Many people enjoy epistolary novels, but I never could really get into them. There are a few I like (Dear Mr. Knightley is the one that comes most immediately to mind) but, for the most part, I prefer regular novels (in a lot of cases, like Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, I find epistolary works to be confusing). That being said, I do like it when books include letters that advance the plot and/or are sweet (in a romance) and/or heartbreaking (basically any genre). And because of that, I want to talk about four fictional letters that I love.
(Spoilers to follow, so proceed with caution.)
// Captain Wentworth to Anne Elliot – Persuasion by Jane Austen //
“…You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. …For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? ….I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father’s house this evening or never.”
Of course, this one was a given. Any blog post that talks about the importance of letters in fiction has to include Captain Wentworth’s famous, romantic missive to Anne Elliot. I have to say that Captain Wentworth isn’t one of my favorite Austen heroes because he behaves like a jerk for so much of the book, but his letter is swoonworthy. Reading over it again, the style is quite choppy, with a lot of short sentences, but I believe that this captures the agitation and anxiety Captain Wentworth was feeling while listening to Anne speaking with Captain Harville and realizing that all hope was not lost. Bravo, Jane Austen!
// Sir Percy Blakeney to Armand St. Just – El Dorado by Baroness Orczy //
“Armand, I know…Not only do I know, Armand, but I understand. I, who do not know what love is, have realized how small a thing is honour, loyalty, or friendship when weighed in the balance of a loved one’s need. …We are men, Armand, and the word forgiveness has only been spoken once these past two thousand years, and then it was spoken by Divine lips. But Marguerite loves you, and mayhap soon you will be all that is left her to love on this earth. Because of this she must never know…Tell her I so far forgave your disobedience (there was nothing more) that I may yet trust my life and mine honour in your hands. I shall have no means of ascertaining definitely whether you will do all that I ask; but somehow, Armand, I know that you will.”
So. Many. Feels. As a little background to those of who’ve never read El Dorado (read it!), Armand betrayed Percy and he’s feeling horrible about it (of course) and then Percy writes him this letter and, oh my goodness, it’s heartwrenchingly awesome. I remember reading this book for the first time at around three in the morning, crying my eyes out over this letter. I was a wreck and it still gets me every time. It’s definitely one of my favorite moments in the Scarlet Pimpernel series.
// Walter Blythe to Rilla Blythe – Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery //
“We’re going over the top tomorrow, Rilla-my-Rilla…the Piper will pipe me ‘west’ tomorrow. I feel sure of this. And Rilla, I’m not afraid. When you hear the news, remember that. I’ve won my own freedom here—freedom from all fear… I meant to write to Una tonight, too, but I won’t have time now. Read this letter to her and tell her it’s really meant for you both—you two dear, fine loyal girls. Tomorrow, when we go over the top—I’ll think of you both—of your laughter, Rilla-my-Rilla, and the steadfastness in Una’s blue eyes—somehow I see those eyes very plainly tonight, too. Yes, you’ll both keep faith—I’m sure of that—you and Una. And so—goodnight. We go over the top at dawn.”
I have no words. Lucy Maud Montgomery is a cruel, cruel author who kills off favorite characters and writing such heartrending, posthumous letters (those are always the worst ones). Walter was a poet, and his writing style – even though it’s prose – is very poetic. This letter is beautiful, though so sad, as well as being uplifting and giving Rilla the strength to carry on through all the remaining days of the war. (And for the rest of her life, too, I always like to think.)
// Johnny Cade to Ponyboy Curtis – The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton //
“Ponyboy…the doctor came in a while ago, but I knew anyway. I keep getting tireder and tireder. Listen, I don’t mind dying now. It’s worth it. It’s worth saving those kids. Their lives are worth more than mine, they have more to live for… Tell Dally it’s worth it. I’m just going to miss you guys…the way you dig sunsets, Pony. That’s gold. Keep that way, it’s a good way to be. I want you to tell Dally to look at one…I don’t think he’s ever really seen a sunset… There’s still lots of good in the world. Tell Dally. I don’t think he knows. Your buddy, Johnny.”
*bawls* You know, every time I think of Johnny, I just…it hurts. A lot. He had such a short life and there was so little happiness and hope in it and it’s awful. He deserved so much better than what he got. And though I sometimes get a bit tired of the whole ‘hero reaches his lowest point and then, BAM, he finds a posthumous letter from someone important to him that gets him back on the right track’ cliche/trope/whatever you want to call it, it fits well here. So, so tragically well. I still can’t decide whose death was worse: Johnny’s or Dally’s, but either way, S.E. Hinton knows exactly how to mess with my emotions, both with the death scenes and this poignant letter.
Well, those are four of my favorite fictional letters, folks. Do you love these letters, too? What are your some of your favorite literary letters? Let me know in the comments!