Sat
Feb 12 2011 6:00am

Please, Mr. Postman: Love Letters In Romance Novels

Regency-inspired Valentine with SwallowsIn this day of instant communication, of text-speak—“bff” and “b4” and “w8 4 me”—many have forgotten the joys of writing and receiving  letters. There is something about finding the exact, correct word that conveys perfectly what you are feeling and experiencing, then writing it down on a piece of paper—not onto a computer screen and pressing ‘send.’

But even better than writing letters is receiving them. The anticipation when an envelope is placed in your hands—the letter could contain anything; it might make you laugh or cry, it might change your life. I imagine the anticipation was even greater when letters were the only means of long-distance communication available. Letters could take weeks or months to arrive, and as such, are perfect vehicles for Romance, which is, after all, all about anticipation.

I was reminded about my love of letters in romance while reading Lisa Kleypas' recent Love in the Afternoon, where Beatrix and Christopher fall in love with each other from their letters, written while he was fighting in the Crimea.

Christopher: I'll tell you what I'm fighting for. Not for England, nor her allies, nor any patriotic cause. It's all come down to the hope of being with you.

Beatrix: You've made me realize that words are the most important things in the world. . . I didn't mean to send love letters, but that is what they became. On their way to you, my words turned into heartbeats on the page.

My Dearest Enemy by Connie Brockway

But not all correspondence is as romantic and sigh-inducing as this. In Connie Brockway's My Dearest Enemy, Lillian, a suffragette, and Avery, an adventurer, are adversaries vying for the same inheritance. Until the inheritance issue is resolved, Lillian is saddled with providing Avery's allowance, a difficult task when he is traveling around the world to remote and dangerous places. Their letters reflect this antagonism and are spiked with barbs that tickle me no end.

Lillian: I have looked over the bills you left outstanding upon your flight from London and paid them. It is doubtless my plebian antecedents which have me drawing faint breath over settling an account of 50 pounds for a hunting jacket. Pray, sir, satisfy my curiosity. Could you not hunt in, say, a simple jacket? Or would the fox take exception?

Avery: I hope you enjoy Billy [a stuffed crocodile], as man-hating, crusty an aberration of nature ever to lurk upon earth. Billy here is actually a female … any chance resemblance between old Billy here and, well, whomever is unintentional. Even the name “Billy,” so similar in cadence to her name, is merely a curious coincidence.

The correspondence continues over a period of five years, during which they both become secretly very fond of each other. When they finally meet—well, that is a consummation of a different kind of anticipation.

Letters can give us perfect, little glimpses of another person. The correspondence between Olivia and Perry in Loretta Chase's Last Night's Scandal begins when they are both children and continues into adulthood. This portion of 13 year-old Olivia's letter tells us more about her personality than chapters of description could.

You must Burn this Letter after reading it. Should it fall into the Wrong Hands, I shall be once again Exiled to the COUNTRY, to one of my Carsington step-uncles' Domiciles, where I shall most certainly be place in ISOLATION. I don't mind Ruralizing in Small Doses, but to be LOCKED IN and forbidden any Social Intercourse of any Kind (for fear of my forming Unsuitable Acquaintances or Leading Innocents Astray) is intolerable, and will surely lead me to Desperate Acts.

And then there are the letters that resolve and reconcile. For me, the ultimate letter—The Letter— is in Jane Austen's Persuasion. Anne and Frederick's engagement was broken off eight years ago, and when they are thrust into each other's company again, all the old feelings that never really died are brought back to roaring life. But, this is Regency England, and they are never alone. In desperation, Frederick seizes upon the idea of writing a letter to Anne while they are both in the same, crowded room.

I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone forever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone I think and plan. . .

Oh, my goodness. Now, that's a letter worth waiting eight years for. “DG - 4give - I <3 U” just doesn't have the same ring to it.

Valentine image courtesy of Hello Handmade Paperie.


Cheryl Sneed reviews for Rakehell.com.

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6 comments
Keira Gillett
1. Keira
No it doesn't lol... Valentine's Day is the perfect day to start writing love letters. Sure a cute card a piece of candy are feel-good, but why settle for just feel-good when you can send a letter where "words turned into heartbeats on the page" and feel loved?
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
I wish I had the time to write letters. I barely even have time for email these days!

(And I bought a "You Pierce My Soul" t-shirt from Pemberley!)
Charli Mac
3. CharliMac
I have love letters saved from highschool. As adults I jot notes to the hubby on occasion. Mostly sweet texts or emails. Last year on an anniversary I wrote the man an old school love letter. The man got misty eyed. Nothing like pen and paper.
Krystyna
4. Krystyna
Ah, the art of letter writing!
...and my failed attempts at being a good pen pal...
As far as love letters in books -- _84 Charing Cross Road_ is maybe not a collection of romantic exchanges, but the letters convey Platonic love across the ocean and I read it again and again.
I like these excepts too!
Olivia Waite
5. O.Waite
Captain Wentworth puts me in such a swoon!

And not only is the letter itself perfection, but it is secret, and nobody but Anne knows he has written it.

And not only it is secret, but he delivers this secret letter in the middle of a crowded room!

Now that is the stuff of romance.
Donna Kissam
6. The Cat Bastet
Also My Sweet Folly, Laura Kinsale. The meet-tragic is entirely in correspondence (Victorian, she in Whatevershire, he in India) and is the very model of a modern Internet romance, right down to him being a liar.

But yeah, Wentworth wins.
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