We don’t mean to put a damper on Valentine’s Day, but the chances of most of us receiving an actual love letter this year are slim to none. These days, text messaging and multiple social media platforms have seen to it that emojis come before real emotions, but today we’d like to pay tribute to hand-written romance as it becomes increasingly rare. With any luck, it might just inspire some of us to put pen to paper. From the forbidden to the filthy, these are best of a lost art…
James Joyce’s “Filthy Letters”
James Joyce, author of the epic novel, Ulysses, was the kind of man who, in 1920s Paris, would get drunk, start fights, and then hide behind Ernest Hemingway for protection, screaming, “Deal with him, Hemingway!” But he was also a man who exchanged some pretty epic love letters with his wife, muse, and life long love, Nora Barnacle. They are so dirty that few reputable publishers still to this day dare to print them. The contents contain graphic descriptions of their love life together, and reveal one of his biggest turn ons, which he wrote about quite (f)artfully.
My sweet little whorish Nora […]
You had an arse full of farts that night, darling […] big fat fellows, long windy ones, quick little merry cracks and a lot of tiny little naughty farties ending in a long gush from your hole. […] I think I would know Nora’s fart anywhere. I think I could pick hers out in a roomful of farting women. It is a rather girlish noise not like the wet windy fart which I imagine fat wives have. It is sudden and dry and dirty like what a bold girl would let off in fun in a school dormitory at night. I hope Nora will let off no end of her farts in my face so that I may know their smell also.
Goodnight, my little farting Nora, my dirty little fuckbird! There is one lovely word, darling, you have underlined to make me pull myself off better. Write me more about that and yourself, sweetly, dirtier, dirtier.
James and Nora went on their first date on June 16th, 1904, which is by no coincidence, the day that Ulysses is set. It was Nora who initiated the explicit erotic correspondence they exchanged when separated in 1909, fuelling his “fever-fit of animal desire”.
As you know, dearest, I never use obscene phrases in speaking. You have never heard me, have you, utter an unfit word before others. When men tell in my presence here filthy or lecherous stories I hardly smile. Yet you seem to turn me into a beast. It was you yourself, you naughty shameless girl who first led the way. It was not I who first touched you long ago down at Ringsend. It was you who slid your hand down inside my trousers and pulled my shirt softly aside and touched my prick with your long tickling fingers, and gradually took it all, fat and stiff as it was, into your hand and frigged me slowly until I came off through your fingers, all the time bending over me and gazing at me out of your quiet saintlike eyes. It was your lips too which first uttered an obscene word. I remember well that night in bed in Pola. Tired of lying under a man one night you tore off your chemise violently and began to ride me up and down. Perhaps the horn I had was not big enough for you for I remember that you bent down to my face and murmured tenderly ‘F––– up, love! f––– up, love!’
Joyce’s highly colourful love letters were published by his biographer in 1975. In 2004, one letter referring to Nora as a “wide-eyed whore” sold for £240, 800 at Sotheby’s, the highest price ever paid for an autographed letter.
Despite being out of character for the author, they reveal how deeply he trusted her. In one of his letters he told her, “My darling Nora, I am panting with eagerness to get your replies to these filthy letters of mine. I write to you openly because I feel now that I can keep my word with you.”
What can we learn from Joyce’s peculiar love letters? Find yourself a partner who loves you just the way you are (farts and all).
You can read more of his full letters here.
Frida Kahlo’s Unrequited Love
Frida Kahlo’s lifelong partner was Diego Rivera, but she had many lovers including Josephine Baker and Leon Trotsky. They had an open relationship of sorts as Rivera had his own string of lovers too. There was one man in particular, however, that Frida really fell for, and it wasn’t Rivera.
My Bartoli…I don’t know how to write love letters. But I wanted to tell you that my whole being opened for you. Since I fell in love with you everything is transformed and is full of beauty…love is like an aroma, like a current, like rain. You know, my sky, you rain on me and I, like the earth, receive you.
José Bartoli was a fellow artist from Catalan. He fled to New York to escape Spanish Civil War and met Frida. At the time, she was recovering from spinal surgery. They fell in love, but their time together was cut short when Frida had to return to Mexico. Their passionate affair was kept alive through their exchanges of letters and memorabilia that included pressed flowers and drawings.
I will love you from the landscape that you see, from the mountains, the oceans and the clouds, from the most subtle of smiles and sometimes from the most profound desperation, from your creative sleep, from your deep or fleeting pleasure, from your own shadow and your own blood. I will look through the window of your eyes to see you.
