Writing Historical Fiction: Using (and Faking) Old Letters

As I mentioned the other day, Betsy Bonaparte’s life is well documented. Many of the biographies about her quote extensively from her letters, and I include excerpts of some of them in my novel.

But there were also times when I couldn’t find a letter that said what I needed for the story, so some of the letters in my novel are fictional, written by yours truly. Trying to imitate that nineteenth century style was an exceptionally enjoyable exercise.

Below are two different letters written from Betsy to her son Bo when she was in Europe and he was in the United States. One is authentic, the other is one of mine. (I’m not saying which is which.)

This first one was written when Bo is still a young boy:

Being separated by the Atlantic is as disagreeable to me as it is to you, but I must do what is necessary to secure your future. Reward all my cares for you by studying as hard as you can, so that when I come home I will find that you have proven yourself worthy of the Bonaparte name. I love you, and I shall not rest easy until I can be with you again and look after you myself.

This second one was written shortly after Bo has traveled along to America to begin his studies at Harvard:

I shall go to America if you think there is the least necessity for it. Let me know everything about my finances. Do read as much as you can, and improve in every way. I ask you to reward my cares and anxieties about you, by advancing your own interests and happiness. I am very uneasy about you, and almost blame myself for not going with you to take care of you, and shall never forgive myself if you meet any accident by being alone.

If anyone cares to guess which letter is which, I’ll post the answer in the comments sometime tomorrow.

11 Comments

Filed under Writing Historical Fiction

11 responses to “Writing Historical Fiction: Using (and Faking) Old Letters

  1. I will guess you wrote the second one, but it’s only a guess. Same voice, really! Fun post!

  2. Actually, the first one reads much as letters I’ve read from an ancient Babylonian father to his son so I’m going with the first one being the real letter and the second being the fake letter. But without knowing the voice of Betsy and how she might speak it’s pretty hard to say.

  3. Dan

    You wrote the second letter. “Let me know” just sounds modern to my ears.

  4. I’ll go with the others– the second one sounds more modern. But we could all be wrong.

  5. krystal jane

    I love doing things like this. ^_^
    Since everyone else is guessing…hmm, let’s see…I’ll say that you wrote the first one. The second one has this really long sentence in it, like the sentences I write in my journal, and therefore it has more a stream of consciousness feel. That’s the only thing that’s different between the two. I love how dramatic they are. Betsy sounds like a blast. 😀

  6. To all of you who participate yesterday in trying to guess the real letter, I just put the answer in today’s blog post.

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