How to Write a Good Love Letter

How to Write a Good Love Letter

How to Write a Good Love Letter

Benjamin Franklin wrote a good love letter. In 1779, Benjamin Franklin fell in love with Anne Catherine Helvétius, the widow of the Swiss-French philosopher, Claude-Adrien Helvétius. He was serving as the U.S. envoy to France at the time.

Nicknamed “Minette”, Anne maintained a renowned salon in Paris using her dead husband’s accumulated wealth. Among its habitués were France’s leading politicians, philosophers, writers, and artists.

Courting her attention, Franklin sent her many letters expressing his love, admiration, and passion. In one, he claimed that he had dreamed that their dead spouses had married in heaven and that they should avenge their union by doing the same on earth!

He wrote In another passionate plea: “If that Lady likes to pass her Days with him, he, in turn, would like to pass his Nights with her; and as he has already given her many of his days…she appears ungrateful never to have given him a single one of her nights.”

Boris Pasternak gives his character Dr. Zhivago so pretty racy lines in his letters to his lover Lara.

Don’t be upset. Don’t listen to me. I only meant that I am jealous of a dark, unconscious element, something irrational, unfathomable. I am jealous of your toilet articles, of the drops of sweat on your skin, of the germs in the air you breathe which could get into your blood and poison you. And I am jealous of Komarovsky, as if he were an infectious disease. Someday he will take you away, just as certainly as death will someday separate us. I know this must seem obscure and confused, but I can’t say it more clearly. I love you madly, irrationally, infinitely.

I think you’ll agree that’s powerful stuff but how would you feel if you got a letter like that? Would it please you or make you run a mile? I think I’d make a run for it. So what should you write to your love? Well if want to woo your love successfully science has some tips for you.

Yale psychologist Robert Sternberg’s theory of love, suggests that the ideal love letter should include the following components—intimacy, passion, and commitment. To test this hypothesis Donelson Forsyth and Kelli Taylor constructed a number of letters and asked people what they thought of them.

They discovered that, when it comes to love letters, commitment conquered all. The letter that proclaimed, “I know we will be happy together for the rest of our lives” and “I couldn’t imagine a world without you in it,” was rated much higher, in terms of expressing love, than one that made no mention of commitment.

Adding language that spoke of closeness and caring increased the letter’s good impression with readers, but it was a commitment that left readers feeling loved and in love.

As to expressing passion in a letter; frisky letters, which went on for too long about the sender’s sexual passions, were viewed generally negatively by both genders; perhaps because they were more about lust than love.

They also discovered that a message of commitment need not be delivered in a traditional love letter or a card; a simple email will do which is lucky as so many of us have lost the art of putting pen to paper. However, research shows that people think that letters are more trustworthy, and a handwritten letter shows effort and care too.

Therefore, if you want your love letter to get results you need to write it yourself, show your commitment to the relationship and put it in an envelope. Call me old-fashioned but a bunch of flowers wouldn’t go amiss either.

 

For more see:
The Science of Love Letters
Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago

 

The History of the Love Letter

The History of the Love Letter

There would be no love letters without pens, ink and that luscious bright-red blob of sealing wax the heroine of the story cracks open at her dressing table. A good goose quill was the love letter writer’s standard kit until the invention of the metal dip nib pen in the 1820s. These quills glided beautifully over the soft handmade paper made from rags allowing the writer to let their feelings and emotions flow from heart to paper. According to the People’s Magazine: An Illustrated Miscellany for Family Reading, 1867, quills were usually about 10 inches long and a mature goose could provide about 20 feathers a year from which pens could be made. Many of the feathers were however imported from Russia as British geese could not meet the demand. At the height of the trade some 6,000,000 quills a year were being manufactured in Britain with a man able to make up to 800 a day.

The ink people used to write their love letters varied, some made their own using old recipes, some simply mixed a little water and soot while others bought expensive India Ink made from a type of fine soot, known as lampblack. India ink was sold in bottles and was a mainstay of writers for much of the previous two centuries.

Seals have been used for security on love letters since the time of the Ancient Egyptians; the Ancient Egyptians made theirs of mud and rolled them with an engraved stone with the pharaoh’s name on it. The Romans made beautiful intaglios, craved stones often set in rings with the owner’s unique symbol.

