Tag Archives: love letters

Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life by Queen Noor

I have been reading the extraordinary memoir of Queen Noor of Jordan, Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life.

This book is incredibly touching, from the breathless romance of their courtship to the painful stories of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

I’m a sucker for letters and I was particularly moved by the 10th anniversary letter King Hussein of Jordan wrote to Queen Noor, pubilshed in Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life by Queen Noor (which I’m reading for a book club).

Here’s the letter:

This is a very special time, this is a very special month and a very special year. We are ten years older and ten years old. We will never be ten again, but with God’s blessings we shall continue to grow and mature together all the more for many other years to come. Silver, gold, who can predict?

I thank God for our life of love and the children we are blessed to have. I thank you for so much. I know it is not all that I would have wished for you or anything close to that. I know myself, I know my shortcomings, and I also know I am blessed to have you by my side, loving, caring, brave, and pure. All the finest things in life grow more valuable as they grow and mature. I hope the times to come will be better than those that have passed, and I treasure all the happiest of memories of our travel through time. For despite the fact that everything changes from time to time and one drives down to start a hill climb, the balance I feel is in the realm of goodness as together we climb through the years.

This is a special time, a special month and year. I am every proud of you as you stand by my side. I pray for God to bless you through the years and give us strength and courage, happiness, contentment, and the comfort of sharing and giving of our best. God bless our family. And many thanks to you for being you. The One God blessed me by bringing us together ten years ago to start through life a loving husband and his beloved wife. With you by my side, I celebrate each day. Happy 10th and with God’s blessings, many more to come.

With all my love,



The Mathematics of Love by Emma Darwin

I enjoyed reading Letters of a Portuguese Nun: Uncovering the Mystery Behind a 17th Century Forbidden Love by Myriam Cyr (click here to read my other entries about this book).

Cyr writes that the Portuguese Letters have inspired writers and lovers for hundreds of years and I wonder if Emma Darwin was also inspired by them when she wrote her debut novel The Mathematics of Love.

The Mathematics of Love is the story of both a veteran of the Napoleonic wars (and the Battle of Waterloo) named Stephen Fairhurst (told with letters and memoirs) and of a teenager, Anna Jocelyn Ware, who moves into the soldier’s former home in the mid-1970s (told in first-person narrative).

If you haven’t read The Mathematics of Love, you may not understand why reading Letters of a Portuguese Nun made me think of this novel and it’s such a complex story that I can’t explain it without giving away the plot.

It starts off a bit slow but it’s really quite clever. Darwin brilliantly writes with two distinct voices and creates an eloquent, intelligent, and beautiful historical novel.

I liked how Darwin was able to write her great-great-great grandfather Robert Darwin (who married Susannah Wedgwood, brother of Thomas Wedgwood, the pioneer of photography) into the novel; makes perfect sense since she uses photography as a metaphoric device to tell these parallel stories.

If you’re reading it for a book club, you may want to read these discussion questions from the publisher (also published on the author’s website here):

  1. Sexual morality is a key theme in The Mathematics of Love. Discuss morality in the context of the relationships between Anna/Theo, Eva/Theo, Anna/Eva, Stephen/Catalina and Stephen/Lucy.
  2. How does war change the characters in The Mathematics of Love ?
  3. “I was the plain, pale nothing, pressed into a thin strip between their lives. And it wasn’t enough for me. I knew that now.” (p. 394) How does Anna change during the course of the novel?
  4. Discuss the role of art, photography and voyeurism within The Mathematics of Love.
  5. How do memories affect the characters within this novel? What made Stephen able to move on from painful memories and Belle unable to do so?
  6. How do the two ‘lost boys’ work within the story?
  7. “I’ve never been bothered about relations and things.” (p. 404) Discuss the role of family within The Mathematics of Love.
  8. What did you think of the ending? Would you have liked it to end differently?
  9. What other books would you compare this to? What books would you recommend to other readers who have enjoyed this book?
  10. How would this novel have been different if Darwin had chosen to focus entirely on one time period, rather than move the narrative between 1819 and 1976?

