Does anyone write love letters anymore? Last week, my husband and I attended the beautiful wedding of his great niece in Las Vegas. There was so much joy, happiness, and tears going around that one could literally feel the love in the air.
The young bride and groom met in a creative writing class at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Their writing instructor served as the best man at their wedding. The couple bonded over their shared love of reading and writing. I like to think that there will be many love letters in their future, not just as newlyweds, but throughout their lives.
The art of writing love letters should never be taken for granted. Entire books about how to do so have been written, and in more general guidebooks for social correspondence, most include a chapter or section on how to write a love letter.
The oldest letter writing guidebook that I own, Payne’s Social Letter Writer for All Occasions, was published in 1888. The book opens with the following general advice: “As a rule, in writing a letter we should give our thoughts expression in the same words we would use in a personal colloquy.”
Although the words we might use in a personal conversation have changed considerably over the past 130 years, the sentiment still is well taken. Payne advises that “flattery in such letters should be avoided, from the fact that your regard for and preferment of the one you love is proof sufficient of what merit or beauty he or she may possess.”
Payne further advises dignity and discretion when writing love letters. “The use of such epithets as ‘My Darling,’ “My Dove,’ and “My Jewel’ are unbecoming in letters of sensible persons.”
Moving ahead a decade, What Shall I Say? A Guide to Letter Writing for Ladies was published in London in 1898. As with many letter-writing books, the content is made up solely of sample letters.
Several letters in What Shall I Say? include appropriate language to chastise a straying or inattentive lover. In Letter to love complaining of coldness, the following (lengthy, but here abbreviated) suggestion is offered:
After we parted last night, I went to my own room, but not to sleep. I sat far into the night thinking over our relations, and this letter is the result of that vigil. A fool’s paradise is to my mind a poor dwelling place indeed! I cannot go on blindly trusting when my senses are wide awake and tell me I have nothing to trust in.’… “Well! I would not hold an unwilling lover by the tether of a regretted promise –so you are free. Do not trouble to reply, for my resolve is quite unchangeable. –Margaret”
Well, poor Margaret. As break up messages go, this one probably beats a text message.
In the book Kind Regards: The Lost Art of Letter Writing by Liz Williams (Michael O’Mara Books Limited, Great Britain, 2012), the author notes: “until the twentieth century, love letters were essential in progressing romantic relationships. Imagine the excitement of receiving a letter from an absent love when the post was your only means of communicating. Once, a love letter would have sent a heart fluttering.”
It seems to me that a handwritten love letter would still send one’s heart rate up. As the art of letter writing becomes increasingly rare, the sentimental value goes up. And love comes in many forms. My two daughters, each of whom lives far away from me, excel at the art of writing handwritten notes, and each missive fills me with joy.
There are many ways to write a letter, including love letters. The greeting card industry makes it easy for us these days. The stores are filled with sentimental greetings that allow one to say simply, “I love you,” without having to compose an essay or poem.
Simon Garfield, author of To the Letter, recently posted a blog about love letters in the UK’s Huffington Post. While the British seem more amenable to letter writing than their American counterparts, Garfield notes that a recent poll conducted by Royal Mail suggests that more than 40% were apprehensive about being mocked for expressing affections through the post.
Garfield’s very contemporary and practical advice is “don’t be needy, remember your sense of humour, and write sober.” He gives the writer permission to borrow words from the letters of historic people. He concludes, “The pleasure to be gained from receiving a personal letter in the digital age is immense, one of the simplest gifts of kindness one can bestow.”
Truly, there is no substitute for handcrafted love letters. These are the keepers, the ones that go in the memory box and may be handed down to future generations to become part of family history. Love letters of your own construction are well worth the effort.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
How to Write the Perfect Love Letter by Simon Garfield. Huffington Post, UK edition, Feb. 12, 2018
Kind Regards: The Lost Art of Letter Writing by Liz Williams. Letter Writer’s Alliance, 16Sparrows Press, 2014
Payne’s Social Letter Writer for All Occasions. Abe Books.
To the Letter. Simongarfield.com