Michaeline: Valentines and Love Letters

scroll with Friendship, Love and Truth weaving between symbols of love.

The many aspects of Valentine’s Day. Love is a lot more complicated than “Roses are Red . . .” and a lot more diverse than Boy-Meets-Girl. (via Wikimedia Commons)

Valentine’s Day can be fraught with expectations, and it seems that these days we almost need to put a trigger warning on the topic because so many vocal people have been so badly traumatized by the holiday.

But I’d like to start this Valentine Week from the perspective of plenty. You may not have the perfect love partner, or indeed any love partner. But if you think of love in a broader sense, it’s a good day to be thankful for the love in your life. That might be family, or friends, or a pet. One thing is for sure, though. If you are reading this blog, you have a love for romantic stories. Let’s share the love.

My favorite love story is by Lois McMaster Bujold. Over the span of Komarr and A Civil Campaign, we follow the love story of Miles Vorkosigan and Ekaterin Vorvayne Vorsoisson. Ekaterin has Love PTSD. Her mother died young, her father was neglectful – and I’d like to add that we don’t find this out in pages of tortured backstory at the beginning of the books, but in very natural conversation when it’s important for Miles and the reader to know this. Her first husband was a narcissistic mess who sucked up all her attention. And again, we don’t find out she’s trapped by culture and a sense of duty through backstory. Her escape from her marriage IS the story, or at least a major component of it, during the first half of Komarr.

So, here’s the trick of A Civil Campaign: how do you get an emotionally fragile woman who has great reasons to shun commitment to actually take a risk with love again? Miles shows how NOT to do it with great flair at a disastrous dinner party where he declares his love prematurely and many of his manipulations are exposed.

The great turning point of the story is the love letter that he writes in apology. In it, he admits his mistakes and gives up his hustle for love – instead, he hands the power to Ekaterin, who has never held the actual reins of the relationship before. In the parlance of our classwork at McDaniels, he gives her the air conditioner – in other words, he gives her exactly what she needs. Control over her own destiny.

Only then can she examine her feelings for Miles rationally, and decide if he is the man for her.

I’ll be spending my free time Valentine Week re-reading the books, reminding myself what it is I want a romantic element to do.

It seems appropriate, in that the love letter plays a part in many of the Valentine Day origin myths. Letters brought by birds, letters conveyed by saints . . . the love letter is an important part of many romantic stories. I’d be more than happy to chat away about Miles and Ekaterin, but I’d also like to know, what’s your favorite love letter? (Links are welcome!)

And, here are some more love letter references:

A rather stuffy love letter advice article from The Atlantic. My feelings are rather love/hate – what do you think?

The Guardian, a British newspaper, chooses the best love letters of all time. I think they are pretty good!

The oldest known love letter in English! I find the original beautiful, but indecipherable. Thank goodness for transcripts!

Some Valentine Day quotations. As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe said, “Love does not dominate; it cultivates.”

And finally, a snarky ode to the ancestor of BOB (the battery-operated boyfriend) from Restoration Poet, John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. Sometimes the greatest love of all is loving yourself (-:.

24 thoughts on “Michaeline: Valentines and Love Letters

  1. Wow! I started reading Komarr last night (insert Twilight Zone theme 🙂 ) I’ve been working my way through the series, and ‘Miles in love’ is currently sitting on my bedside table 🙂

    • LOL, the coincidence! Let me know what you think of it. I’m a huge fan of the entire series, but my very favorite is the next book, A Civil Campaign. But when I re-read, I usually start from Komarr, because there’s so much unrequited love going on there!

      • Have you read Barbara Hambly’s stories about Antryg Windrose – The Silent Tower, The Silicon Mage and Dog Wizard? Apart from the sadly out-of-date technology, I love the growing relationship between Antryg and Joanna.