Click here to read the first chapter of The Mathematics of Love or click here to read Susann Cokal’s review titled “Housemates” published March 4, 2007 in the New York Times.

Letters of a Portuguese Nun

I very much enjoyed Letters of a Portuguese Nun: Uncovering the Mystery Behind a 17th Century Forbidden Love by Myriam Cyr (click here to read my other entries about this book).

I just finished reading this book and the infamous Portuguese Letters letters are lyrical, devastatingly passionate, and bitter as a woman scorned.

While many scholars argue that these letters were a work of fiction written by Joseph Gabriel de Lavergne, Comte de Guilleragues, Cyr persuasively writes that these letters were in fact real love letters written by heart-sick Franciscan nun Mariana Alcoforado to her ex-lover Noel Bouton the Marquis de Chamilly then known as the Count of Saint-Leger.

The account is compelling because of the fascinating narrative she composed of Mariana’s and Chamilly’s lives though here evidence seems to be largely circumstantial (the evidence in favor of Guilleragues seems to also be pretty weak).

I’d like to learn more about this debate and I’ll be sure to report back!

Letters of a Portuguese Nun is an easy read and having learned that the letters have inspired writers and artists for hundreds of years — Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Sonnets From the Portuguese” (“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”) among other works by Samuel Johnson, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, and others — I am glad to have read this book.

Letters of a Portuguese Nun

I have enjoyed reading Letters of a Portuguese Nun: Uncovering the Mystery Behind a 17th Century Forbidden Love by Myriam Cyr (click here to read my other entries about this book).

I found Cyr‘s investigation of this real life mystery intriguing and heart-breaking.

The slim book titled Portuguese Letters and published in 1669 Paris were five letters addressed to an unnamed French Officer, Noel Bouton the Marquis de Chamilly then known as the Count of Saint-Leger, who had been stationed in Portugal from 1665-1667 (during Portugal’s twenty-eight year war for independence from Spain) where he met, seduced and then left a beautiful twenty-six-year-old Franciscan nun named Mariana Alcoforado.

Many scholars argue that these letters were a work of fiction written by Joseph Gabriel de Lavergne, Comte de Guilleragues.

In the prologue, Cyr cites Occam’s razor (a principle that the simplest answer is most likely true) as a reason why Mariana Alcoforado herself wrote these love letters. In subsequent chapters, Cyr writes the history of Mariana Alcoforado using a wide variety of sources. In many cases, Cyr‘s descriptions of Mariana are largely imagined based on sources of nuns from that period in similar circumstances.

Still, her argument is persuasive if only because of the detailed narrative she has put together of the lives of the two lovers.

I haven’t read the actual letters yet but will do so today.

Letters of a Portuguese Nun: Thirty Two Questions on Love

I have been enjoyed reading Letters of a Portuguese Nun: Uncovering the Mystery Behind a 17th Century Forbidden Love by Myriam Cyr (click here to read my first entry about this book).

In the book, Cyr includes a section titled, Thirty Two Questions on Love.

These questions were passed around in the salons of 17th & 18th century France for guests to read and then debate. These questions, along with other questions or points, and literature, related to the human condition, were the topic of discussion and debate by the intellectuals of the time.

