When it comes to communicating the strongest and deepest human emotion the love letter seems to be the most trusted way to this day. Some of the earliest mentions of writing love letters go back to more than 5000 years when princess Rukmani wrote to the Hindu deity Lord Krishna and to the Song of Songs mentioned in the Hebrew Bible that celebrate love and desire unlike any other.
Over centuries, be it powerful generals like Napoleon who wrote passionate letters to his wife Josephine, famous artists Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglits who were known to have exchanged as many as three, forty-page long letters a day, or the romantic love letter French author and philosopher, Voltaire wrote from his prison cell to his sweetheart Olympe Dunover – love letters have facilitated a medium of expressing human affection of the most inhibited kind. Without doubt then the love letter has stood the test of time, many a relationship couldn’t. And it is only befitting that love letters have come to stand for endearment in films and books. For instance in the movie ‘Letters to Juliet’, sparked by a letter Claire had written fifty years ago to Lorenzo, the long-lost soul mates rekindle their passion after a lifetime of separation.
Emotions have always been associated with women especially when it comes to the matter of the heart. Yet those memorable words Jane Austen’s fictional character Captain Frederick Wentworth penned to Anne Elliot in Persuasion, became a hallmark of tender male affection. Those lines remained etched in the readers’ minds for decades. It was refreshing to read about the vulnerability of a man who at the risk of being ridiculed, scorned or refuted, acknowledged how helpless he was in love with the lady, and poured his heart out on a piece of paper. Naturally, that letter went on to embody all the essence of a classic love letter and the bravery it takes to pen one.
Writing letters was indeed an act of courage in that era as it is evident from those shared between renowned poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning. These stand testimony to their affection and the endurance of their profound love and also reveal Barrett’s boldness. Especially in the manner she seeks truth and honesty as the cornerstones of their relationship that eventually culminated in marriage. However, whenever the mention of love letters are made, the first that always comes to the mind is the passion the masterful composer Ludwig van Beethoven created not through his soulful music but with his words when he wrote the ten page love letter which was found at his estate after his demise. Addressed to his love, ‘’Immortal Beloved,’’ but never delivered, the mystery of who the recipient might have been, remains.
But the genius’ heartache, his yearning and unrequited love has for decades resonated and inspired lovers all over the world who continue loving selflessly knowing only well that their destiny, is eternal longing. Ironically, folded and concealed in an envelope like a secret prophesy waiting to be realized, letters when opened and read, reveal some of the deepest human desires and darkest of truths words could never tell, but only spell. And despite their complete powerlessness in the face of love, lovers chose not to hide their emotions but professed their feeling and found no shame or futility in writing those letters the world now read.
Letters have not only been a preferred means when it comes to declaring ones unconditional love and a gentle way of pursuing their love interest with patience and perseverance but have also served as less messy and an easier alternative to call it quits on a relationship. Whatever the destiny of the love story, whether the letter goes on to be cherished in between pages of a personal diary or consigned to the flickering embers of a dying relationship, nothing can match the heartfelt and handwritten love letters of yore. For a generation with no means to talk or see their beloved as frequently as it is possible now, those seemingly mere pieces of paper were mirrors of their affection. So penning a love letter started long before the actual touch of the pen to the page.
It had to be the perfect page that matched the writer’s sentiment. Much like Valentine’s day gifts and merchandise of today, then printed letter writing pads were a rage once. An equal amount of fuss went into choosing the perfect pen. One that could compose a romantic masterpiece that would send the recipient’s heart into raptures.
Finally, the long excruciating wait for a reply ended with the tinkle of the postman’s cycle bell. And while letters reminiscent of the private relationships of many a famous personality have been preserved in museums world over, many more letters written by the common folk remain etched for eternity in their hearts long after the parched paper has crumbled and the ink faded away. For some these happen to be the only memories to hold onto of their lost love.
Indeed, letter writing was no easy feat, and even after letter writing is long past its prime. Simpler and faster ways of expressing oneself are now available. But the traditional handwritten word continues to be romanticised as the most authentic form of communicating with loved ones. So every time someone picks a pen up and sits down with a sheet of paper to write a love letter, the words they transcribe would go on to transcend distance and time and touch the heart of the recipient with the power of their love.