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Written in History

Letters that Changed the World

By Simon Sebag Montefiore
10-minute read
Audio available
Written in History: Letters that Changed the World by Simon Sebag Montefiore

Written in History (2018) takes a look at some of the world’s most important letters. From love letters revealing the intimate sides of Mozart and Stalin to political statements which altered the course of history, these blinks guide you through the personal thoughts of many renowned figures of the past. As you’ll see, letters give us insight into historical events as well as remind us what it means to be human.

  • History buffs
  • Students of political science or communications
  • Readers interested in the private thoughts of powerful people

Simon Sebag Montefiore is an award-winning British author of historical nonfiction. His critically acclaimed titles include Catherine the Great and Potemkin and Young Stalin, which won the LA Times Book Prize for Best Biography.

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Written in History

Letters that Changed the World

By Simon Sebag Montefiore
  • Read in 10 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 6 key ideas
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Written in History: Letters that Changed the World by Simon Sebag Montefiore
Synopsis

Written in History (2018) takes a look at some of the world’s most important letters. From love letters revealing the intimate sides of Mozart and Stalin to political statements which altered the course of history, these blinks guide you through the personal thoughts of many renowned figures of the past. As you’ll see, letters give us insight into historical events as well as remind us what it means to be human.

Key idea 1 of 6

Letters of love – and lust – transcend status and class.

Love letters aren’t only for infatuated teenagers. Some of the world’s most famous figures wrote reams of letters to their lovers – and some of their wooing techniques may even shock you.

Take Mozart, who had a most unusual approach to flirting with his cousin and probable lover, Marianne. Though his relationship with her irritated his father, there was no stopping the musical prodigy from pursuing his desires in his private letters. His method for stoking the sexual tension? Poo jokes.

Indeed, in one of his letters to Marianne, Mozart wrote that he wanted to put his personal letter seal on her rear end before letting out a “resounding fart.”

Letters to his wife Constance five years later take a more charming tone: “I get all excited like a child when I think about being with you again – if people could see my heart I should almost feel ashamed.” Apparently, the scatological approach was reserved for his cousin.

For centuries, letters often facilitated affairs. Private letters enabled writers to convey their lust with candor and reassure the objects of their desires.

For example, the aristocratic poet Vita Sackville-West composed love letters to the writer Virginia Woolf, assuring her that Woolf held a special place in her heart despite her many other lovers.

Her desire for Woolf is written in honest and uncomplicated terms: “I just miss you, in a quite simple, desperate human way.” She criticizes herself for being incapable of crafting a letter in the elegant standard of Woolf’s writing. Yet perhaps the raw sincerity of her words is more potent and poetic than a wordier, embellished alternative.

But love letters weren’t only the works of artists; dictators penned their deepest passions, too.

In 1912, a letter written by a 32-year-old Joseph Stalin to his 16-year-old mistress, whom he had met while exiled in the Russian countryside, offers a glimpse into the soon-to-be tyrant’s surprising capacity for romance: “I’m …. kiiissssing you passionately (it’s not worth kissing any other way), Josef.”

The affection displayed in the letter is hard to reconcile with the narrative of a man we know for terrorizing his country through mass murder.

From Stalin’s playfulness to Mozart’s toilet banter, love letters have revealed otherwise unbelievable sides of history’s most influential people.

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