She would sign off as Marva (short for marvellous in spanish) and he would refer to himself as Sonja (so that it looked like she was corresponding with a woman). They would also smuggle their letters through friends and family so that Diego would not see them. It’s likely the secrecy was a sign that this was no fleeting affair and that their relationship imposed a threat to her marriage with Diego.
I know you will take me with you some day … I am still your Mara, your girlfriend. Your love is the tree of my hope … I wait for you always.
Their letters reveal a longing to be with one another, and even having a child of their own.If I were not in the condition I am in now and if it were a reality, nothing in my life would give me more joy. Can you imagine a little Bartoli or a Mara? Laugh at me, I give you permission since I am crazier than a cobra.
I will be your house, your mother, your love, the soles of your feet that travel the streets of the earth, the heat of your blood, your consolation when you are afraid, your relief from pain and sorrows – the mother of your children that will be born or not born.
Frida Kahlo’s biographer believes that Frida would have left Diego Rivera for Bartoli if the circumstances had allowed it, and when she interviewed Bartoli she said that: “Bartoli never lost his love for Frida. If you asked him about her, he would speak with great reverence, but also with restraint. All his life he treasured the little objects she gave him as tokens of her love and he kept all her letters.” He kept all the articles of their exchanges for his whole life and they were found in his cupboard after he passed away.
Lost & Found WWII Love Letters between Soldiers
It was on eBay, the internet’s treasure trove, where curator Mark Hignett, of the Oswestry Town Museum, unearthed remarkable love letters between two local gay soldiers during the Second World War.
February 12 1940, Park Grange
My own darling boy,
There is nothing more than I desire in life but to have you with me constantly…
…I can see or I imagine I can see, what your mother and father’s reaction would be… the rest of the world have no conception of what our love is – they do not know that it is love…
Over 600 love letters were exchanged between Gilbert Bradley and a mysterious “G” who at first, was assumed by Hignett to be a woman. “G” was actually a man called Gordon Bowsher who had met Gilbert Bradley on a family holiday.
Gay rights activist Peter Roscoe said that finding such a collection of letters is rare because most homosexual couples of this era commonly destroyed any evidence of their relationships and sexual orientation. In one letter, “G” asked Mr Bradley to do just that:
… do one thing for me in deadly seriousness. I want all my letters destroyed. Please darling do this for me. Til then and forever I worship you…
Homosexual relationships were only legalised (for men over 21) in 1967 and being outed as a gay soldier during World War II could have even resulted in a death sentence.
Their letters reveal wishes to live together after the war, however, their exchanges ceased in 1945 and both went on to have relationships with other partners. While their union might not have lasted forever, their forbidden love has now been immortilised through their letters.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all our letters could be published in the future in a more enlightened time. Then all the world could see how in love we are.
Read the full story and more of their letters here.
Henry & Anaïs
American novelist Henry Miller and Franco-American diarist Anaïs Nin began an intense love affair when they met in Paris in 1932, leading to some of the most passionate letters ever written. They were both already married.
August 14, 1932
[…] I came away with pieces of you sticking to me; I am walking about, swimming, in an ocean of blood, your Andalusian blood, distilled and poisonous […] I can’t picture you moving about with him as you did with me. Legs closed. Frailty. Sweet, treacherous acquiescence. Bird docility. You became a woman with me. I was almost terrified by it. You are not just thirty years old—you are a thousand years old.
Here I am back and still smouldering with passion, like wine smoking. Not a passion any longer for flesh, but a complete hunger for you, a devouring hunger. I read the paper about suicides and murders and I understand it all thoroughly. I feel murderous, suicidal. I feel somehow that it is a disgrace to do nothing, to just bide one’s time, to take it philosophically, to be sensible. Where has gone the time when men fought, killed, died for a glove, a glance, etc? (A victrola is playing that terrible aria from Madama Butterfly—”Some day he’ll come!”)
Miller’s years in Paris were a highly creative and sexually experimental time for him– no doubt influenced by Anaïs, who also began a sexual relationship with Henry’s wife June.
I say this is a wild dream—but it is this dream I want to realize. Life and literature combined, love the dynamo, you with your chameleon’s soul giving me a thousand loves, being anchored always in no matter what storm, home wherever we are. In the mornings, continuing where we left off. Resurrection after resurrection. You asserting yourself, getting the rich varied life you desire; and the more you assert yourself the more you want me, need me. Your voice getting hoarser, deeper, your eyes blacker, your blood thicker, your body fuller. A voluptuous servility and tyrannical necessity. More cruel now than before—consciously, wilfully cruel. The insatiable delight of experience.
You can read the full letters here.