There are few things more romantic than a well-considered, handwritten love letter, especially in our age of e-mail. And although receiving your own love letter is nice, it's maybe even more fun to read famous love letters by celebrities. These correspondences were meant to stay between the sender and the addressee, so in reading them, we get a little glimpse into a couple's private life. This is particularly tantalizing when the couple is one you've read about in textbooks and tabloids, like F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald or Napoleon Bonaparte and Josephine.
Lisa Grunwald and Stephen Adler totally get the appeal of looking behind the curtain, especially when it comes to marriage and love. Their new book The Marriage Book: Centuries of Advice, Inspiration, and Cautionary Tales from Adam and Eve to Zoloft is a collection of advice on getting — and staying — married, pulled from newspaper and magazine articles and brochures and, of course, love letters. Grunwald and Adler, who are actually married write in the book's introduction, "Reading about other people's marriages... would be a lot like going to a series of dinner parties where the couples have a little too much to drink and you get to spend the ride home dishing about what's really going on with them."
Few things give you that feeling of knowing more than you're supposed to than reading a good love letter. So here are seven love letters between famous couples to pique your interest and stoke those romantic flames.
Richard Burton to Elizabeth Taylor
Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor had a tumultuous — and very public — relationship, which Grunwald and Adler describe as "legendary, boozy, larger-than-life." They started dating on the set of Cleopatra in 1963, when they were both married. This eventually turned into a marriage of their own, followed by a divorce, followed by another marriage to each other, followed by a final divorce. Burton wrote this letter to Taylor after the first divorce in 1973:
You’re off, by God! I can barely believe it since I am so unaccustomed to anybody leaving me. But reflectively I wonder why nobody did so before. All I care about–honest to God — is that you are happy and I don’t much care who you’ll find happiness with. I mean as long as he’s a friendly bloke and treats you nice and kind. If he doesn’t I’ll come at him with a hammer and clinker. God’s eye may be on the sparrow but my eye will always be on you. Never forget your strange virtues. Never forget that underneath that veneer of raucous language is a remarkable and puritanical LADY … Try and look after yourself. Much love.
F. Scott Fitzgerald to Zelda Fitzgerald
Another well-know, boozy marriage was that between F. Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda. Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby, wrote this letter to his wife in 1934, while she was battling a bout of mental illness in a sanitarium:
You and I have been happy: we haven’t been happy just once, we’ve been happy a thousand times. The chances that the spring, that’s for everyone, like in the popular songs, may belong to us too–the chances are pretty bright at this time because as usual, I can carry most of contemporary literary opinion, liquidated, in the hollow of my hand — and when I do, I see the swan floating on it and — I find it to be you and you only … Forget the past — what you can of it, and turn about and swim back home to me, to your haven forever and ever — even though it may seem a dark cave at times and lit with torches of fury; it is the best refuge for you — turn gently in the waters through which you move and sail back.
Victor Hugo to Adèle Foucher
Victor Hugo wrote this letter to Adèle Foucher in 1821 to convince her that they were perfect for each other, and the two married a year later. "They eventually had five children and countless infidelities," according to Grundwald and Adler, so clearly these words about their mutual "rightness" rang true until the end:
When two souls, which for a longer or a shorter time have sought each other amidst the crowd, at length find each other; when they perceive that they belong to each other; when, in short, they comprehend their affinity, then there is established between them a union, pure and ardent as themselves, a union begun upon earth in order that it may be completed in heaven. This union is love; real and perfect love, such love as very few men can adequately conceive … It is such love as this that you inspire in me, and it is such love that you will some day assuredly feel for me, even though, to my ever-present grief, you do not do so now.
Napoleon Bonaparte to Josephine
This might be one of the harshest love letters ever written. Napoleon Bonaparte was definitely a little bit jealous and suspicious of his wife Josephine when he sent her this letter in 1796, but his adoration and desire for her is palpable:
I love you no longer; on the contrary, I detest you. You are a wretch, very clumsy, very stupid, a Cinderella. You never write to me; you do not love your husband. You know what pleasure your letters give him, and you never write him even six miserable lines! … In truth, my dearest, I am uneasy at having no news from you. Write me four pages filled with those nice, kind things that are such a pleasure to my heart. I hope that ere long I shall seize you in my arms, and cover you with a million burning kisses — burning as though they came from the equator.
John Steinbeck to Gwendolyn Steinbeck
John Steinbeck was married to three different women, but, somewhat surprisingly, he wrote this letter about oneness to his second wife Gwen in 1943 who, apparently, "became resentful of his success and was combative, competitive, and unfaithful":
Darling, you want to know what I want of you. Many things of course but chiefly these. I want you to keep this thing we have inviolate and waiting — the person who is neither I nor you but us. It’s a hard thing this separation but it is one of the millions of separations at home and many more millions here. It is one hunger in great starvation but because it is ours it overshadows all the rest, if we let it … I love you beyond words, beyond containing. Remember that always when the distance seems so great and the time so long. It will not be so long, my dear.
William Wordsworth to Mary Wordsworth
William Wordsworth was an English Romantic poet who was clearly passionate about his marriage to Mary Wordsworth and expressed it in the most eloquent way possible. Grundwald and Adler write, "Wordsworth, as is evident from this and other letters, did not save all his poetry for his poems":
Every day every hour every moment makes me feel more deeply how blessed we are in each other, how purely how faithfully how ardently, and how tenderly we love each other; I put this last word last because, though I am persuaded that a deep affection is not uncommon in married life, yet I am confident that a lively, gushing, thought-employing, spirit-stirring, passion of love, is very rare even among good people.
Amelia Earhart to George Putnam
Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932. A year prior to that voyage, she wrote a letter to her soon-to-be husband George Putnam to express her concerns about finding balance between married life and that of an aviation pioneer:
You must know again my reluctance to marry, my feeling that I shatter thereby chances in work which means most to me. I feel the move just now as foolish as anything I could do. I know there may be compensations but have no heart to look ahead … Please let us not interfere with each others’ work or play, not let the world see our private joys or disagreements. In this connection I may have to keep some place where I can go to be myself, now and then, for I cannot guarantee to endure at all times the confinement of even an attractive cage … I will try to do my best in every way and give you that part of me you know and seem to want.
Images: Getty Images