Jun 21 2013 1:30pm

Letters of Love: Epistolary Romance

Letters from Skye by Jessica BrockmoleReading Jessica Brockmole's July debut, Letters from Skye, reveals that the title of the book is, er, literal! Letters from Skye is an unbashedly romantic epistolary novel following the star-crossed romance of Scottish poet Elspeth Dunn and American college student David Graham in Edwardian era Scotland & during WWI. This secret courtship is pried open in 1940 by Elspeth's daughter Margaret, who is involved in her own wartime romance, and the letters following this relationship as well as Margaret's with her mother, lend an even richer texture to the plot.

The epistolary novel is common in mainstream fiction and classic literature (Bram Stoker's Dracula!), but it's rare in the romance genre—perhaps because it risks lessening the emotional intensity? Or because it means the hero and heroine are involved in a long-distance and/or physically estranged relationship? That said, there are a few romance novels that use letters and other forms of communication to build the protagonists' relationship:

My Sweet Folly by Laura KinsaleMy Sweet Folly by Laura Kinsale—Many readers consider the letters forming the beginning of Folie and Robert's courtship the best part of the book, but perhaps that's the point: the distance created by letters allow you to shape your own narrative, even if you cannot keep up the masquerade in person.

My Dearest Enemy by Connie Brockway—Lily Bede and Avery Thorne battle over the ownership of a house in the series of witty letters that kick off this late Victorian historical romance.

Goodnight Tweetheart by Teresa Medeiros—Medeiros steps into contemporary romance to tell a romance in a series of tweets! I think she carried off building a credible story in 140 characters or less.

Sleeping Beauty by Judith Ivory—Notorious ex-courtesan Coco Wild's charming letters to her son David map out her emotional state as the much younger James Stoker pursues her with a shocking ardor.

Any other recommendations for epistolary romances? What do you feel might be the pros and cons of this format in a romance genre novel?


Evangeline Holland is a writer of historical romances, an amateur milliner, and a really great cook. When not writing or reading, you can find her blogging about the Edwardian era on her website, the aptly titled Edwardian Promenade.

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Miss Bates
1. Miss Bates
One of my favourite novels that makes a masterful use of letters is A. S. Byatt's POSSESSION. I'm sure you've read it, but just in case. It tells two love stories: a contemporary one of two scholars researching two Victorian Era figures, an artist and poet. The joint research of the modern couple, largely centred on letters, reveals a forbidden love affair between the two Victorians. Scholarly detective story, two romances, engaging heroes and heroines, nasty academic villains ... whoever hasn't read it must! The movie's not bad, but it definitely lacks the heft of the novel. And, in both cases, the contemporary romance pales beside the historical one.
2. Kareni
Lisa Kleypas' book Love in the Afternoon begins with a wonderful collection of letters between the main characters.

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff might be described as a love affair with books. It's epistolary and true.

ETA: I haven't read it, but I've heard good things about
Almost Like Being in Love by Steve Kluger. It's a male/male romance.
Lynne Connolly
3. Lynne Connolly
The early romance novels were all epistolary, of course. "Pamela" and "Evelina" (Lord Orville was my first crush!). And of course "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" is an epistolary novel, though hardly a romance!
Miss Bates
4. Vi Dao
Daddy-Long-Legs is one of my all time favorites.
Anna Bowling
5. AnnaBowling
Kate Rothwe'lls Thank You, Mrs. M, a contemporary genderflipped take on Daddy Long Legs, is told largely in voice recordings. Really liked this one.
Jennifer Proffitt
6. JenniferProffitt
This is a juvenile/Young Adult book but I always enjoyed Sherwood Smith's Crown Duel. It's mostly a high fantasy, but has a subplot of two of the characters falling in love through letters exchanged anonymously. It's still one of my first 'ships—swooned when they finally met!

Another YA I loved was Sorcery and Cecilia, or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wade and Caroline Stevermer, which features two cousins who exchange letters and we watch their separate romances unfold through the letters the two girls exchanged—filled with Magical chocolate pots, Regency England salons, and two very stubborn and sometimes clueless heroines!

Finally, there's also To Sir Phillip, With Love by Julia Quinn. The romance takes place in person, but Eloise, the middle Bridgerton decides to embark on the romance because of letters exchanged between herself and single parent, Phillip.
Doris C. Losey
7. loseydoris
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Shaffer, Mary Ann. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Shaffer, Mary Ann.
A wonderful book about a writer who through letters developes friendships and even love with Guersney Island residents as they recall their WWII lives under German occupation.
8. KateRothwell
Thanks for the mention, Anna! And Vi, have you read Dear Enemy, the Daddy Long Legs sequel? It's almost as sweet and funny as the original. (Although some of the psychological theories seem odd to modern thinking)
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