We’ve entered an era where much of our correspondence occurs over e-mail and cellphones; we are not without words, but our words are generally without object. The things we write to one and other are disembodied, floating on screens, written with light rather than ink. While the modern methods of communication have allowed for some wonderful things – our thoughts have never been able to travel so freely, and so quickly, across oceans and continents – I still occasionally mourn the loss of the most old-fashioned form of transmission: the letter.
A handwritten letter is a truly beautiful thing. It bares the mark of the writer in a way that no text message ever possibly can. It also contains a permanence, a strength of sorts, that allows us to feel as though the abstract concepts put into writing are real, tangible and forever ours.
Perhaps this can help explain why the Portuguese have not given up their fascination with Mariana Alcoforado, a nun who supposedly conducted a passionate, clandestine affair with a French soldier, which she documented in a series of letters. The letters show the arching trajectory of her love, from passion to eventual heartbreak. However, some literary historians doubt the veracity of the romantic tale, and suspect that Mariana was not the true author of the moving documents.
Looking for the truth, writer Andrea Calabretta journeys to Portugal. She visits Beja, the city where Mariana supposedly spent her days pining for her faithless soldier, to learn a little something about the mystery of the nun. Join Calabretta in her search by checking out Literary Traveler’s newest feature article, Letters of a Portuguese Nun: A Literary Mystery in Beja. You might learn a little something about literature – or at the very least, be inspired to put pen to paper and create something truly lasting.