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In an age when our deepest romantic feelings are usually recorded in the form of goodnight texts, cute Instagram captions, and potentially kind of cringe sexts, the idea of exchanging actual, old-school love letters sounds pretty damn charming. I mean, sure, I like to think I’ve poured my soul into some emotionally vulnerable—arguably too emotionally vulnerable—late-night texts in my day (yes, I’m a Pisces). But there’s just something about a physical love letter—a real, tangible outpouring of eternal devotion immortalized in ink and paper, a confession of love written in your beloved’s own handwriting—that blows even the most thoughtful good morning text out of the damn water.
Of course, there are some practical advantages to the more technologically advanced forms of romantic communication we have available today. Personally, I’ll take the immediate gratification of a steamy sexting sesh over waiting weeks for my long-distance lover to respond to my horny snail mail in between fighting whatever wars all men seemed to be involved in at all times back in the day (based on my admittedly pretty tenuous grasp of history). Like, sending a risky text is enough anxiety for me without waiting for a reply on USPS’s schedule, thanks.
But while love letters may be a thing of the past, that doesn’t mean we can’t still appreciate a little old-school romance. For your enjoyment (and/or inspiration for your next Instagram caption), we’ve rounded up the most romantic love letters in history. Here you’ll find famous declarations of love from kings to their mistresses, great novelists to their wives, and musicians to their beloved mystery women (aka the Beethoven one that’s quoted in the first Sex and the City movie, because we obviously weren’t going to leave that one out). Some are sweet and simple, some are sweep-you-off-your-feet passionate, and others are pretty damn horny, TBH (looking at you, James Joyce). One thing they all have in common? They’re guaranteed to put whatever “U up?” text the current object of your affections is probably drafting right now to shame, just saying.
1.Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf
Whenever two writers fall in love—as Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West did in what became one of the most famous lesbian love affairs of the 20th century—you can bet some pretty top-notch love letters are probably lying around somewhere. But for all Woolf’s famous stream-of-consciousness prose, West is responsible for perhaps the most romantic line in the entirety of their correspondence, absolutely aching in its raw simplicity: “I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way.” A little more context right this way:
I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia. I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way. You, with all your undumb letters, would never write so elementary a phrase as that; perhaps you wouldn’t even feel it. And yet I believe you’ll be sensible of a little gap. But you’d clothe it in so exquisite a phrase that it should lose a little of its reality. Whereas with me it is quite stark: I miss you even more than I could have believed; and I was prepared to miss you a good deal. So this letter is really just a squeal of pain. It is incredible how essential to me you have become. I suppose you are accustomed to people saying these things. Damn you, spoilt creature; I shan’t make you love me any more by giving myself away like this—But oh my dear, I can’t be clever and stand-offish with you: I love you too much for that. Too truly. You have no idea how stand-offish I can be with people I don’t love. I have brought it to a fine art. But you have broken down my defenses. And I don’t really resent it.
2. Beethoven to His Immortal Beloved
Without further ado, here it is: the “ever mine, ever thine, ever ours” letter from the Sex and the City movie—which is probably what brought you here, isn’t it? The identity of the “Immortal Beloved” to whom Beethoven penned a series of impassioned love letters in 1812 remains a mystery nearly as compelling as the romance they detail. But while we may never know for sure who she was, one thing is clear: she had this German composer down bad.
Even in bed my ideas yearn towards you, my Immortal Beloved, here and there joyfully, then again sadly, awaiting from Fate, whether it will listen to us. I can only live, either altogether with you or not at all….Your love made me the happiest and unhappiest at the same time. At my actual age I should need some continuity, sameness of life—can that exist under our circumstances? Be calm—love me today, yesterday. What longing in tears for you—you—my life—my all—farewell. Oh, go on loving me. never doubt the faithfullest heart of your beloved. Ever thine. Ever mine. Ever ours.
3. James Joyce to His “Dirty Little F*ckbird,” Nora Barnacle
The love letters between Irish novelist James Joyce and his longtime love/eventual wife Nora are famous for a reason: they’re extraordinarily horny. Seriously, this stuff would make even the most seasoned sexter blush. (For one thing, it seems Joyce had a fart fetish, so there’s that.) See for yourself:
My sweet little whorish Nora, I did as you told me, you dirty little girl, and pulled myself off twice when I read your letter. I am delighted to see that you do like being fucked arseways. Yes, now I can remember that night when I fucked you for so long backwards. It was the dirtiest fucking I ever gave you, darling. My prick was stuck up in you for hours, fucking in and out under your upturned rump. I felt your fat sweaty buttocks under my belly and saw your flushed face and mad eyes. At every fuck I gave you your shameless tongue come bursting out through your lips and if I gave you a bigger stronger fuck than usual fat dirty farts came spluttering out of your backside. You had an arse full of farts that night, darling, and I fucked them out of you, big fat fellows, long windy ones, quick little merry cracks and a lot of tiny little naughty farties ending in a long gush from your hole. It is wonderful to fuck a farting woman when every fuck drives one out of her. I think I would know Nora’s fart anywhere. I think I could pick hers out in a roomful of farting women. It is a rather girlish noise not like the wet windy fart which I imagine fat wives have. It is sudden and dry and dirty like what a bold girl would let off in fun in a school dormitory at night. I hope Nora will let off no end of her farts in my face so that I may know their smell also. Goodnight, my little farting Nora, my dirty little fuckbird!
