The Book of Love

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Prompted by her reading of novelist Edith Wharton’s moving love letters to W. Morton Fullerton, Cathy Davidson was lured into thinking about this species of writing and why it is that writers seem to fall in love with men and women physically or emotionally distant, thus creating the need for intimacy by proxy. Davidson, a professor of English at Duke University, has sifted through thousands of letters to produce this richly satisfying collection of lovers’ literary epistles, and readers can judge for themselves whether the primary relationship seems in fact the one between the writer and the paper or the writer and the beloved.

Introduced by brief, evocative accounts of relationships out of which they come, the letters are arranged as if they were all a part of one romance, a single narrative that traces love’s progress through the exhilarations of falling in love to the pain of separation, the anguish of breaking up, and the sober acceptance of love lost. They chart as well the infinite variety of love, celebrating relationships both tender and passionate, parental and friendly. But no matter how seemingly different the personalities, when writers sit down to compose a love letter they enter an oddly universal territory of the heart. There is little to distinguish between the lyrical effusions or bitter recriminations of the young or old, the heterosexual or homosexual, the male or female. In fact, Davidson claims that everyone who writes a love...

(The entire section is 461 words.)