On Valentine’s Day, you can surprise your loved one with a bouquet of a hundred red roses if you want to. But, nothing is more simple and beautiful than a handwritten letter. Let some of history’s most celebrated writers inspire you.
Why write with pen and ink?
Communication is beautiful and advancing technology has brought with it the evolution of how we connect. It also means the handwritten letter is rare these days.
In the late 1980s, it was common for a household to receive a personal letter at least once every fortnight. Today they are much more scarce.
That it’s a rarity makes it all the more treasured.
Expressing gratitude benefits the writer and the recipient. You can write your partner an email - and we’ll score it for readability - but on this day of the year, we encourage you to write a heartwarming note.
Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf’s open marriage allowed for a not-so-secret affair with another successful novelist, Vita Sackville-West.
It’s clear that Sackville-West adored both her writing skills and her:
“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. [...] I miss you even more than I could have believed; and I was prepared to miss you a good deal. So this letter is just really a squeal of pain. It is incredible how essential to me you have become.”
Although herself an accomplished wordsmith, she expresses the uselessness of her craft in the face of her heartache.
Ironically, the simplicity of her letter makes the expression of her desperation all the more effective - take note. We couldn’t resist grading this and the full letter this is extracted from scored an A.
There’s a lot you can learn from Vita this February - don’t feel you have to write long, rambling phrases or try too hard to be original. Just let your beloved know how essential they are to you.
Vladimir Nabokov to Véra Slonim
Yes, Nabokov was known for how effectively he wrote in the disturbing narrative voice of Humbert Humbert in his magnum opus, Lolita.
Don’t let that fool you - he was really quite the romantic. Look at this letter he penned 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.”
So, what can we learn from this? Well, if your style isn’t the brooding and painful prose of Vita Sackville-West, a joyful letter is just as powerful.
We can also learn from his style. The second sentence is pretty long, but Nabokov’s masterful prose teaches us the effectiveness of mixing it up. You’re a human, not a robot - vary the length of your sentences for maximum impact. Nabokov uses a dash to separate two connecting phrases to let his reader take a breath.
This Valentine’s Day, let your partner know how your love for them shapes how you view the world.
John Keats to Fanny Brawne
During the poet John Keats’ consumption, his fiancée Fanny Brawne was afraid to visit him - she was worried it would make it worse. The pair often slipped notes to each other instead. This is just one of many written by Keats:
“My creed is love and you are its only tenet – You have ravish’d me away by a power I cannot resist: and yet I could resist till I saw you; and even since I have seen you I have endeavoured often “to reason against the reasons of my love.” I can do that no more – the pain would be too great – my love is selfish – I cannot breathe without you.”
After all, nobody was more romantic than the Romantics. And what is more Romantic than this personal portrayal of the sublime?
Also Romantic is Keats’ ultimate rejection of rationale over feeling. We can safely assume that writing your significant other a pro-con list isn’t likely to impress. Instead, take some inspiration from his emotional overflow - but do remember to breathe without them. Breathing is important.
Write away right away
Now that you’re ready to embrace the written word, it’s time to reach for that notelet set in your drawer that’s been patiently waiting for use.
Remember, you don’t have to express romantic love on this day - many have embraced platonic love with events like Galentine’s Day popularized by the sitcom Parks and Rec.
If you’re not spilling your infatuation onto a page, spare a nice word for a friend, or let a family member know you appreciate them.
Happy Valentine’s Day from all of us at Readable. Which letter is your favorite? Show us some love in the comments.