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10 Literary Love Letters – Important Missives in New and Old Love Stories

Ten Literary Love Stories
From Atonement
Photo: Focus/ Universal

Often in literature, letters of love have informed the plot or played an important part in classic and more modern love stories. This could be a confession of love, letters taken by a third party, or those that reaffirm a bond as they pass between lovers who have been separated. Here are ten memorable literary love letters:

10 Literary Love Letters


1# Atonement by Ian McEwan

Atonement Briony Letter 10 Literary Love Letters
Photo Credit: Focus/ Universal

The letter: Written by Robbie Turner to Cecelia Tallis. There were two, one where he confessed his feelings and another that contained his fantasy about her; one he never meant to send.

The Effect: Jealousy. Love. Disaster.

Briony takes the wrong letter to Cecilia but not before opening it first. It leads to her believing him to be a ‘sex maniac’ and take steps to ‘protect’ her sister. Cecilia reacts with outrage at first but it eventually leads to the igniting of a love story.

The mix up begins a chain of events that alter the lives of everyone present on that fateful night. Letters are important in this book as Atonement is Briony’s attempt to set the record straight. She uses accounts and the love letters that pass between Robbie and Cecelia to piece together the whole story and to give them the fictional happy ending that was denied them in real life.

2# Persuasion by Jane Austen

Persuasion letter 10 Literary Love Letters
Photo Credit: Clerkenwell Films/ITV

The Letter: Written by Captain Wentworth to Anne Elliot confessing that despite everything, he still loves her.

The Effect: Hope. Joy. Reunion.

Possibly the most famous love letter in literature. Near to the end of the book, Captain Wentworth overhears Anne having a conversation about the constancy of men and women in love. Made hopeful by what he hears, Wentworth pens a quick letter that he hands to her as he leaves. This reignites Anne’s hope and gives her the courage to confess her own enduring love when they are next alone.

3# The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Time Traveler's Wife Letter 10 Literary Love Letters
Photo Credit: New Line Cinema

The Letter: Written by Henry De Tamble to his wife, Claire (Abshire) to be read in the event of his death. It tells her to live life to the fullest and that she will see him again one last time when she is an old woman.

The Effect: Longing. Comfort. Hope.

Though still heartbroken, Claire can move forward. However, the fact that she knows she will see him again one last time means that she will spend her remaining years waiting for him; something she has been doing for most of her life.

See also: PS, I love you.

4# Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice letter 10 Literary Love Letters
Photo Credit: Focus Features

The Letter: Written by Fitzwilliam Darcy to Elizabeth Bennet addressing accusations she made during his proposal. He explains to her his past with George Wickham and apologises for the part he had in convincing Mr. Bingley that Jane’s feelings were not true.

The Effect: Guilt. Understanding. Respect.

This marks a turning point in the book when Lizzie starts to question herself and to shed her titular prejudice towards Mr. Darcy.

5# Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain

Testament of Youth Letter 10 Literary Love Letters
Photo Credit: Lionsgate

The Letters: Those that passed between Vera and her fiancé Roland Leighton before his eventual death.

The Effect: Love. Compassion. Strength.

Having begun to fall in love before Roland left for the front, the letters served to bring them closer and to help them suffer the horrors brought about by war.

6# Middlemarch by George Eliot

Middlemarch letter 10 Literary Love Letters
Photo Credit: BBC

The Letter: Written by Mrs. Lydgate to Will Ladislaw,announcing that she has explained an awkward situation that caused Dorothea Brooke to believe he loved her instead. Less a letter of love and more one that facilitates the love of others.

The Effect: Relief. Happiness.

After numerous obstacles, Dorothea finally obtains the love and happiness she deserves.

7# The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

The Notebook Letters 10 Literary Love Letters
Photo Credit: New Line Cinema

The Letters: Noah Calhoun writes Allie Hamilton 365 letters, one for every day of the year, after their separation. Allie receives none as her mother has been keeping them from her.

The Effect: Anguish. Pain. Heartbreak

Due the mother’s machinations, Noah and Allie believe that the love of their lives has forgotten them.

See also: Lorna Doone

RELATED |Period Film Review – Lorna Doone: A Romance of Exmoor (2001)

8# Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Tess of the Durbervilles letter 10 literary love letters
Photo Credit: ITV

The Letter: Written by Tess Durbeyfield/Clare to her husband, Angel Clare imploring him to come and rescue her from Alec D’urberville.

The Effect: Realization. Reunion. Tragedy.

This and a number of other letters from Tess arrive while Angel is very ill with fever. While this does not explain his previous silence, it is the reason why they are read too late. Once lucid, Angel rushes home to England fearing what he might find.

See also: Sense and Sensibility

RELATED |Sense & Sensibility (2008) Review – A Gorgeous Version of a Jane Austen Classic

9# Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

Noughts and Crosses Letter 10 literary love letters
Photo Credit: Corgi Childrens

The Letter: Written by Persephone Hadley to Callum McGregor asking him to run away with her before they become as filled with hate as the older generation.

The Effect: Hope. Opportunity. Disappointment.

Callum receives the letter in time to just miss Sephy as she is leaving for boarding school. Sephy believes he never came. Callum sees it as a sign that they were not meant to be. That decision will haunt them both for years to come.

10# Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

Far From the Madding Crowd valentine 10 literary love letters
Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

The Letter: A Valentine meant as a joke by Bathsheba Everdene for Mr. Boldwood.

The Effect: Obsession.

Mr. Boldwood takes it seriously and develops and obsessive one-sided love for Bathsheba who grows to bitterly regret that moment of foolishness.

Can you think of any other literary love letters? Do you think love letters are romantic or outdated? Do you enjoy the use of letters as a plot device?

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By on April 19th, 2016

About Elinor Cackett

Elinor is a writer and semi-recent graduate of English and Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University. She has been writing ever since she could hold a pen but her love affair with fiction started when the entirety of David Eddings’ 'The Belgariad' was read to her at age four. She currently has a couple of books and half a dozen short stories on the go. She spends her free time writing, analysing media and knitting very colourful scarves.

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