By the Middle Ages, seals were appearing on legal documents. Perhaps the most famous seals were the papal bulls or ‘bulla’ which carried the metal seal (bulla), which was usually made of lead, but on very solemn occasions was made of gold. In the 18th century, the lead bulla was replaced with a red ink stamp of Saints Peter and Paul with the reigning Pope’s name encircling the picture, although missives of historic importance, e.g. the bull of Pope John XXIII convoking the Second Vatican Council, are still sealed with the traditional lead seal.

Ordinary folk however used wax. In the Middle Ages, the make-up of the sealing wax was typically beeswax and ‘Venice turpentine’, a greenish-yellow resinous extracted from Larch trees. The brilliant red colour comes from the addition of expensive vermilion made from the mineral cinnabar. From the 16th century onwards, other ingredients were added such as shellac to give the wax a glossy shine. By the mid-nineteenth century, a variety of colours was available including gold. This golden colour was achieved by the addition of the mineral mica. The use of sealing wax diminished with the introduction of the gummed envelope but that took much longer than you might think.

By the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign, the Mulready envelope had appeared in England, it was a prepaid postal wrapper and forerunner of the modern envelope. Edwin Hill and Warren De La Rue were granted the first British patent for an envelope-making machine in 1845. These envelopes were not what we think of as an envelope today. They were made from a lozenge (or rhombus)-shaped sheet of paper, three edges were pasted together but there was no gummed opening, sealing wax was still required to close it. The envelope we know today did not appear until nearly 50 years later.

And now even the envelope has largely disappeared.

Who writes love letters to today I wonder?

Where is the romance in a text or email?

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.42  Also available on:

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Flaubert’s True Love – Louise Colet

Flaubert’s True Love – Louise Colet

From 1846 to 1854, Gustave Flaubert, the creator of Madame Bovary, had a relationship with the poet Louise Colet. The relationship turned sour, however, and they broke up. Louise was allegedly so angered by her breakup with Flaubert, she wrote a novel, Lui,(Him) in an effort to target Flaubert. However, Colet’s book has failed to have the lasting significance of Madame Bovary. Flaubert’s dozens of long letters to her, in 1846–1847, then especially between 1851 and 1855, are one of the many joys of his correspondence. Many of them are a precious source of information on the progress of the writing of Madame Bovary. In many others, Flaubert gives lengthy appreciations and critical comments on the poems that Louise Colet sent to him for his judgement before offering them for publication. The most interesting of these comments show the vast differences between her and him on the matter of style and literary expression, she being a gushing Romanticist, he deeply convinced that the writer must abstain from gush and self-indulgence.

An extract from one of the letters is reproduced below. Flaubert never married and according to his biographer Émile Faguet, his affair with Louise Colet was his only serious romance. Flaubert believed in, and pursued, the principle of finding “le mot juste” (“the right word”), which he considered as the key means to achieve quality in literary art. Does he find ‘le mot juste’ in this letter dated 1846?

“I will cover you with love when next I see you, with caresses, with ecstasy. I want to gorge you [sic] with all the joys of the flesh, so that you faint and die. I want you to be amazed by me, and to confess to yourself that you had never even dreamed of such transports… When you are old, I want you to recall those few hours, I want your dry bones to quiver with joy when you think of them.”

In his novel he Flaubert gives expression to his thoughts on love to Emma;

Before her marriage she had thought that she had love within her grasp; but since the happiness which she had expected this love to bring her hadn’t come, she supposed she must have been mistaken. And Emma tried to imagine just what was meant, in life, by the words “bliss,” “passion,” and “rapture” – words that had seemed so beautiful to her in books.”

“She was not happy–she never had been. Whence came this insufficiency in life–this instantaneous turning to decay of everything on which she leaned? But if there were somewhere a being strong and beautiful, a valiant nature, full at once of exaltation and refinement, a poet’s heart in an angel’s form, a lyre with sounding chords ringing out elegiac epithalamia to heaven, why, perchance, should she not find him? Ah! How impossible! Besides, nothing was worth the trouble of seeking it; everything was a lie. Every smile hid a yawn of boredom, every joy a curse, all pleasure satiety, and the sweetest kisses left upon your lips only the unattainable desire for a greater delight.”

