Historical figures we hold in admiration are not always known for their private correspondence. But the following demonstrates that they are no less influenced by the callings of the heart than mere “mortals.” Whether it’s a comrade-like friendship, as with Vladimir Nabokov and Edmond Wilson, or a full-blown lusty yearning, as was the case between Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller, the famous letters they penned to each other prove that love abides.
Anaïs Nin and Henry Miller
By the time Miller met Non in 1931 while in Paris, they were both married to other people. Drawn to each other in a way that defied their marriage vows, they carried on an affair that spanned the entire time Nin resided in Paris, a period of some years. According to Nin, she was attracted to Miller before they ever met, based purely on his writing. Meeting him in person spawned not only a love that wouldn’t be refused, but a veritable tidal wave of famous letters wherein they professed their adoration for each other. Miller was no less a master of emotion in his letters to Nin than he was in his literary endeavors. In one letter he wrote, ““Anais, I only thought I loved you before; it was nothing like this certainty that’s in me now….I am in love, blind, blind. To be blind forever!”
Vladimir Nabokov and Edmond Wilson
Vladimir Nabokov is renowned for his contributions to Russian and English literature. A Russian immigrant, he acquired his American citizenship in 1945, although he ultimately settled in Switzerland with his wife. For his part, Edmond Wilson had already achieved a level of literary success in America when his friendship with Nabokov began. Indeed, Nabokov gave credit to Wilson for easing the first ten years’ transition to the U.S.. It was Nabokov’s impulse to write to Wilson first that beget the flurry of famous letters that flew back and forth between them for 30 years. While literary concerns fueled the majority of their writings, in person and in letters they enjoyed bantering about the opposite sex “like schoolboys.” Wilson in particular loved to prank and provoke by sending Nabokov pornographic material. Nabokov also had a pet name for Wilson, Bunny. Unfortunately, Nabokov’s quick rise to fame grated on Wilson’s nerves and the green eyes of jealousy lit a flame within him. When he wrote a scathing review of Nabokov’s work in The New York Review, an ongoing feud commenced that was never resolved.
Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir
Jean-Paul Sartre met Simone de Beauvoir when he was 24 years old, attending a higher institution of learning in Paris. The two became companions, partners in work and lovers for 51 years, until Sartre’s death in 1980. Although they did not practice monogamy in their relationship, they were clearly devoted to one another on a professional and personal level, as is evidenced by famous letters between them that have been made public. Beauvoir herself published a 432-page book filled with letters from Sartre.
Sartre’s views on love are well-documented. He claimed that love only exists as it is manifested in actions. Perhaps that’s why he was so bounteous with his written praises for his lover, Beauvoir. Often using his pet name for her, Beaver, Sartre virtually serenaded her with words put to paper. On one occasion he wrote, “My darling Beaver, I love you enormously…You are my love…Far from you I measure the nothingness of flesh.”
We should all be so fortunate as to amass a carefully saved collection of letters of admiration. For now, it’s enough to know that others have loved through words.