        There should be another story after Dog Wizard, but her publisher Del Rey got in the way 😦

        **I just checked her Wikipedia entry, to find that Barbara has bought the rights back from Del Rey, and there are five!! new Antryg/Joanna stories! $5 to download each one 🙂


        (there are short stories from a few of her other series as well – I haven’t read any of the others yet)

    • It’s funny how the different parts work together in the Vorkosigan series. I don’t know if it can be classified as an escapist romance (so if you are looking for a straight, wild escapist romance, this isn’t it). The love stories there have a lot of reality in them, and hurdles that aren’t just “I thought it was his girlfriend but it was really his siter” misunderstandings. I think all of us from class do like a shot of reality. (-: But the fantasy is there full force — outerspace, and all the adventures.

  2. Add me to the list of those who haven’t read Bujold but plan to remedy that soon :-). And thanks for all the links – it was a fun way to spend some Saturday morning time while ignoring things like getting kerosene and laying in supplies for the pending (probably inevitable) power outages coming our way here in the Mid-Atlantic. I hope everyone finds a great way to keep warm this Valentine’s Day!

    • Good luck with the weather, Nancy! And I hope you keep your power. It’s 75 here in Oakland, so I’m not having any trouble with staying warm. In fact, summer tops, out of the closet. Just sayin.’

      • My daughter is in Oakland right now! Her SO works with a lab out there, and she tagged along so they could have a romantic weekend. And so they could get out of Ithaca (NY, where they live), which has had nighttime temps around -20 F – yikes! I’m trying to console myself with the fact that I got to enjoy mid-70’s weather in January, thanks to Neen and the 8LW retreat.

    • Oh, keep warm! We’ve had a cold spell with a wicked wind that darts in through cracks and steals all the heat from the house. I’m stuck with cold in real life, and also in my WIP. I can’t wait for spring to come again . . . .

  3. I started A Civil Campaign and didn’t get into it as well as I expected to. Maybe I should read Komarr first and then try again.

    Fingers crossed for anyone with serious Weather heading their way. And Kay – just grrrr. It’s wet, grey and miserable here in London. Plus ca change….

    • The series starts well before Komarr. It’s really hard to understand Miles if you haven’t read all the rest of them (including the first two about his parents and his birth).

      One of the things I like about the series is that she doesn’t wallop you over the head with ‘in the last episode, Miles & co were…”. Also, she didn’t write them in strict order, yet it all works out seamlessly!

      • I read and enjoyed the first two, but (from memory) there are a lot of books between those and A Civil Campaign, and I think Michaeline said some of them are very dark (hope I got that right, Micki?). So being the shallow, happy sort I tried to cheat and cut to the love story, assuming I could get with the flow. It didn’t really work.

        Do you think I need to read the whole series to get the most out of Miles and Ekaterin?

        • There’s one short story that I haven’t been able to track down, and there was a cryptic comment in Komarr about that part of Miles’ life in it – so annoying! 🙂

          Having said that, I found most of A Civil Campaign free online, and read and enjoyed it – and then went back and started from the beginning :-). I’m really looking forward to re-reading the chapters of ACC now I know the back-story. Miles is an incredibly complex person, and often blithely brushes off things he’s achieved – and if you’ve read the stories, you know exactly how hard he has worked to get where he is.

          A lot of it is typical fairly gritty science fiction – but Miles is such a cheerful and funny character, even the dark bits have funny moments. If you enjoyed the first two, I don’t think it gets any darker.

          I’d read the lot, personally – Goodreads has two lists, the publication order and the timeline order. There’s a lot to learn from how the series is put together.

        • I dunno . . . I think Memory gets pretty dark. Different strokes for different folks and all that, but maybe part of the reason I like ACC so much is that because Bujold has dragged poor Miles through all sorts of hell (or Miles has dragged Bujold through all sorts of hell), and finally here is a happy ending. Even ACC can be very cringe-inducing for poor Miles; he’s a genius at military strategy, not courtship.

          It may be that I really like that “lesson learning” thing — Miles has to learn to let go of the control. Groundhog Day had some of the same lessons — Phil had to learn to let go and stop manipulating his relationships, too. If you feel you are getting beat over the head by the Lesson Stick, that might be why you don’t get into it, while I do . . . . Not sure.

          I do think the dark books where Miles struggles for his identity are worth reading.

        • Ah, I see. This is one problem with novellas — they get repackaged, and sometimes they lose stuff on the way. IIRC, the linking story was mostly about Miles getting new bones — not a spoiler, because he mentions that in passing at least twice in Komarr.

