Love Letters Across the Ages
Text by Meghna Golder
Honey dear, you are my avid yearning. My wistful love treasures your sympathy. You are my seductive yearning: my craving infatuation: my impatient ardour ~ Yours winningly, M. U. C.
It looks a little bit like an unintelligible text someone would have sent their partner or crush in the wee hours of the morning after a night of heavy drinking, doesn’t it? It is, in fact, an actual love letter, albeit one that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
In 1951, Christopher Strachey wrote a love letter-writing program to run on the Ferranti Mark I, the world’s first commercial computer, located at the University of Manchester. Strachey’s program fed words like affection, longing, passionate, and feeling into the computer; these were subsequently randomly chosen and slotted into a love letter template giving the odd structure.
In this day and age, automated love letters are unsurprising. Sometimes you just don’t have the words but someone else (in this case a sizeable database of pre-existing terminology) does. In fact, trawl the Internet and I can guarantee that you will find more that one love-letter generator. How do I guarantee this? Because I just ran a search. Some are even good enough to send with a few tweaks.
There exists out there a treasure trove of famous love letters. They are fascinating in that they make you view your favourite historical personality in a completely different light. Plus, it’s hard to deny the frisson of excitement one feels reading their impassioned words to their lovers such as Beethoven’s “Ever thine. Ever mine. Ever ours.” addressed to his “Immortal Beloved.”
With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, here are three love letters from three different time periods to warm to cockles of your heart and maybe, just maybe move and inspire you to write your own this 14th.
1. Juliette Drouet to Victor Hugo
Juliette Drouet (1806–1883) was a French actress. After becoming Victor Hugo’s mistress, to whom she served as a secretary and travelling companion, Juliette abandoned her career on the stage. Over the course of their relationship, which lasted 50 years, their correspondence spanned 22,000 letters.
Friday, 8 p. m.
If I were a clever woman, my gorgeous bird, I could describe to you how you unite in yourself the beauties of form, plumage and song! I would tell you that you are the greatest marvel of all ages, and I should only be speaking the simple truth. But to put all this into suitable words, my superb one, I should require a voice far more harmonious than that which is bestowed upon my species, for I am the humble owl that you mocked at only lately. Therefore, it cannot be. I will not tell you to what degree you are dazzling and resplendent; I leave that to the birds of sweet song who, as you know, are none the less beautiful and appreciative.
I am content to delegate to them the duty of watching, listening and admiring, while to myself I reserve the right of loving; this may be less attractive to the ear, but it is sweeter far to the heart. I love you, I love you, my Victor; I cannot reiterate it too often; I can never express it as much as I feel it.
I recognize you, in all the beauty that surrounds me in form, in colour, in perfume, in harmonious sound; all of these mean you to me. You are superior to them all. You are not only the solar spectrum with the seven luminous colours, but the sun himself, that illumines, warms and revivifies the whole world! That is what you are, and I am the lowly woman who adores you.
If you are coming to fetch me as you lead me to expect, I shall see you very soon now. I have never longed more ardently for you. Lanvin has just come. I will tell you about it when I see you.
2. Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf
Vita Sackville-West (1892–1962) was a successful novelist, poet, journalist, and diarist. Over the course of her lifetime, she published more than a dozen collections of poetry as well as 13 novels. The androgynous protagonist of Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf was inspired by her.
Milan [posted in Trieste]
Thursday, January 21, 1926
I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia. I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way. You, with all your un-dumb letters, would never write so elementary phrase as that; perhaps you wouldn’t even feel it. And yet I believe you’ll be sensible of a little gap. But you’d clothe it in so exquisite a phrase that it would lose a little of its reality. Whereas with me it is quite stark: I miss you even more than I could have believed, and I was prepared to miss you a good deal. So this letter is just really a squeal of pain. It is incredible how essential to me you have become. I suppose you are accustomed to people saying these things. Damn you, spoilt creature; I shan’t make you love me any the more by giving myself away like this — But oh my dear, I can’t be clever and stand-offish with you: I love you too much for that. Too truly. You have no idea how stand-offish I can be with people I don’t love. I have brought it to a fine art. But you have broken down my defences. And I don’t really resent it …
Please forgive me for writing such a miserable letter.
3. Elizabeth Taylor to Richard Burton (written shortly before their first divorce)
Dame Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor DBE (1932–2011) was a British-American actress, businesswoman, and humanitarian. She began her career as a child actress and continued that career successfully into the 1960s. For the rest of her life, she remained a well-known public figure. Among other things, she was also famous for being married eight times to seven men. She and actor Richard Burton had a tumultuous romantic relationship and married twice over the course of their courtship.
My darling (my still) My husband,
I wish I could tell you of my love for you, of my fear, my delight, my pure animal pleasure of you — (with you) — my jealousy, my pride, my anger at you, at times. Most of all my love for you, and whatever love you can dole out to me — I wish I could write about it but I can’t. I can only ‘boil and bubble’ inside and hope you understand how I really feel.
Anyway I lust thee, Your (still) Wife.
P.S. O’Love, let us never take each other for granted again!
P.P.S. How about that — 10 years!
About the writer:
Meghna Golder is an editor, both research and otherwise. She’s an avid reader of both prose and poetry. She occasionally also fancies herself as a writer.
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