I found them interesting and worth disscussing so I have included them here:

  1. Is it better to lose a person we love to death or to infidelity?
  2. Is it better to have free access to a person we love, but that does not fully return our love, or to be perfectly loved by someone who is not free to see us?
  3. Is greater jealousy a sign of greater love?
  4. Is desiring a “thing” more delicious than owning it?
  5. Is the union of two hearts the most appreciable and greatest pleasure in life?
  6. Are love and desire two opposite feelings?
  7. Can we love someone who loves another?
  8. Can we stop loving a person who does not fully return our love?
  9. If a woman breaks off with a man she loves on a whim, for the sake of more freedom without loving anyone else, if she wants to get back together, should the man accept?
  10. Should two people who love each other tell each other their suspicions of jealousy without the use of coldness and ill humor?
  11. If a lover is jealous without reason, should the partner make it real, even if others talk?
  12. Is the love of a girl (virgin) more violent than that of a woman?
  13. What is the lesser crime in love, to be refused or not dare to ask?
  14. Can love survive on its own for very long?
  15. Can we love for love’s sake without expectations?
  16. Can we love something more than ourselves?
  17. Is the trouble free pleasure of not loving as pleasing as love itself?
  18. Which kind of love is more delicious, that of a girl, or a married woman, or of a widow?
  19. What kind of love is more agreeable: that of a virtuous woman, or of one that is less than virtuous?
  20. Can an honest man, without compromising his sense of ethics, avenge himself on a woman who was unfaithful?
  21. What is the greater crime? To publicly boast of actual favours given by a woman, or boast of invented favours from a woman who gave none?
  22. Can a man, who is secretly loved by a woman, insult a rival who does not know he has one?
  23. Can a man be as passionate about a woman whom he knows has loved before, than a woman who has never loved at all?
  24. Does a woman insult the man she loves by seeking help from another man?
  25. Should a woman hate a man she loves who does not consent to help her, knowing he is otherwise engaged?
  26. Is it reasonable for a woman to ask for details of a previous affair before she gives marks of affection to a man, and should the man comply?
  27. If a man received gifts from a woman, should he return them if she decides to leave him and asks for them?
  28. Should a man ask for personal gifts that can be recognized by others from someone he loves and if he leaves, should he keep them, return them, or burn them?
  29. Should a woman give a man she loves personal gifts, when he asks for some?
  30. Which is better, to win a woman through her heart or her intelligence?
  31. If a man knows a woman he loves wants to leave him, should he let her go freely after having told her politely that he knows her designs, or should he keep her by threatening to cause a scandal?
  32. Should a man ever cause insult or displeasure to a woman he loved, for any reason whatsoever?

by the Marquis de Sourdis , circa 1660
For the Salon Madeleine de Souvre, Marquise de Sable

Letters of a Portuguese Nun: Uncovering the Mystery Behind a 17th Century Forbidden Love by Myriam Cyr

I just got back from the library (returned Authentic Happiness and The Happiness Hypothesis) and of course I couldn’t leave without picking up yet another book:

Letters of a Portuguese Nun: Uncovering the Mystery Behind a 17th Century Forbidden Love by Myriam Cyr

I read the title and I had to borrow it.

Here’s what this real life story is about. In 1669, a Paris bookseller published a dainty volume called Portuguese Letters. The five letters were addressed to an unnamed French Officer who had been stationed in Portugal, where, between battles, he met, seduced and then left a beautiful twenty-six-year-old nun called Mariana.

It was small enough to fit in the palm of a hand or in a shirt pocket, but its passionate story inspired poets, painters, and academics for hundreds of years.

The inside flap cover says:

The letters spoke of love in a manner direct and unapologetic, unequivocally sensual and sexual, sending shivers through the sophisticated stratums of polite society. When they were made public in the salons of Paris, people assumed they were the fictional creation of a French aristocrat. The consensus was that no woman could write words of such stunning truth and beauty. The volume became a best seller while the officer [to whom the letters were written] maintained a chivalrous silence until his death.

The author first heard about these letters in the form of a play at Montreal’s Théâtre de Quat’ Sous and this book is the result of her three year investigation into the mystery surround these letters.

Cyr concludes that the nun, Mariana Alcoforado, existed and that the passionate letters were all her own work.

Click here to read an excerpt on the NPR website.

Sounds very intriguing to me! I’m looking forward to reading it…though I’ve got 11 other books that I’m planning on reading before I get to it.