Sunday, 2 June 2013

The Modern Love Letter?


I have many books stacked on my bedside table. There is my primary read, which gets its own spot beside the stack and is usually a novel. In the pile next to it I have a collection of writing that I will come back to over and over again. The content of this constant pile varies from philosophy to tips on how to successfully parent, but one book I return to on a regular basis is simply called: Love Letters.

The collection of letters is separated into 12 categories: Invitation, Flirtation, Intoxication, Adoration, Separation, Instruction, Reflection, Confession, About Letters, Warning, Parting, and Envoi. The first four chapters admittedly are the ones whose pages are more worn than the latter half of the book, although I have recently been reading the "About Letters" and I am finding it the best section so far.

As I experience the passion of words exchanged between well-known lovers and artists and some with whom I am not familiar, I wonder how much the art of flirtation or the depth of expression of feelings has been lost due to the instancy and expected brevity required by texting or "sexting". It also occurred to me as I explored the chapter on separation that there is not enough time to compose lengthy declarations of love considering you could easily just text "I miss you" and somehow that's good enough. Although I must say it is still better than receiving no text at all!

Imagine texting or even emailing something like this:

"My Own Beloved, if ever you should have reason to complain of me in things voluntary and possible, all other women would have a right to tread me underfoot, I should be so vile and an utterly unworthy. There is my answer to what you wrote yesterday of wishing to be better to me...you! What could be better than lifting me from the ground and carrying me into life and the sunshine?" - Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Robert Browning, 1846

Now of course I am conscious that Ms. Barrett Browning is a poet and not likely a good representation of the masses at that time, but the point is there was some effort put into the hyperbole of her admiration.

There is also the matter of privacy that prevents us (well some of us) from writing at length or with any amount of depth even into our fantasies. The love letters in this collection are all between people who are dead. At the time there was a very low chance that these letters would have been intercepted or copied. When we text or email or message, there is always the chance that our words can be immediately forwarded or displayed for eyes that do not belong to the intended audience. At the same time they can be instantaneously deleted, never to be read again by anyone.

So what will future generations know of the modern love letter? Does it or can it even exist? I kept most of the letters my now ex-husband wrote to me in high school and university because they represent the innocence of a less complicated time in our lives, and I can re-live the idealistic sentiments of first love - my first love, not even someone else's. And I will let my children read those someday.

What will my grandchildren have to read about them and their love? Or the declarations between others? Are we only left with the sentiments expressed in the pop hits of today and how do we know they are actually talking about something real? Was Justin Bieber singing to Selena Gomez at the Bill Board awards when he sang: "Don’t be so cold, we could be fire. Tomorrow we go, let’s start tonight. You know what it’s all about"? And is that the future of my grand-daughters bedside table reading? Ew.




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