In choosing to lose his heart to Louise Colet Flaubert had chosen badly. In her twenties she married Hippolyte Colet, an academic musician, partly in order to escape provincial life and live in Paris, echoes of Emma Bovary here I’m sure. When the couple arrived in Paris, Colet began to submit her work for approval and publication and soon won a two-thousand-franc prize from the Académie française, the first of four prizes won from the Académie. Like many women of note she ran a salon that was frequented by many of the city’s literary crowd including Victor Hugo. In 1840 she gave birth to her daughter Henriette, but neither her husband nor her lover, Victor Cousin, would acknowledge paternity of the child. After her affair with Flaubert she took up with Alfred de Musset, then Abel Villemain.

She was a resourceful woman and after her husband died, she supported herself and her daughter with her writing. Her “dry bones” probably did not quiver when she thought about Flaubert in her old age, far more water passed under her bridge than it ever did under Flaubert’s.

Illustration: Louise Colet by James Tissot (1836-1902), Oil on canvas, 1861.

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.42  Also available on:

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‘I want you to want me’

In the now famous words of Cheap Trick, “I Want You to Want Me,” is a common refrain in many a love letter. The song only reached number 29 in the UK Charts in 1979 but  was used in the 1999 hit romcom, 10 Things I Hate About You. In the story, new student Cameron (Gordon-Levitt) is smitten with Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) and, in order to get around her father’s strict rules on dating, attempts to get “bad boy” Patrick (Heath Ledger) to date Bianca’s ill-tempered sister, Kat (Julia Stiles).

Written by Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith, it is a modern version of William Shakespeare’s comedy The Taming of the Shrew. The song plays to a montage of Ledger pursuing Stiles as he tries to persuade Kat (Stiles) to go to the prom with him and of course they fall in love with each other in the end.

It seems that Kings too were not above a bit of begging when cupid’s arrow hits its mark. Henry VIII’s State Papers contain a letter he wrote to his then mistress Anne Boleyn who was residing in Hever Castle in 1527.

The love struck Henry VIII wrote:

I beg to know expressly your intention touching the love between us.Necessity compels me to obtain this answer, having been more than a year wounded by the dart of love, and not yet sure whether I shall fail or find a place in your affection, ….

But if you please to do the office of a true loyal mistress and friend, and to give up yourself body and heart to me, who will be, and have been, your most loyal servant, (if your rigour does not forbid me). I promise you that not only the name shall be given you, but also that I will take you for my only mistress, casting off all others besides you out of my thoughts and affections, and serve you only.

I beseech you to give an entire answer to this my rude letter, that I may know on what and how far I may depend…..

Written by the hand of him who would willingly remain yours, H. R.”

Anne was playing a longer game than Henry imagined at the time, determined to be his wife not just his mistress. She keeps him on tenterhooks, torturing his heart for as long as she can being tardy with her replies. Of course, she gets her way but things did not turn out exactly as she had planned!

The Taming of the Shrew has been the subject of critical controversy. Dana Aspinall writes “Since its first appearance, some time between 1588 and 1594, Shrew has elicited a panoply of heartily supportive, ethically uneasy, or altogether disgusted responses to its rough-and-tumble treatment of the ‘taming’ of the ‘curst shrew’ Katherina, and obviously, of all potentially unruly wives.”

Some scholars argue that even in Shakespeare’s day the play must have been controversial, due to the changing nature of gender politics. Marjorie Garber, for example, suggests Shakespeare created the Induction so the audience wouldn’t react badly to the misogyny in the Petruchio/Katherina story; he was, in effect, defending himself against charges of sexism. G.R. Hibbard argues that during the period in which the play was written, arranged marriages were beginning to give way to newer, more romantically informed unions, and thus people’s views on women’s position in society, and their relationships with men, were in a state of flux. As such, audiences may not have been as predisposed to tolerate the harsh treatment of Katherina as is often thought. Evidence of at least some initial societal discomfort with The Shrew is, perhaps, to be found in the fact that John Fletcher, Shakespeare’s successor as house playwright for the King’s Men, wrote The Woman’s Prize, or The Tamer Tamed as a sequel to Shakespeare’s play. Sadly for Anne Boleyn she suffered the full weight of the King’s misogyny when he had her killed to bed his new fancy, the luckless Jane Seymour.

Julia Herdman writes historical fiction that puts women to the fore. Her latest book Sinclair, Tales of Tooley Street Vol. 1. is  Available on Amazon – Paperback £10.99 Kindle £2.42  Also available on:

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