“You are so lovely that I burst darling”: watch Caitlin Moran, Carey Mulligan and others read history’s most moving letters

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Harriet Hall
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The lost art of letter writing holds a romantic. nostalgic place within the hearts of many. Letters possess the power to describe an exact moment in time quite like nothing else. Reading them feels somewhat voyueristic - it gives us a peek into the lives of another. Whether it be a famous author, an iconic artist or simply a person writing a love letter, they conjure images in our imagination as if we were peering directly into the mind of the writer, as if the letter were meant for us. Here, the creators behind Letters Live - an annual performance of read letters - provide Stylist with exclusive celebrity readings of historic and personal correspondence. 

Caitlin Moran's posthumous letter to her daughter

Read by: Caitlin Moran 

At Letter's Live in 2015, Caitlin Moran read an imagined posthumous letter to her daughter. Part humorous, part deeply emotional, Moran's letter is a guide for her daughter that passes on her wisdom on negotiating life, including advice on unsuitable men and the importance of owning an adequately large biscuit tin.

"You already are so lovely that I burst darling, and I want you to hang onto that and never let it go," she says. Her advice includes gems such as: "Choose your friends because you feel most like yourself around them," "Never love someone whom you think you need to mend, or who makes you feel like you need to be mended," and "Stay at peace with your body."

Influential physicist, Richard Feynman's letter to his dead wife

Read by: Oscar Isaac

Richard Feynman was one of the best-known and most influential physicists of his generation. In the 1940s, he played a part in the development of the atomic bomb. He won a Novel Prize for his contribution to science, and was also incredibly well-liked. 

In June of 1945, his wife and high-school sweetheart, Arline, passed away from tuberculosis. She was 25-years-old. 16 months later, in October of 1946, Richard wrote his her a heartbreaking love letter and sealed it in an envelope. It remained unopened until after his death in 1988.

Opening his letter, "D'Arlene, I adore you, sweetheart," Feynman writes of how she is worth more, in his mind, than anyone else in the world, and of how - while he has tried to meet other women - none of them compare to her. "You dead are so much better than anyone else alive," he writes, and: "I find it hard to understand in my mind what it means to love you after you are dead, but I still want to comfort and take care of you."

Feynman ends his letter with a knowing post script, saying: "please excuse my not mailing this, but I don't know your new address."

'Give Women the Vote’ - a letter from Suffragette, Bertha Brewster, to The Telegraph

Read by: Carey Mulligan

In the 1900s, the Suffragettes, lead by Emmeline Pankhurst, protested and rioted for their right to vote. Their methods became increasingly violent, including the smashing of windows, the burning down of buildings and even - in the most extreme case - the death of one of their own. In June 1913, Emily Davison was killed when she stepped in front of King George V’s horse at the Epsom Derby.

 On February 26th, 1913, with the protests as forceful as ever, a letter appeared in The Daily Telegraph, written by a suffragette named Bertha Brewster. In it, Brewster acknowledges that: "everyone seems to agree upon the necessity of putting a stop to suffragist outrages, but no one seems certain how to do so."

She suggests two ways: "1. Kill every woman in the united kingdom. Or, 2. Give women the vote."

A letter from Roald Dahl to a young female fan

Read by: Ian McKellen

In December of 1967, a young girl named Elizabeth wrote to her favourite author, Roald Dahl, and told him that she was having trouble settling in at her new school. Much to her delight, a note of encouragement soon arrived. In it, Dahl advised Elizabeth to: "try to imagine that you like it - for I've heard that what you imagine sometimes come true."

Elizabeth eventually began to enjoy her new surroundings and wrote to Dahl a year later with the good news. He replied again saying how thrilled he was by the news, and advised the girl to: "be nice and kind and never let anything make you sad."

Conservationist, Gerald Durrell's letter to his future wife.

Read by: Tom Hiddleston

Conservationist and author Gerald Durrell and Lee McGeorge first met in 1977; two years later they were married.

By the time Durrell died in 1995 they had travelled the world together on numerous conservation expeditions and co-written two books: A Practical Guide for the Amateur Naturalist, and Durrell in Russia. In 1978, a year after they first met, Gerald Durrell wrote a love letter to his future wife.

The letter expresses true love in no uncertain terms, with the opening lines reading: "To begin with: I love you. With a depth and passion that I have felt for no one else in this life. And if it astonished you, it astonished me as well."

Durrell is clearly overwhelmed by his passion for McGeorge, even saying:"I would never have thought it possible that another human being could occupy my waking - and sleeping- thoughts, to the exclusion of almost everything else."

Letters Live takes place 4-8 October in London. Get tickets here.

The paperback of Shaun Usher’s Letters of Note is available from Thursday via Canongate Books,