Love might be a many-splendored thing. Sex and the City is another. Where the two intersect is the interesting moment in the new film where one of the women characters ends up in bed with one of the men (no names: no spoilers) and begins to read from a book of collected love letters. In a movie full of products like Prada, Louis Vuitton, Skyy vodka, and Mercedes Benz, it is this book that the musty old librarian’s attention focuses on. (I’m the guy sitting across from you on the bus who just has to know what book you’re reading.)
Sex and the City opens this week. You’ll recall that last fall some of its major scenes were shot in and around the New York Public Library. (I expect this movie will stir even more curiosity than The Day After Tomorrow, the unlikely story of a frozen New York whose survivors gathered in the Trustees Room and burned books for warmth.) Notably, the wedding festivities of Carrie Bradshaw and Mr. Big are set inside the building, which requires no computer generated effects to look palatial, and there is even a recreation of Fashion Week in Bryant Park, as if the real thing doesn’t crop up often enough. Lots of people will see this movie, many will want to visit its famous locations in person, and more than a few will start to think about the raging emotions of the famous which find their purest expression in love letters.
Which brings us back to that book. Is it a true collection of love letters, or one of those generic 25-cent books bought at a rummage sale by the prop department and tricked-out to suit the requirements of the plot? I’m afraid I came up with no answer. But my curiosity was stirred by the question to see what sorts of similar collections might exist at the New York Public Library. A subject search for love-letters on the library catalog brings up 186 volumes. Many of these are devoted to a unique love correspondence, but many are anthologized collections similar to the one in the movie.
From Love Letters: An Anthology /chosen by Antonia Fraser, we can read Napoleon’s letter to Josephine:
"I have not spent a day without loving you; I have not spent a night without embracing you; I have not so much as drunk a single cup of tea without cursing the pride and ambition which force me to remain separated from the moving spirit of my life."
Or, in Forever Yours: Letters of Love, one of Beethoven’s impassioned love letters begins:
“Though still in bed my thoughts go out to you, my Immortal Beloved, now and then joyfully, then sadly, waiting to learn whether or not fate will hear us. I can live only wholly with you or not at all—yes, I am resolved to wander so long away from you until I can fly to your arms and say that I am really at home, send my soul enwrapped to you into the land of spirits.”
And, from Love Letters of Famous Men and Women , Congreve writes:
“Dear Madam . . . Recal to my mind what happened last night. That at least was a lover’s kiss. Its eagerness, its fierceness, its warmth, expressed the God its parent. But oh! Its sweetness, and its melting softness expressed him more. With trembling in my limbs, and fevers in my soul I ravish’d it. Convulsions, panting, murmurings shew’d the mighty disorder within me: the might disorder increased by it. For those dear lips shot through my heart, and thro’ my bleeding vitals, delicious poison, an an avoidless but charming ruin.”
No sir, we’re not talking email, here.
Similar volumes, such as Love Letters: an Illustrated Anthology, The Book of Love: Writers and Their Love Letters, and Famous Love Letters: Messages of Intimacy and Passion can be found or reserved at various branch libraries in the city and borrowed for intimate evenings at home. So settle back, pour out a sip of Skyy vodka, slip off your $500 Manolos, and get swept up by Franz Liszt to Marie d’ Agoult:
“My heart overflows with emotion and joy! I do not know what heavenly languor, what infinite pleasure permeates it and burns me up. It is as if I had never loved!!! Tell me whence uncanny disturbances spring, these inexpressible foretastes of delight, these divine tremors of love. Oh! All this can only spring from you, sister, angel, woman, Marie!”