'With Love' displays letters of literary and local lovers

By Maureen McGavin | Feb. 14, 2012

Love in the digital age

Inspired by the Woodruff Library's exhibit 'With Love' that examines love letters from famous authors and former Emory students, this video looks at how current students express their affections.


emory couple

Lynn Hicks and Beverly Burgess, April 1946. Emory University Picture Files, Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University.

Take a peek into the love letters of famous literary couples – and former Emory University students – in the exhibition “With Love,” running through March 8, 2012 in the Concourse Gallery on Level 2 of Emory’s Robert W. Woodruff Library.

The exhibition contains letters, telegrams, poems, book inscriptions and photographs. Curator Sarah Peterson, the outreach coordinator for Emory’s chemistry department who earned her Ph.D. in English at Emory, wrote in her curator’s statement that the materials show a range of emotion, from the passionate outpourings of Emory students to the vibrant expression of Alice Notley, from the pragmatic perspective of Maud Gonne to the wild sentimentality of W.B. Yeats.

Peterson solicited ideas for suggested couples from Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library staff members based on their familiarity with the collections. Then she chose specific materials to create a narrative.

“I started going through various collections of famous couples, people we knew who had exchanges related to their marriage or love affairs. We have a good range from the 20th century, and some really famous people, like Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, and Yeats and Maud Gonne, but also some lesser-known people from the collections,” Peterson says. “We have several stand-out items, but also a lot of things that don’t get displayed quite as often.”


Love letter

Letter: Cecile Nicholson to William Levi Dawson, 6 April 1935. William Levi Dawson papers, Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University.


For example, several items are from the collection of Jennie Tate Anderson, an Emory graduate and philanthropist who lived in Marietta after she married. “She was one of those women who, it seemed, every man who knew her fell in love with her,” Peterson says. “There was a box filled with cards and letters and telegrams from different men, pleading with her to go out with them, so that was fun to go through.”

Other standout items:

  • A handmade red and blue Valentine from Alice Notley to Ted Berrigan, with original poems and collages inside. “I thought it gave a nice sense of the collaborative spirit of their circle of poets, and the way they were influenced by visual artists, as well as the emotional connection between them,” Peterson says.
  • A flowery, over-the-top wedding card given to Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath by two friends. The friends wrote a long, nonsensical poem inside, taking turns writing alternating couplets; a copy of the inside poem is enlarged and displayed behind the card.
  • A letter from W.B. Yeats to Maud Gonne. The two were friends for more than 40 years, and Yeats was inspired by and deeply attached to Gonne, Peterson says; he proposed to her four times, but she declined each time. In the letter on display, Yeats pleads with her not to marry John MacBride (she did anyway).

The materials are drawn from 13 collections, including the Ted Hughes papers, letters to Assia Wevill, William Levi Dawson papers, Ted Berrigan and Alice Notley collection, Carol Ann Duffy papers, Ada Beatrice “Bricktop” Smith papers, Jennie Tate Anderson papers, and the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library.

Parking is available in the Fishburne and the new Oxford Road decks.