4. Zelda Sayre to F. Scott Fitzgerald
F. Scott Fitzgerald may have been the more successful writer in his infamously chaotic relationship, but his wife Zelda might have had him beat when it comes to writing love letters.
I look down the tracks and see you coming—and out of every haze and mist your darling rumpled trousers are hurrying to me. Without you, dearest dearest I couldn’t see or hear or feel or think—or live—I love you so and I’m never in all our lives going to let us be apart another night. It’s like begging for mercy of a storm or killing Beauty or growing old, without you. I want to kiss you so—and in the back where your dear hair starts and your chest—I love you—and I can’t tell you how much—To think that I’ll die without your knowing—Goofo, you’ve got to try [to] feel how much I do—how inanimate I am when you’re gone—I can’t even hate these damnable people—Nobody’s got a right to live but us—and they’re dirtying up our world and I can’t hate them because I want you so—Come Quick—Come Quick to me—Lover, Lover, Darling—Your Wife.
5. Ronald Reagan to Nancy Reagan
No matter where you stand on his politics, it’s hard to deny that this man could write one hell of a love letter, even three decades into marriage.
Dear First Lady, I know tradition has it that on this morning I place Happy Anniversary cards on your breakfast tray. But things are somewhat mixed up. I substituted a gift and delivered it a few weeks ago. Still this is the day, the day that marks 31 years of such happiness as comes to few men. I told you once that it was like an adolescent’s dream of what marriage should be like. That hasn’t changed. You know I love the ranch but these last two days made it plain I only love it when you are there. Come to think of it that’s true of every place and every time. When you aren’t there I’m no place, just lost in time and space. I more than love you, I’m not whole without you. You are life itself to me. When you are gone I’m waiting for you to return so I can start living again. Happy Anniversary & thank you for 31 wonderful years. I love you. Your Grateful Husband.
6. Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn
Did he later have her beheaded? Yes, yes he did. But before things went south between these two, Henry did manage to pen some pretty emphatic promises of eternal devotion to the woman for whom he would famously forsake the Catholic Church.
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 rigor 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. And if it does not please you to answer me in writing, appoint some place where I may have it by word of mouth, and I will go thither with all my heart. No more, for fear of tiring you.
7. Oscar Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas
Surprise, surprise, 19th-century mores meant this homosexual love affair between Oscar Wilde and his muse had to happen in secret, but their forbidden romance is preserved in Wilde’s eloquent love letters.
Everyone is furious with me for going back to you, but they don’t understand us. I feel that it is only with you that I can do anything at all. Do remake my ruined life for me, and then our friendship and love will have a different meaning to the world. I wish that when we met at Rouen we had not parted at all. There are such wide abysses now of space and land between us. But we love each other.
8. Orson Welles to Rita Hayworth
This high-powered Hollywood romance may have been somewhat short-lived—Welles and Hayworth were only married for about four years—but I can’t think of a more romantic idea than two lovers “happening to each other.”
Dearest Angel Girl, ..I suppose most of us are lonely in this big world, but we must fall tremendously in love to find it out. The cure is the discovery of our need for company—I mean company in the very special sense we’ve come to understand since we happened to each other—you and I. The pleasures of human experience are emptied away without that companionship—now that I’ve known it; without it joy is just an unendurable as sorrow. You are my life—my very life. Never imagine your hope approximates what you are to me. Beautiful, precious little baby—hurry up the sun! Make the days shorter till we meet. I love you, that’s all there is to it.
9. Prince Albert to Queen Victoria
BRB, changing my email sign-off to “With promises of unchanging love and devotion.”
Dearest deeply loved Victoria, I need not tell you that since we left, all my thoughts have been with you at Windsor, and that your image fills my whole soul. Even in my dreams I never imagined that I should find so much love on earth. How that moment shines for me still when I was close to you, with your hand in mine. Those days flew by so quickly, but our separation will fly equally so. With promises of unchanging love and devotion, your ever true Albert.
10. Simone de Beauvoir to Claude Lanzmann
Feminist icon Simone de Beauvoir and her long-time partner, existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, were basically the Ken and Barbie of 20th-century French philosophy. But later letters to her much younger lover Claude Lanzmann show De Beauvoir at perhaps her most besotted.
My darling child, you are my first absolute love, the one that only happens once (in life) or maybe never. I thought I would never say the words that now come naturally to me when I see you—I adore you. I adore you with all my body and soul…You are my destiny, my eternity, my life.