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[Collection]

A Fountain Pen, an Empty Page, and Thou

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February brings with it the romantic chance of Valentine’s Day, but who remembers how to write a love letter? The form was never an easy one, not even for poets, and stationery stores bloom with the flowers of printed sentiment that require of the ardent suitor (or the mysterious lady, or the secret admirer, or the long, lost friend) nothing other than a signature and a stamp.

Why write a letter when the words might one day show up in court? Why not send chocolate or speak, briefly and preferably through a handkerchief, from a public telephone? Because words on paper uncover the disguises of the heart, and because the important news is between the lines.

With the thought of taking the occasion of Valentine’s Day out of the hands of the drudging clerks seated at the assembly lines of Hallmark Cards, Harper’s Magazine invited four authors skilled in rhetoric and sleek with guile (a cartoonist, a playwright, and two novelists) to teach a lesson in epistolary romance.

The following forum is based on a discussion held at the Pierre Hotel in New York City. Jack Hitt served as moderator. Log in or subscribe to read.


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February 1994