When questioned, some might argue that the love letter is an archaic way to show your affection. Yet, for us, these tangible, well-thumbed declarations of affection count amongst our most treasured possessions. They are read and rediscovered time and time again and feel more personal than the modern-day text message.
As part of our celebration of the handwritten love letter, we asked The Telegraph’s Victoria Moss, MR PORTER’s Dan Rookwood, and Victoria screenwriter Daisy Goodwin to choose the piece of romantic prose or verse that means the most to them, and to share firsthand, memories of their most-treasured love letters. Let their heartfelt reflections inspire you to put pen to paper this Valentine’s Day.
The concept of a heart-scorching, poured-over love letter, dropping heady with scent through your letterbox might seem quaint, but in some ways with the plethora of modern forms of communication, we are perhaps accustomed to writing to our admirers more than ever.
The advent of online dating has turned the modern love letter into myriad forms: my husband and I exchanged a barrage of wit-filled, carefully constructed emails before we’d even met; the attempts to out-quip each other in script certainly heightened the trepidation prior to that first outing.
While scrolling through through saved messages of adoration is endearing, there is still nothing quite like a solid pen-scribed note declaring affection. The card he sent with a bouquet of wildflowers to my hotel room in Paris during our first Fashion week separation, retains a place in my heart, as well as my memory box.
“But while scrolling through through saved messages of adoration is endearing, there is still nothing quite like a solid pen-scribed note declaring affection.”
What should a modern love letter state? Love, clearly. But it’s those references to your secret language and in-jokes that resonate the most. For our wedding, it was to Christopher Marlowe—a long-held literary favourite—we turned for his classic poem, ‘The Passionate Shepherd to His Love’. I adore the rising cadences of the verse which conjure up visions of bucolic fields, but the mentions of ‘fair lined slippers’ and a ‘gown made of the finest wool’ made us smile, and felt endearingly personal. As all the best missives should.
Victoria Moss is Senior Fashion Editor at The Telegraph
A few years ago my parents moved out of the family home to a smaller place and insisted I come and pack up the time capsule of childhood that was my old bedroom “otherwise the whole lot is going to the tip”. I am a hoarder, so there were plenty of dusty exhibits in this museum to youth and many of them were difficult to throw away. Secreted at the back of the wardrobe, I came across a locked metal box-file labelled “Love Letters etc.” I found the key in my old piggy bank, and the box sighed open with a concertinaed, alphabetised outpouring of pent-up emotion. It was surprisingly heavy, weighed down with teenage angst, the heartfelt ‘4 EVA’ declarations of eternal love that lasted two months, and the tortured torment of unrequited love letters I wrote but thankfully thought better of sending.
While going through my grandfather’s papers shortly after his death some time back, I came across a letter jaundiced with age that he wrote to my grandmother during the Second World War. Reading it was to be transported to another time when communication was at once more formal and yet more personal and candid, given an urgency by the threat of air raids. The writing was beautiful, both to look at and to read. Childhood sweethearts, they stayed together for 75 years.
“After 13 years together, our roots have intertwined. We are one tree, not two.”
Like most modern couples, my wife and I text each other several times a day. But it’s really only on special occasions—our anniversary, her birthday, Mother’s Day and particularly Valentine’s Day—that I will channel my inner Cyrano de Bergerac, or borrow the well-phrased words of a far more talented wordsmith, and put fountain pen to paper.
Early on in our relationship, we both read Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières. It’s a beautifully composed heart-warmer and contains a passage about how loves evolves over time. It’s become a popular reading at weddings—we had it at ours—and we now have it handwritten in the shape of a heart in a frame above our bed. After 13 years together, our roots have intertwined. We are one tree, not two.
Dan Rookwood is US Editor at MR PORTER
I remember so well from my teens the run up to Valentine’s day. The tension, the heart thumping moment when I heard the letters falling onto the doormat in the morning. Was it a thump or only a whisper? There was one never to be forgotten year when I got 47 Valentines (the odds were hugely in my favour, I was at a school where the ratio of boys to girls was ten to one) and I am still basking in the afterglow.
“There is nothing more dampening to a burgeoning romance than the wrong words in the wrong order.”
But, I have to say that in those days it was quantity rather than quality that mattered. As I got older it was the words written on the card that caught my heart, or not. There is nothing more dampening to a burgeoning romance than the wrong words in the wrong order. I am afraid that I have spurned suitors simply because they used a phrase that in my youthful perfectionism, didn’t think was good enough. I squirm now at my callowness; I know now that the man with the right words isn’t necessarily the one who gets up at 4 am to comfort a crying child or brings you tea in the morning. Still, there is something magical about the perfect expression of love.
This poem by Adrian Mitchell to me has it all. A middle-aged man suddenly remembers why life is worth living in High Holborn. It’s so simple but so affecting. And the comic use of the location High Holborn is what make it so gloriously British—we don’t want romance to be completely unfettered by red brick and buses. We like a little comic juxtaposition, so we aren’t embarrassed by the molten emotion that runs underneath this deceptive little poem, just as the river fleet runs under the Holborn Viaduct.
Daisy Goodwin is an author and screenwriter for Victoria