Monday, 1 April 2013

Love Letters of Great Women edited by Ursula Doyle – Book Review

I bought this book in December during the busy Christmas season. It was a crowded house during December as my grandparents had come stay with us. My family decided to go the movies and I decided to skip the movies and go shopping instead. I wanted a little time to myself. So, I wandered around the shops and ate lunch. After going around the mall a few times I decided to buy some books from Books4less which is a bargain bookstore. Books4less buy surplus books from publishers and sell the books at bargain prices. Sometimes all the books in the store are $3 or $5 and most are popular titles. One time I saw the entire Twilight series there for 5 dollars each! Anyways, I bought Love Letters of Great Women for $3.

Love Letters of Great Women is a collection of real letters from famous historical ladies. The book is a slim book with 159 pages so if you’re a quick reader, you could probably read the book in ten minutes. Some of the letters were written from a hundred years ago. It’s not common for women’s letters to be valued so much. The letters included in the collection are from twenty eight women, such as Anne Boleyn, Abigail Adams, Mary Wollstonecraft and Queen Victoria.  Most of the women are all of European descent, it would have been nice if the collection were more multicultural.

 The letters were preserved because most of the women were noble women, married or associated to important men of the time. Marriage was very important to women in the past as all they were expected to be were wives and mothers. A man was head of the household and his wife was his property. So, women had to think carefully about marriage because in most cases divorce was not an option. The letters included in the books are from different points of the women’s lives, from courtships, breakups and marriage. All the letters have the history of the woman included at the start of the chapter and where they are in their lives.

I found some of the letters difficult to understand as they were written in an old fashioned way. I didn’t understand some of the context as the letters were not intended for me. Letters are informal and private, sometimes with things that only the intended audience understand. I know that if anyone were to read the letters between my friends and I that they wouldn’t understand everything.  I also think the book should have included the letters that the women were responding to or responses of the men to their letters so I could gain a better understanding.

I liked reading the backgrounds of the women more than I liked reading their letters. Most of the women defied the social norms of their time to follow their hearts. Some wrote books or articles, others lived out of wedlock with their lovers and had children by them. All the women were intelligent and brave.  My favorite letter was from Anne Boleyn to Henry VIII. Henry VIII was an English king from the fifteenth century who was famous for being married six times because he desperately needed a male heir to the throne. Anne Boleyn was Henry’s second wife. She failed to produce a male heir and was falsely accused of adultery and witchcraft. The letter included in the book is from when Anne was imprisoned awaiting for her fate. In the letter, she makes reassurances to Henry of her faithfulness to him, begs for a fair trial and slightly chastises him because they both know the charges against her are untrue. In the end, she got beheaded so not a happy ending.

I learnt that reading other people’s love letters is not for me. I didn’t like some of the mushy language that the women used in their letters. Although I understand that it is how people are when they are in love.

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