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Valentine's lessons in love

Unrequited love may be a thing of the past this Valentine’s with the help of an English literature expert from the University of Exeter.

Dr Emily Bernhard Jackson will assist the love-forlorn in the art of writing a truly romantic love letter.

In a world where the popularity of Twitter has reduced everyday conversation to a mere140 characters, it is hardly surprising that the skills needed to compose a personal letter are becoming a dying art. To address this demise, Dr Bernhard Jackson is giving a workshop on how to write a love letter. The intention is to get students to think about the effect that writing can have on the recipient, and the effectiveness of good writing.

Dr Bernhard Jackson is a specialist in 19thCentury Romantic and Victorian literature and passionate about good writing. She is of the opinion that a misplaced comma could make the content of a letter go hideously wrong. With this in mind, the workshop will start by looking at a series of love letters and verse by the most famous of the Romantic poets, Lord Byron, then looking at letters by famous lovers such as Anne Boleyn, Georges Sand, and Simone de Beauvoir. Dr Bernhard Jackson will discuss the merits of the writing and what makes the letters so charming. 

An example of Byron’s creative talent is clearly illustrated in a letter written to Countess Teresa Guiccioli, his married mistress, in Ravenna, Italy. In the letter, dated 1819, Lord Byron writes of his desire and inability to cease loving her:“I feel I exist here, and I feel that I shall exist hereafter – to what purpose you will decide.”

The workshop will look at how to bring those literary devices that best capture and express the imagination into the students’ own writing. Dr Bernhard Jackson will draw from her book ‘The Comma Sutra’, a guide to creating effective and elegant writing.  The book explains the rules of grammar and punctuation; it also clearly states that there is no secret knowledge that will make someone “the right kind of writer” as part of becoming a good writer is discovering your style. According to Dr Bernhard Jackson, what constitutes “good” depends on the situation you’re in, and the effect you’re striving for.

Dr Bernhard Jackson explained the importance of being able to compose a romantic letter. She said: “Everyone has magic in them, but not everyone can bring it out.  Everyone yearns to be loved, everyone (I hope) loves, and everyone deserves to know how to make their feelings known as lightly as a moth's wing but as effectively as sky-writing. And if this is true of love, it's even truer of writing on an everyday level. To communicate with subtlety and grace, to persuade charmingly but completely, is a skill that everyone should have. This workshop is a way of letting students put their foot on the path to that skill.”

In addition to the content of the letters, the texture of the paper, whether hand written, typed or on coloured notelets, will form part of the workshop exploring the creation and reception of an amorous letter.

If the main extent of your romantic verses is based on ‘Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet,’ then a workshop of this kind is surely for you.

For further information about the workshop on Thursday 6 February at 5pm (Forum Seminar Room) email Dr Bernhard Jackson

Date: 4 February 2014

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