Historic love letters shed insight into the personal lives of some of the most famous people ever known. It’s a pity that the practice of putting pen to paper and sharing the deepest heartfelt sentiments has gone out of style. For, without the surviving love letters of people like Oscar Wilde, Georgia O’Keefe and George H.W. Bush, we might never have known what was truly in their hearts. Here are excerpts from the five most loving and famous letters ever set to paper.
1. Oscar Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas
In 1891, Oscar Wilde met Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, who quickly became Wilde’s lover and muse. Wilde achieved the pinnacle of his creative achievements between 1891 and 1895. As the relationship had to remain a deep secret, it was fraught with tension and passion, as is evident in the surviving love letters from Wilde:
“Everyone is furious with me for going back to you, but they don’t understand us. I feel that it is only with you that I can do anything at all,” Wilde wrote. “Do remake my ruined life for me, and then our friendship and love will have a different meaning to the world. I wish that when we met at Rouen we had not parted at all. There are such wide abysses now of space and land between us. But we love each other.”
2. Georgia O’Keeffe to Alfred Stieglitz
Over the course of Georgia O’Keeffe’s 30-year romance with photographer Alfred Stieglitz, they exchanged over 5,000 letters. These writings demonstrate a much more sultry version of the artist than her collection of paintings may otherwise suggest.
“Dearest — my body is simply crazy with wanting you — If you don’t come tomorrow — I don’t see how I can wait for you — I wonder if your body wants mine the way mine wants yours — the kisses — the hotness — the wetness — all melting together — the being held so tight that it hurts — the strangle and the struggle.”
3. Napoleon to Joséphine
Infamous for his ruthlessness, French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte hid a softer side that was revealed in his famous love letters to his wife, Joséphine. Though Napoleon divorced Josephine when she was found to be barren, he continued to write to her for years afterward.
“Since I left you, I have been constantly depressed. My happiness is to be near you. Incessantly I live over in my memory your caresses, your tears, your affectionate solicitude. The charms of the incomparable Joséphine kindle continually a burning and a glowing flame in my heart. When, free from all solicitude, all harassing care, shall I be able to pass all my time with you, having only to love you, and to think only of the happiness of so saying, and of proving it to you?”
4. Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf
Writer Virginia Woolf and poet Vita Sackville-West exchanged many now famous letters that reveal their deep connection.
“I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia,” West wrote. “… I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way. …It is incredible how essential to me you have become….you have broken down my defenses. And I don’t really resent it.”
5. George H. W. Bush to Barbara Bush
In 1942, Bush, while stationed in the Navy overseas, wrote letters to his then-girlfriend, Barbara Pierce. In the one surviving letter, Bush enthused about the couple’s future.
“This should be a very easy letter to write…but somehow I can’t possibly say all in a letter I should like to. I love you, precious, with all my heart and to know that you love me means my life. How often I have thought about the immeasurable joy that will be ours some day. How lucky our children will be to have a mother like you…”