Victorian Love Letters

Love Letter 1
Victorian Letters of Love


Before the invention of email and dating apps, letters played a central role in courtship and romance. As St Dwynwen’s Day and St Valentine’s Day approach, many couples are asking themselves how to make a unique romantic gesture. A carefully crafted love-letter could be the perfect cherished gift!

Here are some top tips straight from the Victorian era on how to write a love-letter:

Victorians took letter-writing seriously. They had a great love of how-to manuals and many chapters, and even entire books, were dedicated to the art of letter etiquette.


Many, such as, Rev. T. Cooke’s The Universal Letter Writer, included dozens of model letters and answers on specific topics such as family affairs, business and, of course, courtship, helping inexperienced courters craft the perfect billet-doux. According to the reverend, “as soon as epistolary writing began to flourish… the language of the heart was committed to characters that faithfully preserved it”.


With the introduction of the first postage stamp, the ‘Penny Black’, in 1840 letter-writing boomed. The ‘Penny post’ not only affected the accessibility of the post but also transformed the way letters were written. Prior to this, letters were priced per sheet and paid for by the recipient. This made letter-writing costly. Lovers often had to resort to measures such as over-writing their letter to economise. This penny-pinching practice was not viewed kindly by the critics. Lewis Carroll thought such measures very disagreeable inventing the “old proverb”, 'Cross-writing makes cross reading'.

To write a successful Victorian letter the sender had to avoid a number of common pitfalls, even before they could consider the content. Lewis Carroll advises, ‘Here is a golden Rule to begin with. Write legibly.

Both pen and paper needed to be considered carefully so as not to offend. The Ladies' Book of Etiquette by Florence Hartley advised, ‘Never write, even the shortest note, in pencil. It looks careless, and is rude.’ She goes on to argue, ‘Never write on a half sheet of paper. Paper is cheap, and a half sheet looks both mean and slovenly... Perfectly plain paper, thick, smooth, and white, is the most elegant,’ whilst borders were both ‘vulgar’ and ‘in bad taste’.


Tips on content were also forthcoming like this additional gem from Carroll, ‘Don’t fill more than a page and a half with apologies for not having written sooner!’

In addition to their more obvious purpose, stamps could be used as a secret language of love. This was especially useful for courting couples whose families may be censoring the post. Tilting a stamp or placing it upside down could convey a coded message such as, ‘I love you’ or ‘forget me not’.


Writers used every inch of their letter to express their love creatively. This beautifully crafted letter was cut out and covered in poetry: ‘forget me not, forget me never, till yonder sun shall set forever.’


If you fancy doing something a little bit different this Valentine’s Day why not come and join us in the romantic Victorian setting of Insole Court for a glass of prosecco and an evening of love-letter writing, where ink and wine will flow.

Tickets cost £8.50 and include a glass of prosecco. Available here.

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