A Love of Letters

Some of you may be aware that today is Valentine’s Day. Personally, my immediate family and I are not practitioners in the arts of giving greeting cards, flowers, stuffed animals, chocolates and whatever else might come on this particular day. In fact, when I first found out I was scheduled for today’s post, I felt that I had drawn the short straw (have I mentioned I’m not a fan of this “holiday”?), but a recent read and the fact that this month notes the 23rd anniversary of the blind date with the man who eventually became my husband, has given me some fodder for today’s post.

Our partnership which began all those years ago, was way before the age of Skype, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter, and thus our long distance (he in Pittsburgh, me in Cleveland) relationship’s success relied on land lines, the Ohio and Pennsylvania Turnpikes (before EZPASS!) and the US Postal Service. Thanks to the Post Office playing the middle man, I have received some of the best gifts I could ever ask for – letters from a loved one.

I recently finished one of the best reads I’ve had in a long time – To the Letter: A Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing by Simon Garfield. Now, I must admit that over the past two decades I have succumbed to the charms of e-mail, Twitter, and texting, and have become lazy when it comes to picking up the phone or the setting pen to paper and addressing an envelope. But reading Garfield’s work had me reminiscing of the good ‘ole days of sending postcards on vacations, writing to friends who were away for the summer or when I was away at college, and especially of those longed-for letters and cards from that man just a few hours away down Interstate.

Garfield’s work is a fantastic history of letter writing throughout the ages. Military missives, familial correspondences and various letter writing guidelines over centuries are captured in this work. He really seems to shine when focusing on the love letters between couples, some famous and some not so, throughout history – Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, The Millers and Anais Nin, Charles Schultz and his various mistresses – or maybe it’s Garfield allowing those letters to shine for themselves that makes this such a wonderful read. Two of the most captivating couples interspersed throughout Garfield’s book Abelard and Heloise (12th century monk and his student), and Chris and Bessie (WWII British soldier and girlfriend). The latter is a couple whose letters are placed intermittently throughout the book, and the reader follows along as their relationship evolves from friends to fiancés. After following along with all these couples for 400 pages, it would be hard for anyone to come away from the experience without pining for the days before 140 character limitations.

Garfield mentions the emergence of letter writing clubs (knitting clubs, book clubs, cooking clubs, why not letter writing clubs!?) and other ways lovers of letters are trying to rekindle this lost art. Right here in Pittsburgh, our cultural partner and neighbor, The Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, is hosting letter writing events today and tomorrow for the opening of their new exhibit XOXO: An Exhibit about Love and Forgiveness. I can’t think of a more perfect way to get into the habit of letter writing, renew old practices, fan some flames of love and create some life-long memories.

Maria J.

letter image


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15 responses to “A Love of Letters

  1. Indeed this generation (myself inclusive), has missed out on the old methods which allowed love and strong, well-founded friendships to sprout and then blossom. Nice, timely reminder.

  2. The literal art of handwriting is disappearing I fear. I have an autograph book of my grandfather’s from 1889. If you could see it you’d wonder why that way of life has been abandoned. Great post.

  3. Garfield’s book sounds interesting. I used to love epistolary novels when I read them in college (i.e. Pamela, Shamela, and other classic works). There definitely is a lot of power in letter writing–not just in real life but in fiction as well!

    • michellejoycebond – Garfield give’s a shout out to many epistolary novels in this work. I think you’d like it. Another great book I just read re: letter writing is Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin (Ben’s sister and their correspondences.) Check it out! – Maria J.

  4. lizzy

    I have always hand-written letters, thank-yous, notes and love both the art of writing and the physical components (beautiful papers, inks) that are a part of it. I have a pen pal from New Zealand and we’ve exchanged hand-written letters for over 15 years. Nothing like seeing that ‘airpost’ envelope in the mailbox!

    • lizzy – yes,pen pals! I remember having one as a child – nothing like that blue envelope arriving in the mail – you’re so right! I wish I could remember where he lived. Something to try and find among my old papers. Thanks for the memory nudge! – Maria J.

  5. smasonader

    I’m not a huge fan of Valentine’s Day either but thanks for sharing your lovely story and I’ll look forward to picking up this book. My 10-year-old son was recently assigned a pen pal across the country. He’s really enjoying this correspondence. Maybe there’s hope that the old-fashioned art of letter writing won’t get completely lost!

  6. smasonader

    Reblogged this on Book Group Heaven and commented:
    A friend recently sent me back some letters that I’d written to her 20-plus years ago, just after we’d gone our separate ways following college graduation. I couldn’t believe she’d kept those tattered pages, and I was grateful that she’d shared with me this priceless look back at my 22-year-old self. The book mentioned in this post sounds like a nice way to remind us of the joy of old-fashioned letter writing in this age of email, tweets, etc.

  7. Val Sanford

    Reblogged this on Sotto Voce.

  8. I recently heard the story of a man who used to correspond to his love through love letters. He eventually grew old and died, as did his lovely wife. After, one of the children was going through his things deciding what to throw out and what to keep when he found the letters. He found that his parents had a love for each other that, during times when they were forced apart, stayed strong through her letters to him. It was quite intimate, though not perversely so. I believe we rely too heavily on emails and forget how valuable letters from loved ones really are.

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