Handwriting is, by definition, personal. Today, getting a handwritten letter is exciting! Someone put a lot of effort into communicating with you.
Letter-writing between Victorians was common. They were reserved people who appreciated subtlety. When they alluded to personal circumstances, it was typically in a veiled way.
The letters exchanged between Ed and Alice Burdick were an exception in every way.
These letters are from my new book, Cold Heart, which will be released a week from today on December 3, 2020.
Cold Heart is a true story of the great unsolved mystery of turn of the century Buffalo.
The only context you need to know before reading this exchange is that the letters were written in May of 1901, when Ed and Alice Burdick were separated. Alice was living in an Atlantic City hotel room while Ed remained at home in Buffalo with their three children and Alice’s mother.
The following are excerpts of letters. You can read the full letters in the book.
I am cut adrift with very small resources. I certainly hoped to make one more appeal to you in person before you left, which you probably anticipated and avoided.
If I come back, I will not see or communicate in any way with Arthur; I’ll be a loyal wife and mother. If you say I am not to come back, my only course is to appeal to him for protection.
I will not appeal to you through the children. They will do that for themselves later, when it is too late, probably. As you say you will only think of yourself from now on, it rests with you to decide. It wrings my heart when I think of those blessed babies!
If you have any heart, answer at once. I am not at all well this morning; so weak that I could hardly get up.
Yours sincerely, Alice
Ed wrote back to her immediately.
Can you not understand that as long as Arthur remains in Buffalo, I have no confidence in you? You have done everything to prove you cannot be trusted.
You love him and have no love for me. Have I ever reproached you?
If I were a woman and loved a man as you say you loved him, I should do as you have done. But I should be prepared to accept the consequences without complaint.
Undeterred, Alice responded.
Arthur will be away most of the summer and will probably leave in the fall. He asks if I want him to come here. I told him I would write to you again and he is waiting to hear your decision.
I will return if I may and be as good a wife and mother as it is possible to be. I’ll never voluntarily see or communicate with Arthur. I’m sure he will be too glad to leave in the fall.
You must not be so unkind to the children and keep me away. I’ve made every effort, now I’m sick and this is almost more than I can endure here, all alone.
If I told you my feelings toward you have changed during this separation, you would scoff. Let me come back and see what a good girl I will be.
Most sincerely, Alice
Four days later, her husband’s response arrived.
What is there to look forward to in life for a man whose wife loves another man, with the constant presence of that lover? I love my children, I am willing to sacrifice for them, but I’m not heroic and a future of this kind is not attractive.
Suppose I should find it impossible to love and respect you?
How could you make me happy when you love another man and must think of him constantly? You never tried during the years before you knew him. I loved you long after your indifference ought to have killed that love.
If you really tried, you could even now win back my love and respect, but I cannot stand this strain.
Want to read more? Order your copy of Cold Heart today!
4 thoughts on “Brutally Yours: An Estranged Victorian Couple Trade Letters”
Alice Burdick is not as frail or destitute as she let on. I’ve had the pleasure of reading this tale, and many times, I found myself slackjawed. How could any one person or group of people be so selfish?
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Thank you, Beth! I wonder if Alice was what we now call a sociopath.
I think she must have been a sociopath. She was also very self-centered and truly did possess a cold and uncaring heart. She apparently thought nothing of leaving her mother & children, not to mention hurting her husband. She was an awful person.
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I agree, she was absolutely self-focused!