          I wish I had an easy solution. IIRC, the anthology was only issued in paperback. People tend to hold onto their Bujold books, and that particular paperback fell apart very quickly for me (so I have two copies now). I should probably laminate it . . . .

          I wonder if the linking story would be in the CD rom that came with one of the later Vorkosigan hardback editions . . . . The CD rom was supposed to have everything up to that point, except that Memory got lost, for some reason. (And Memory is probably the heart of the series.)

          I could be remembering this wrong (-:. I’ll ask around and see if anyone knows if the linking story is in a different format.

      • /anne, Borders of Infinity is really amazing. If you’ve thought the price for admission to the other books was money well-spent, I think it might be worthwhile to pay for the entire omnibus, Miles Errant. It’s one of my favorite Bujold pieces — possibly even in the top three — and my mind often wanders back to that story. No romance in it, but lots of adventure and pure cleverness — as well as that deep, satisfying glow I get when the hero saves the day.

        • Hi Michaeline,

          I read Miles Errant, but it’s missing the linking story mentioned in the timeline at the back of each omnibus; the linking story covers where he’s recovering back on Barrayar, and involves Simon Illyar – I’m trying to avoid spoilers for anyone who hasn’t read that far 🙂

          And you’re right – I’ve really enjoyed the pure cleverness and puzzle-solving in the books. Some writers can do great characters, some do great plots – Bujold does both!

      • /anne, I asked over on the LMB mailing list, and got this reply from Herself. (-: With bonus writing advice about the universal search function at the end!

        LMB: Yep, an e-edition is available at Amazon, iPad, and Nook.


        All complete, including the linking story.

        This is the 2011 edit I did when we were first putting up the
        direct-placement e-books (which, so far, has been the best business
        decision I ever made.) I spent the first six or eight months of that
        year going through them all, at what speed I could muster around my
        assorted medical adventures, mostly sitting in the corner of my living
        room in the big blue chair with my laptop. I learned a lot in the
        process. Still learning; I pulled out one of those files (_Shards of
        Honor_) to go over in order to give it to Baen for a fresh trade
        paperback printing coming this fall, and I was _still_ finding typos,
        brainos, and misspellings (mostly, to be fair, British spellings) that
        had escaped all eyes for decades, sigh.

        Also artifacts of prior edits, where one takes out old errors and
        inserts new ones, part of which makes this a never-ending process. The
        most amusingly recognizable was where I finally gave up the British
        spelling of grey and replaced it with the American gray, for Vorkosigan
        eyes and Dendarii uniforms, etc., and inadvertently created the

        If you want a Real Rule of Writing, as so many people do, “never do a
        global search-and-replace after midnight” is a good one.

        Ta, L.

        Michaeline here again: You can find out more about this mailing list here: http://www.dendarii.com/mail_list.html

        And here’s the link to the discussion: http://lists.herald.co.uk/pipermail/lois-bujold/2015-February/163864.html

      • dammit, the link came in funny. But anyway, you can see the book is available, with the linking story. Sometimes I’m a completist myself, so I know how hard it can be when that last scrap of writing seems so elusive!

  4. Thanks for all the things to read, Michaeline! For some reason related to Valentine’s day, I thought of Lord Byron and the graffiti he (or maybe someone else) inscribed at the Temple of Poseidon in Greece. Known for his romantic and sexual exploits, including a liaison with his half-sister, he also wrote the long narrative poems “Don Juan” and “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage,” as well as “She Walks in Beauty.” And almost my favorite part of his bio: he was the father of the Countess Ada Lovelace, whose work on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine is a foundation of computer science. Truly an example of the left brain meeting the right brain and living HEA!

    • (-: *The* romantic figure for a romantic holiday! Byron sometimes turns me off, but he was someone who lived a whole lotta life in a very short amount of time. (Saw the graffiti at Sounion on Wikipedia — the man certainly had good stone-carving skills! Along with everything else . . . .)

      Isn’t Lovelace a great name for a computer scientist? I like the different aspects it seems to tell the reader to expect.

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