Happy Valentine’s Day! I have been reading “A Modern Guide to the Love Letter” by John Biguenet, an article that appeared in The Atlantic last year. I recommend this article to everyone who is desperately trying to compose a last-minute declaration of devotion; Biguenet reminds us that “to inscribe your love upon the human heart, you must attend carefully to every detail of the letter with which you convey your affection.” His article will assist one in constructing an effective letter and prevent one, in one’s haste, from making what could be disastrous errors.
Biguenet encourages us to choose “hand-pressed, deckle-edged 100 percent cotton paper,” that may “suggest to your beloved those other cotton sheets you hope to share.” He also cautions us not to “succumb to the temptation to employ your own personal stationery imprinted with your name and address. Such handsome lettering makes identification appallingly easy for your lover’s attorney.” We must be grateful for such level-headed advice; under the influence of our primitive emotions, we are likely to overlook such nice possibilities.
Biguenet covers other vital topics with similar aplomb, though I cannot agree with his views on Ink. Here he tells us that “Henry Ford’s position on the color of the Model T should guide your choice. You can write a love letter in any color you like, so long as it is black.” Black suits some people but not everyone; to me it can indicate a lack of imagination. Woo me in Technicolor, thank you.
Elegance, “that style toward which all other styles aspire to be reduced,” gets Biguenet’s ringing endorsement. To him, “Elegance prompts wit rather than comedy, sentiment rather than sentimentality”; as he explains, “Long-winded elegance is oxymoronic. So length does matter, but in writing, less is more.”
The article covers proper Salutation before plunging into the Body. Here diction rules. Biguenet admonishes us to “Remember, it’s ‘scent,’ not odor.’ Your beloved doesn’t ‘smell’ good; her ‘fragrance’ is enchanting.” In addition, “even if you have a knack for them, no pornographic drawings” (though see Biguenet’s comments under “ink” regarding blue ink).
We get sound advice on the deployment of Metaphors. We must abstain from goofiness and the financial and use food cautiously. Flowers are safer ground, but as Biguenet cautions us, we should be aware that some flora “are associated with love in part because of their physical resemblance to a particular part of a the female anatomy.”
There are wise words on Grammar (“Make subjects agree with verbs, and pronouns, with their antecedents” and “Proofread. Then proofread again”) and the Complimentary Close (either “Be extravagant” or “Be bold. Skip it”). On the Signature, Biguenet employs the succinctness he recommends under Elegance: “If you can’t bring yourself to close without a signature, limit yourself to your first initial. And try to be illegible here. There’s no reason to make the job easier for a lawyer someday [sic].”
Biguenet waxes positively devious when it comes to Delivery. He writes, “bribe whomever you must to have the letter placed directly upon the beloved’s pillow” rather than using mundane means such as the postal service.
Biguenet finishes up with the etiquette of Accepting an Answer. This last courtesy should, our author tells us, bring the letter writer to “what ancient poets called, not without reason, the bower of happiness.” The article is thorough and witty and eminently profitable for anyone engaged upon an act of epistolary seduction.
For more on the topics of letters, see my guest post that will appear in the Month of Letters Journal on Valentine’s Day! (http://lettermo.com/category/journal/)