Tactfully edited by Noel Olivier's granddaughter, these passionate, vivid, and poignant letters between the young poet sentimentalized after his death in WW I and the schoolgirl who became Britain's first female pediatrician re-create the commonplaces of romantic love in the fragile, doomed world of English country literati during the early 1900's. The letters—134 of the surviving 170—begin in the spring of 1909, when Brooke, son of a Rugby schoolmaster, was studying at Cambridge, and Olivier, daughter of a colonial governor of Jamaica, was attending the liberal Bedales school. From the badinage of the early letters—the self-conscious wit, the negotiations of where, how, and with whom they should meet—the correspondents progress to issues of character and feeling and then, suddenly, to Brooke's declaration of love. Olivier—reserved, inexperienced, more concerned with sports than sweethearts—is frightened by his intensity even as Brooke is convinced that they are destined for each other. Idealistic but nonpolitical, intelligent but not intellectual, the letters depict young people concerned with their pleasures—traveling, attending the theater and concerts, visiting- -and review the emotional turmoil of their friends, as well as the camping trips they shared with James Strachey, John Maynard Keynes, Leonard Woolf—who were to become the Bloomsbury group. Their meetings leave Brooke ecstatic, Olivier confused. They experiment with being apart, with being with others; vacillate between feeling ``high-souled'' and ``scuffling, dirtied, hurt''; and share their dreams: He conquered the world with a steamroller, and she had a virgin birth. They part, reluctantly—Brooke to join the war but dying, like Byron, of an infection in Greece before battle, and Olivier to attend medical school, marry a doctor, and bear five children. The original sonnets, the wistful photos (32 pages b&w), the editorial notes and narratives included here are useful and illuminating; but, as emotional and psychological history, the letters stand on their own—powerful, authentic, universal.
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