That’s the question I’ve been asking myself as I’ve read through some of the diaries and letters I obtained during my recent swing through the south.
The heroine’s sister made me question the decision to read other people’s personal accounts when she scrawled a stern warning on the opening page of her diary, written when she was 18:
“Whoever reads a single line in this book without the writer’s permission will forfeit her love and respect forever . . . strictly private. For me alone.”
Well . . . she’s been dead for 125 years and her grandchildren sold the diary to the University of North Carolina. Who’s the guilty one here if I read what she herself calls “the innocent outpourings of a child’s heart?”
I’m reading it for factual purposes–she provides me with dates and locations of her sister, my true heroine. There’s nothing particularly shocking in this young woman’s diary. I’m safe.
I’m not worried about reading letters written by people long dead who have been the subjects of several books. I even got lucky and found a typed transcript of a number of the important letters–thus enabling me not only to understand my hero better, but actually to read his words with ease.
And he was quite a writer, a romantic man, when he wrote his wife.
That’s when I began to feel unease.
Writing from prison to an ailing pregnant wife, he poured out his love across the miles and sitting before my computer screen, I started to squirm. The words are beautiful, my heart pounded. Yours will, too, at thoughts like the following:
In talking about their baby he wrote: “I am so very impatient to see it, will it not be sweet, Love? I shall eat it up.”
“I have so many things to tell you, my Angel, that I cannot write . . . My life shall be devoted to you, and my only pleasure will be in making you happy. Would that you could see some of the many pictures my imagination paints, the would all delight and some astonish you.”
“How fortunate I have been the last week, it seems as if a hand had opened and thrown, suddenly upon me a hand full of sunbeams. Separated from you nothing affords me half the pleasure as receiving a letter from my Idol.”
And then we have references to trying “to peep at her cluster of grapes,” as she washed up.
I’ll leave that one to your imagination.
Our heroine’s children spoke of her going to the carriagehouse alone and spending hours rereading the old letters. Their father warned them she needed to spend time with the memories of her first husband. One day they looked out and saw smoke coming up from behind the outbuilding.
She burned her diary. They thought she burned her letters.
I don’t think she could bring herself to burn her first husband’s beautiful letters. They’re hard for me to read in their beauty–of hopes and dreams that would only be realized for a short time amid a dreadful war. But they remind me, too, that the hearts and souls of men and women through the ages follow the same flights of joy and fancy back to the ones who love them best of all.
Just like love and romance, poetic words, do for you and me.
So, am I a voyeur?
Or merely the chronicler of a beautiful love story?
Only history will tell.
A New York Times best selling writer, Michelle Ule is a long-time follower of Jesus Christ who lives in northern California. A noted genealogist in some of the more obscure corners of the Internet, she’s the author of Pioneer Stock and Travels with Jeanette, along with several other genealogy books and traveler’s tales.
Visit her online at: http://michelleule.wordpress.com/
Her debut novella, The Dogtrot Christmas, was published in Barbour Publishing’s A Log Cabin Christmas Collection, September 2011 and appeared on The New York Times best seller list on October 2, 2011. Her debut novel, Bridging Two Hearts, will be published by Barbour’s Heartsong division in winter, 2012. An Inconvenient Gamble, yet another novella, will appear in The Texas Brides Collection, due out in June 2013.
She’s currently writing an inspirational romance about Civil War General John Hunt Morgan and his wife Mattie Ready.