« Wherever there will be nothing, read that I love you »… Has anyone ever written a more beautiful declaration of love, referring to the final sentence of Diderot’s letter to Sophie Volland, June 10, 1759, at the early stages of a relationship which lasted until his death, some thirty years later?
Love letters, an essential part of world literature, that we thought had been definitively discarded since the invention of the telephone, have found themselves propelled into the light with the publication of the letters of François Mitterrand.
Moreover, we can probably find strong similarities between the discourses of love of one of the major writers of the late 18th century and those of a great President from the late 20th century.
Both so loved to seduce. Both had numerous affairs. Both maintained a relationship, marked by respect, until their death, with their official partner —whom they married at a young age. Both lived, in a parallel present, and had a beautiful and long term love affair with one of their female conquests, from whom they were separated because of unwritten social rules, and a significant age difference. Both wrote countless letters, memories involving sensual pleasures, and chronicles of their daily activities in their absence.
None of them knew that these letters would one day be published after their death—as they were not willing to share them—and even though they had given due consideration to what would happen after them and had written wills, without mention at any time of the possibility of the release of their correspondence; and without us knowing, in both cases, the replies of the loved one.
Beyond the sense of discomfort at the sight of the publication of these intensely intimate letters, obviously written in the secret of a private lair, one can only welcome the discovery of such an essential part and dimension of the personality of such giants as François Mitterrand and Denis Diderot: their feelings of romance, kindness, passion, helplessness at the complexities and nuances of a woman’s heart. This offers insights into their actions and behaviors better than their biographers have done: all you need to do is to contrast and compare the content of those letters with what happened to both when they wrote them.
This is part of the much bigger picture where gender relations are more and more involved with politics.
In the United States, a candidate is flouting the fundamental principles of gender relations, trampling them, as he would do with the world if he were in charge of it. In France, once again some want to censor the right to love.
In these very grim times, when women are finally trying to command respect, it is comforting to see that a great and famous writer and the last of the great French presidents, speaking from the grave, remind us that we are first loving people; and that there is nothing more important in life than to love, in nearly every possible way, in the most passionate way.
There is nothing more exhilarating than recognizing that there is no love without respect, respect for one-self and others. Lastly, and most importantly, that there is no substitute for the joy of being able to love, even without receiving anything in return, and without the prospect of a return.
Just as Denis Diderot wrote, moreover, to Sophie Volland in the same letter, a particularly sublime letter: he has only just met her, immensely impressed by her, and already misses her very much: “But will I not have reward enough, if I have shown you how much I love you?”
If politicians were to talk like that to the people they would love to seduce, if they were to love so selflessly, and their love pure enough, politics would look quite different.