Emma on the Best Length of Love Letters

I was reading Jane Austen’s Emma the other day and came across statements by the protagonist that the longer the love letter, the more genuine (effective?) it is.

So in other words, if you write a 271-word love letter, the same length of “The Gettysburg Address,” you are less in love or more inarticulate in love, than if you write a 1000-word love letter.

Since I am discussing Austen in her historical context, I am obviously referring to a love letter written by hand, if there is such a thing anymore, although I have written a few in recent years. I’ve also sent a couple love postcards, too.

This begs an interesting question related to contemporary communication: does an email or social media message expressing love qualify as a love letter? Jane Austen’s novels are still widely read and enjoyed today because she had her characters espouse universal truths about matters of the heart that to me hold up a lot better than many of John Updike’s or Milan Kundera’s characters’ statements on the same subject. But do Emma’s declarations about a lengthier word count for a more genuine (effective?) expression of love hold up as well today in the age of instant digital communication as some of her other statements?

Do word counts truly matter in expressions of love no matter what form they take, tweets or real letters?

Can a scientist conduct a study into this question?

Or how about this question: can a haiku written with a Keno pencil on a napkin in a dive bar win the love of someone? I’d sure as hell like someone to try with me!

Let us return to the handwritten letter of today, not the era when it was the only form of written communication (no telegraph or typewriters in Austen’s novels). A letter in longhand is vastly different than an email or social media message as a form of communication. For one thing, it is held in one’s hands when read as opposed to a screen. Then there is the handwriting itself and what a script might reveal to a reader. Paper might matter, too.

(Another question: is cursive better for a love letter or ball and stick penmanship?)

As I write this I recall the greatest love letter I ever received, and the interesting fact that the writer read it to me sitting across the table from me in a dive bar and I was not expecting any sort of love letter from her. It was handwritten and about a page in length. (I still have it.)

This little musing prompted by reading Emma certainly has me meandering in memory and analysis.

Back to the main point. Brevity. Brevity. Brevity. Two hundred words.


Exposition. More exposition. Even more exposition. Three thousand words.


Somewhere in between.

Maybe it depends on the love and not so much the writer.

Do most people today have attention spans to read long handwritten love letters anymore? Maybe you don’t need more than a postcard to convey genuine love. Or shouldn’t need more space.

I don’t know.