PARIS -- On March 7, 1833, a young woman received a note from a man she had met a few months before: "I love you, my poor angel, you know it well, and yet you want me to write it. But you are right: One has to love, and then one has to say it, and then write it ... "The young woman in question was Juliette Drouet. The man who wrote the letter was Victor Hugo, who would go on to shower his mistress, a young French actress, with hundreds of such epistles.
Anne-Sophie Moutier, 23, is not yet that prolific a writer. But since this past November, when her boyfriend first went off to military school, she too has discovered the joys of letter writing. Granted, many of her correspondences involve e-mails and text messages. Not all, however. Anne-Sophie and her boyfriend sometimes write real, handwritten letters. The old-fashioned kind. "Nothing can replace a love letter, she says. The phone is not enough and when you write, you can say things that may sound a little cheesy when said aloud.
Is Anne-Sophie a big romantic? Well, shes in love, at any rate. As is her fiancé. Before leaving for his training camp, he slips one of Anne-Sophies letters underneath his shirt, "close to his heart." Are they being too lovey-dovey? Is their candor bordering on naiveté? Not at all. According to Philippe Brenot, a psychiatrist and president of the International Observatory of Couples, love letters are part of the romantic discourse and are of considerable importance.
"Love letters are the place where confidences are made, he says. They remain a powerful means of expressing ones feelings and ones desire of declaring ones love, breathing life into it at the beginning of a relationship, and even allowing to rekindle the flame when love seems to be waning."
"With the telephone and with the arrival of new technologies, [love letters] almost disappeared," Brenot adds. "But actually, theyve become unique, because time adds value. The time you take to write a letter, the time it takes for it to reach its recipient, and the time the latter takes to read it." Its hard to argue with the fact too that a handwritten letter, all alone in a mailbox full of flyers and bills, has a certain cachet.
"A delightful delay"
Are love letters still pertinent in this modern era, when sexual relations are no longer so taboo and elusive and when hardly anyone courts anymore? "More than ever!" says Roger Schembri, a French psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who says love letters provide a delightful delay.
"Its always been easier to write down feelings than to say them aloud. Especially nowadays, at a time when people find it easier to say I want to have sex with you than I love you, he says. Love letters, Roger Schembri goes on to say, deliver a fragment of a dream we all want to believe in."
It would seem, in other words, that the new means of communication havent killed off love letters after all. For Joëlle-Andrée Deniot, a sociology professor at the University of Nantes, "Internet, Facebook and Twitter have rather encouraged letters". And the youth, although addicted to all things virtual, is no exception to the rule. Young people express their feelings using all media, from paper to parchment, from Post-it notes to postcards, via text messages and e-mails. Their creativity knows no bounds.
The letter we receive, the one that bears the signature of our beloved, is as sensual and carnal as the expression of desire itself. Writing is like an extension of oneself. "Its like a caress, like a reassuring kiss, says Abiwen Josiane, 48.
Sometimes the person we are writing to is far away, or is leaving us for good. In those cases the act of writing can be a way to escape pain and sorrow, or a way to help us better understand our own feelings, to really discover what it is thats turning us upside down. "When I realized I would never see her again, I decided to write her the most beautiful love letter ever," says Jérémie Franc de Ferriere, 27.
A love letter definitely contains this fragment of dream were all looking for, to protect us from the worlds hardships and from our own turbulent times. At the same time it can give meaning to our sexuality, helping sort out that complicated but exciting rush of pleasure and feelings.
Read more from Le Monde in French
Photo Daquella manera