History of pre-internet remote friendships?
December 4, 2012 3:05 PM   Subscribe

I'm curious about the history of friendship - specifically examples - famous or otherwise - where very deep friendships are sustained only by remote means. Mail I think, but I suppose telegraph and telephone also meet this definition. Pre-electric examples slightly preferred, but I'm open to being corrected. Bonus points for examples of relationships where the individuals involved never physically met.
posted by artlung to Human Relations (14 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: 84, Charing Cross Road
posted by djb at 3:26 PM on December 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Empty Without You: The Intimate Letters Of Eleanor Roosevelt And Lorena Hickok

It doesn't quite fit all your requirements, since they did see each other relatively often, and I believe Hickock even lived with the Roosevelts in the White House for a while.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 3:48 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Margaret Laurence and Al Purdy were far better friends on paper than they were irl.
posted by brujita at 4:28 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Once they had reconciled their political feud, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams had a 14 year friendship sustained via letters.
posted by 1367 at 4:31 PM on December 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Can Any Mother Help Me?

Additionally, not quite friendship, but Queen Victoria seems to have maintained a sort of strategic control - as well as very close relationships - with her daughters and granddaughters, most of whom were married off to foreign heads of state, through copious letter writing. There are numerous compilations of these, including daughter Alice, Grand Duchess of Hesse, daughter Victoria, Empress of Germany, and granddaughter Victoria of Hesse. This seems to have been fairly typical of Victorians in general; they sent a lot of mail, and letter-writing would necessarily have been a way to maintain close friendships and relationships in an era when long-distance travel was possible (leading to friends and relatives all over the world) but not cheap or easy.
posted by posadnitsa at 4:33 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Rainer Maria Rilke and Franz Kappus, whose letters are published in Letters to a Young Poet. Not sure if their friendship counts as deep, but they certainly covered quite the depth and breadth of topics in their correspondence.
posted by booksandwine at 4:33 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Younger Than That Now: A Shared Passage from the Sixties. "In 1969, when 17-year-old Jeff Durstewitz and some friends wrote a smart-alecky letter to Ruth Tuttle (now Williams), these suburban New York kids assumed she must be "some sort of prototype Southern-belle-racist" because she edited a Mississippi high school newspaper. What they got back was a smart, gracious reply from a nascent rebel desperate for companionship beyond the restrictive confines of Yazoo City. Jeff wrote back apologetically, and an intense relationship was born. The pair found after Jeff's awkward first visit to Mississippi that they weren't destined to be lovers, but nevertheless the friendship endured. Their early letters, surprisingly mature and touchingly vulnerable, remind us how late the '60s started in the South, where Ruth struggled to express more enlightened racial attitudes and protest the Vietnam War without alienating her conservative parents. Jeff's experiences are more conventionally countercultural, right down to the fact that his high school buddies Ben and Jerry grew up to be the famed ice cream moguls."
posted by Emera Gratia at 4:47 PM on December 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Julia Child and Avis DeVoto, who didn't meet until they were two years into their correspondence, and sustained a deep friendship by letter for the rest of their lives.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:53 PM on December 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Read up on James Tiptree Jr. and his correspondence with Ursula LeGuin and lots of other people in the science fiction community I'm forgetting. Also the letters of May Sarton and Juliette Huxley.
posted by clavicle at 4:54 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The letters of T. E. Lawrence are interesting. He was very close to Charlotte, the wife of George Bernard Shaw, and they did not meet that often-- for some of that time, I believe, he was in Karachi. Most of his communication with family and friends was via letter as well.
posted by blnkfrnk at 6:06 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The major 20th century American poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. They maintained a lifelong friendship after meeting in their thirties largely through letters to each other.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 6:44 PM on December 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: My goodness MeFi, these are all great! I want to hug you all! Currently reading the articles and putting a few new books on hold with my libraries! Thank you!
posted by artlung at 9:10 PM on December 4, 2012

Best answer: There were times when they were apart a lot, so I think this qualifies: Winston and Clementine: The Personal Letters of the Churchills
posted by Doohickie at 11:32 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I love this question. I've never met my best friend in real life, but we spend hours on Google+ hangout together and are pretty integral to each other's lives.

It's a hell of a lot easier to do it now than before this technology existed.

I bet famous prisoners would be another place to look, as they are limited in their ability to meet in person.
posted by guster4lovers at 5:25 PM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

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