Recent Publications | January 27, 2012

The British Library’s Love Letters

Love Letters: 2000 Years of Romance, a title published by the British Library, is the first ever anthology to reproduce original love letters in each of the writers’ own hand. Featuring letters drawn from the Library's unique and vast collections, the romance spans from 168 BC to the 20th century and offers a rare insight into the intimate thoughts, feelings and desires of iconic individuals such as Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII, Charles Dickens and Oscar Wilde.

Edited and written by Andrea Clarke, Curator of Early Modern Historical Manuscripts, Love Letters displays and transcribes in full 25 letters with engaging commentaries about the correspondents and their circumstances, as well as portraits of the writers and recipients. It includes letters by figures such as Henry VIII, Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, Horatio Lord Nelson, Oscar Wilde and Mervyn Peake.

From the raw passion of Rupert Brooke’s letter to Cathleen Nesbitt—‘I will kiss you till I kill you’—to the hurt and dejected pre-wedding note from Charles Dickens to his fiancée—‘do not trifle with me’—Love Letters exposes ‘every shade of love’ through these personal and private letters between lovers over hundreds of years.

Highlights include:

Charlotte Brontë to Professor Constantin Héger, November 1844—infatuated with her Belgian Professor, Charlotte wrote letters to him and despite the fact that Professor Héger tore up three of them and threw all four away, incredibly four of her letters have survived. Curiously, it is thanks to his wife—who retrieved them and sewed them back together—that we are able to read them today.

Oscar Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas, January 1897—the first and last pages of ‘De Profundis’, the 50,000-word letter that Wilde wrote to Douglas from Reading Gaol between December 1896 and March 1897. As well as charting Wilde’s spiritual growth through the physical and emotional hardships of his imprisonment, the letter is a bitter - yet remarkably tender and forgiving—indictment of the man who he felt had helped to destroy his life and reputation.

Mervyn Peake to his wife, Maeve, 1949—previously unpublished, Peake’s wonderfully illustrated and heartfelt letter was written just before his wife went to hospital to give birth. He signs off, ‘Maevie. I am in love. Deeply. Un-endingly, for ever and ever.’

Andrea Clarke, author of Love Letters, says: “In an age of emails, tweets and texted ‘I luv u’s’, Love Letters invites us into a privileged realm and reminds us why the written word is so special. We are delighted to share these handwritten, intimate exchanges between couples—some famous, others now lost to history—with a wider audience.” To celebrate the publication of Love Letters the Library will hold an event in February with special guests, including acclaimed biographer Anne Sebba, who will join British Library curator Andrea Clarke, for a pre-Valentine's Day dip into the most intimate world of the handwritten love letter, with fascinating readings, discussion and insights into the private relationships of people across centuries and cultures.

British Library Publishing

Love Letters is available to buy from the British Library shop (T +44 (0)20 7412 7735 / email )


Love Letters: 2000 Years of Romance
When: Sat 11 Feb 2012, 14.00 - 16.30
Where: Conference Centre, British Library. Price: £7.50 / £5 concessions

Love Letters

1: Letter from Isaias to her husband, Hephaestion, 29 August 168 BC
2: Margery Brews to John Paston III, February 1477
3: Prince Arthur to Katherine of Aragon, 5 October 1499
4: Pierre Sala, Petit Livre d’Amour (letter to Marguerite Bullioud), c.1500
5: Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII, love notes in a Book of Hours, c.1528
6: Katherine Parr to Henry VIII, July 1544
7: Earl of Essex to Elizabeth I, 18 October 1591
8: Sir Thomas Baskerville to his wife, Mary, 21 August 1595
9: Thomas Knyvett to his wife, Katherine, 26 November 1621
10: George Villiers to James I, 29 August 1623
11: Dorothy Osbourne to Sir William Temple, 15/16 October 1653
12: Sir John Fenwick to his wife, Mary, January 1697
13: Vanessa [Esther van Homrigh] to Jonathan Swift, 1714
14: Horatio Nelson’s last letter to Lady Emma Hamilton, 19 October 1805
15: Charles Dickens to his future wife, Catherine Hogarth, May 1835
16: Charlotte Brontë to Professor Constantin Héger, 18 November 1844
17: Oscar Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas, De Profundis, January 1897
18: Gordon Bottomley to Emily Burton, 17 October 1899
19: Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnet 43 from Sonnets from the Portuguese, c. 1846
20: Christina Rossetti, Valentine poem to her mother, 1884
21: Rupert Brooke to Cathleen Nesbitt, 1913
22: Roger Keyes to his wife, Eva, 10 December 1914
23: Mervyn Peake to his wife, Maeve Gilmore, early 1940s
24: Ted Hughes, poem to Sylvia Plath, c.1980
25: Ralph Richardson to his wife, Meriel Forbes, 1964-70

For more information contact:

Evie Jeffreys
British Library
t:+ 44 (0) 20 7412 7105

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