You know what authors like Vladamir Nabakov and Ernest Hemingway wrote in their classic novels — but what about the words that they wrote to their wives? Writers like Virginia Woolf and Charlotte Brontë composed characters of great independence and strength — but were they as confident in
the letters they wrote to their lovers? And why did English poet Vita Sackville-West — known for writing about married life, freedom, nature, Biblical themes, and more — receive so many love letters herself? With love — and maybe even the desire to write a love letter or two of your own? — in the air this time of year, now is a great time to explore some of the best love letters written by famous authors (and believe me, you’ll start to see a side of your favorite writers that you never even knew existed.)
Famous writers, it turns out, love just like us: albeit with better adjectives. Sometimes that love is reciprocated, and sometimes it’s… well… decidedly not. (Unlike us, their words of unrequited longing won’t be stored in the cloud forever.) Here are some of
the best lines from 21 love letters by famous authors, perfect for putting you in the Valentine’s Day spirit — or, at least, helping you realize your own love letter-writing skills aren’t lacking as much as you thought they were. 1 F. Scott Fitzgerald to Zelda Fitzgerald "Once we were one person, and always it will be a little that way." 2 Zelda Fitzgerald To F. Scott Fitzgerald “Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.” 3 Vladimir Nabokov to his wife, editor, and translator Véra Slonim “Yes, I need you, my fairy-tale. Because you are the only person I can talk with about the shade of a cloud, about the song of a thought — and about how, when I went out to work today and looked a tall sunflower in the face, it smiled at me with all of its seeds.” 4 Charlotte Brontë to her former teacher, Constantin Héger “I do not seek to justify myself, I submit to all kinds of reproaches — all I know — is that I cannot — that I will not resign myself to the total loss of my master’s friendship — I would rather undergo the greatest bodily pains than have my heart constantly lacerated by searing regrets. If my master withdraws his friendship from me entirely I shall be absolutely without hope — if he gives me a little friendship — a very little — I shall be content — happy, I would have a motive for living — for working.”
(Héger, who was married, did not return her affections.)
5 Kahlil Gibran to the American missionary Mary Haskell “When I am unhappy, dear Mary, I read your letters. When the mist overwhelms the “I” in me, I take two or three letters out of the little box and reread them. They remind me of my true self. They make me overlook all that is not high and beautiful in life. Each and every one of us, dear Mary, must have a resting place somewhere. The resting place of my soul is a beautiful grove where my knowledge of you lives.” 6 Gustave Flaubert to the French poet Louise Colet “I will cover you with love when next I see you, with caresses, with ecstasy. I want to gorge you with all the joys of the flesh, so that you faint and die. I want you to be amazed by me…”
7 Virginia Woolf to the English poet Vita Sackville-West “Vita — throw over your man, and we’ll go to Hampton Court and dine on the river together and walk in the garden in the moonlight and come home late and have a bottle of wine and get tipsy, and I’ll tell you all the things I have in my head, millions, myriads. They won’t stir by day, only by dark on the river. Think of that.” 8 Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf “…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.” 9 English author Violet Trefusis to Vita Sackville-West “Well, you ask me pointblank why I love you… I love you, Vita, because I’ve fought so hard to win you… I love you, Vita, because you never gave me back my ring. I love you because you have never yielded in anything; I love you because you never capitulate. I love you for your wonderful intelligence, for your literary aspirations, for your unconscious coquetry. I love you because you have the air of doubting nothing! I love in you what is also in me: imagination, the gift for languages, taste, intuition and a host of other things… I love you, Vita, because I have seen your soul…”
(Apparently Ms. Sackville-West was quite the catch.)
10 Franz Kafka to the Czech journalist, writer, editor, and translator Milen Jesensk “Last night I dreamed about you. What happened in detail I can hardly remember, all I know is that we kept merging into one another. I was you, you were me. Finally you somehow caught fire.”
