Tuesday, April 19, 2011


My dad bought me my first computer. I remember the day well: my parents arrived from England (many years ago, in another life) and Dad announced that he’d got me a nice little typewriter for my birthday. It was a computer, of course, and since then – well, I wouldn’t know how to live without one…

In those days, there was no email or Google and I used it solely for writing excruciatingly bad short stories in lurid green Locoscript. I am so relieved my floppy disks are now obsolete ...

Dad loved his computer and when he died last year, Mum decided she might as well learn how to use the flippin’ thing and went on a course. Once she’d discovered how to switch it on, there was no stopping her. Her vocabulary’s a little shaky still – she ‘prints’ words in ‘Google’ and gets confused when everything goes ‘negative’ – but I do understand what she means (although I was a bit startled when she told me my sister had sent her coach tickets via ‘You Tube’).

And now, she’s my ‘friend’ on Facebook!

I immediately warned my children that they should think carefully about what they wrote on their Facebook page and that anything incriminating should be written in French rather than English. I’m a bit worried about some of their photos too – it’s all pouting, boobs and pierced tongues. Facebook can give you a nasty shock if you aren’t careful – and I should know as I’ve had a few myself.

Communication by email, text messages and telephone is quick and easy but don’t you hanker after a lovely, long handwritten letter sometimes? I can’t remember when I last wrote one, with pen and paper.

Before the advent of New Technology, people knew how to write a good letter. One of the earliest examples of correspondence in France is that exchanged between those tragic lovers, Héloïse and Abélard in the eleventh century. Peter Abélard was a French philosopher and was considered to be one of the greatest – and most controversial – thinkers of his time. He fell in love with his pupil, the beautiful Héloïse, who was the niece of Canon Fulbert. She got pregnant, they married in secret and…a very angry Uncle Fulbert had Abélard castrated. Héloïse ended her life as a reluctant nun while Abélard became a monk (well, he was going to have to live like one for the rest of his life so why not?). Héloïse wrote hundreds of passionate letters to her former lover who was rather less passionate in his replies. Here is an extract from one of her letters:

You know, beloved, as the whole world knows, how much I have lost in you, how at one wretched stroke of fortune that supreme act of flagrant treachery robbed me of my very self in robbing me of you; and how my sorrow for my loss is nothing compared with what I feel for the manner in which I lost you.

Madame de Sévigné (1626-1696) is probably the best-known letter-writer in French history. She was the widow of the marquis de Sévigné, who got himself shot in a duel. When her daughter left for Provence in 1671, she felt as if her 'heart and soul had been ripped out' and began to write her letters – at the rate of two or three a week – which were published posthumously by her descendents. There are over one thousand of them…here is an extract :

And what do you think I am doing, my poor dear? Loving you, thinking of you, giving way to emotion at every turn more than I would like, concerning myself with your affairs, worrying about what you think, feeling your sufferings and pains, wanting to suffer them for you if possible, removing anything unpleasant from your heart as I used to clear your room of any tiresome people I saw haunting it; in a word, my dear, understanding deeply what it means to love someone more than oneself.

Voltaire (1694-1798) was quite a letter-writer too. His famous Lettres Philosophiques are amusing and satirical essays about life in England (they would have made a great blog) but he also wrote more than twenty thousand private letters. Here are some lines from a love-letter he wrote from prison to Olympe Dunover:

I am a prisoner here in the name of the King; they can take my life, but not the love that I feel for you. Yes, my adorable mistress, to-night I shall see you, and if I had to put my head on the block to do it.

Victor Hugo (1802-1885) wrote beautiful letters to his wife, Adèle. He certainly had a way with words…and with women, it seems. He had several mistresses and probably wrote similar letters to all of them. Here’s a letter he wrote to Adèle – let’s hope she was the sort of person who didn’t believe everything she read:

My dearest,

When two souls, which have sought each other for, however long in the throng, have finally found each other ...a union, fiery and pure as they themselves are... begins on earth and continues forever in heaven. This union is love, true love, ... a religion, which deifies the loved one, whose life comes from devotion and passion, and for which the greatest sacrifices are the sweetest delights.

This is the love which you inspire in me... Your soul is made to love with the purity and passion of angels; but perhaps it can only love another angel, in which case I must tremble with apprehension. Yours forever…

Finally, if you need a giggle, look up the coded letters of Alfred de Musset and George Sand. These letters are in fact fictitious and were written as a joke by somebody else. I haven’t included them because they’re a bit too rude (I’m getting prudish in my old age)…but they are rather clever.

Well, I’m off to check my email and perhaps I’ll send a text message to my daughter. You know the sort of thing: ur keys r here lol c u 2nite x

Well, it saves on stamps…