The Love That Dares by Rachel Smith & Barbara Vesey – Letters of Love & Friendship Through History

The Love That Dares by Rachel Smith and Barbara Vesey

This is a moving, daring and very readable book. Subtitled “Letters of LGBTQ+ Love & Friendship Through History ”, it is a valuable resource of letters that have attempted to express feelings that have transformed lives. These are the often secret relationships that may have been frowned on at different times and places throughout the centuries, and indeed, have even been deemed illegal in some cases. It is a positive book, often celebrating love and friendship between people separated by circumstance, as letters rarely pass between those who are physically together, and trying to express real depths of feeling. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this fascinating book. 

 This book is made more interesting by the biographical notes that precede each writer, which gives some details of the writer and recipient and the context in which they were written. These are well researched and written, giving necessary starting points for further reading. Most of the letters are from the twentieth century, but actually the collection begins with some of Sappho’s poetry from the BCE period. As the Foreword by Mark Gatiss points out, this collection also contains poetry which has attempted to convey something of the love that “dare not speak its name” in words and images. He emphasises the element of secrecy that has typified many relationships. The book has emerged from the collections held by the Bishopsgate Institute London, which has sought to gather and store the documentation and ephemera which reflect LGBTQ+ experiences in the UK and throughout the world. It invites those in possession of letters at the moment to contribute to the collection, with details at the back of the book. 

Some of the letter writers in this book are well known. Anne Lister writes to Ann Walker, Benjamin Britten to Peter Pears, and Vita Sackville-West to Violet Keppel Trefusis. Some letters have replies added. There are reflections of complex relationships, including the situation involving Sylvia Townshend Warner, Elizabeth Wade White and Valentine Ackland, with reference to the definitive collection of their letters produced by the Handheld Press and Peter Haring Judd. 

Indeed, this book is extensively indexed, and features an exhaustive References & Resources section. The latter lists Archives, Books, Articles, Websites and Podcasts which are there to inform and inspire further delving into this area of interest. Throughout the text of the book are text boxes which give snapshots of others who had relationships of note, such as “The Ladies of Llangollen” and Eleanor Roosevelt. This book also includes writings of activists who are very much active today, and brings right up to date the issues of the twenty first century. 

This is a book which works on several levels. As a collection of the thoughts and feelings which have often been ignored by mainstream literature it is an excellent book of introduction to fascinating people. For more academic study it presents accessible resources for in depth investigation. This is a book which I found readable and enjoyable, giving real insight into real people’s feelings, and introducing me to writers and others writing honestly of their love and friendship.