(Do I sense an innuendo here?)
11 Allen Ginsberg to fellow poet Peter Orlovsky “I woke up this morning with great bliss of freedom and joy in my heart... I’m saved, you’re saved, we’re all saved, everything has been all rapturous ever since — I only feel sad that perhaps you left as worried when we waved goodbye and kissed so awkwardly — I wish I could have that over to say goodbye to you happier and without the worries and doubts I had that dusty dusk when you left…” 12 Ernest Hemingway to his fourth wife, the American journalist and author Mary Welsh “It’s tough as hell without you and I’m doing it straight but I miss you so I could die. If anything happened to you I’d die the way an animal will die in the Zoo if something happens to his mate. Much love my dearest Mary and know I’m not impatient. I’m just desperate.” 13 Leo Tolstoy to his then-fiancée, Valeria Arsenev “I already love in you your beauty, but I am only beginning to love in you that which is eternal and ever previous — your heat, your soul. Beauty one could get to know and fall in love with in one hour and cease to love it as speedily; but the soul one must learn to know. Believe me, nothing on earth is given without labor, even love, the most beautiful and natural of feelings.” 14 Irish novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch to British novelist Brigid Brophy “I adore the texture of your mind; and you are a writer and a thinker and beautiful. And you are witty. These things, though they remain scattered, are good and enrich me. I loved your flowers and your sending them — I have had much pleasure from them and they still bloom…” 15 Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Robert Browning “You have touched me more profoundly than I thought even you could have touched me — my heart was full when you came here today. Henceforward I am yours for everything....” 16 John Keats to his then-fiancée, Fanny Brawne “My greatest torment since I have known you has been the fear of you being a little inclined to the Cressid; but that suspicion I dismiss utterly and remain happy in the surety of your Love, which I assure you is as much a wonder to me as a delight. Send me the words ‘Good night’ to put under my pillow.”
(The English poet died before the two could be married.)
17 Oscar Wilde to British author and poet Lord Alfred Douglas “…it is a marvel that those red rose-leaf lips of yours should be made no less for the madness of music and song than for the madness of kissing. Your slim gilt soul walks between passion and poetry.” 18 Lord Byron to his married lover, Teresa Guiccioli “…my destiny rests with you, and you are a woman, eighteen years of age, and two out of a convent. I love you, and you love me — at least, you say so, and act as if you did so, which last is a great consolation in all events. But I more than love you, and cannot cease to love you. Think of me, sometimes, when the Alps and ocean divide us — but they never will, unless you wish it.” 19 Cartoonist, humorist, and journalist James Thurber to his former grade-school sweetheart, Eva Prout "Many a man who loves spiritually is a weakling — a professor. Many a one who loves physically is a brute. But when the two are mixed, he loves with all the fire and passion of a poet and a caveman… If I ever kiss you you’ll know that — and you’ll know what a wonderful thing my love is.”"
(It’s worth noting she was just not that into him. Like, at all.)
20 Mary Wordsworth to William Wordsworth "…it is not in my power to tell thee how I have been affected by this dearest of all letters — it was so unexpected — so new a thing to see the breathing of thy inmost heart upon paper that I was quite overpowered, and now that I sit down to answer thee in the loneliness and depth of that love which unites us and which cannot be felt but by ourselves." 21 Henry Miller to Anaïs Nin "I say this is a wild dream—but it is this dream I want to realize. Life and literature combined, love the dynamo, you with your chameleon's soul giving me a thousand loves, being anchored always in no matter what storm, home wherever we are. In the mornings, continuing where we left off. Resurrection after resurrection. You asserting yourself, getting the rich varied life you desire; and the more you assert yourself the more you want me, need me. Your voice getting hoarser, deeper, your eyes blacker, your blood thicker, your body fuller. A voluptuous servility and tyrannical necessity. More cruel now than before—consciously, wilfully cruel. The insatiable delight of experience."