child, than you were upon the last anniversary of this birth-day; you were dearer then that you were a year before — you have grown more and more dear from the first of those anniversaries, and I do not doubt that this precious progression will continue on to the end.
Let us look forward to the coming anniversaries, with their age and their gray hairs without fear and without depression, trusting and believing that the love we bear each other will be sufficient to make them blessed. (pg.117-118)
I wonder how they managed to find all these letters.
I hope none of my “love letters” will be discovered and distributed and sold to the public to read like this though (haha).