Roy Allis and Anna Barnard were turn-of-the-19th-century lovers of the heart, if not the body.
We suspect the latter, but can never be certain. In the more than 400 letters the couple wrote to each other from 1894 to 1898, until Anna's tragic death at 24, there were hints of an ardent relationship. But in those Victorian times, writers found ways of passionate, poetic expression without being explicit.
Certainly, Allis, of Oronoco, and Barnard, of Rochester, did.
Carol Allis, Roy's granddaughter and the author of a new book, "Dear Anna, A Love Story," said it wasn't only Anna's early death that imbues their story with Shakespearean heartbreak. From Anna's family, Carol Allis learned that Anna's death occurred a week before Anna and Roy were to be married.
Roy would live to age 92, a fascinating, philosopher figure in his own right. The story of their affair would be whispered and hinted at through the generations of Carol Allis' extended family. But it remained largely a secret until the letters were brought out of storage and Carol, a Rochester native who now lives in Minnetonka, began to read them.
PB: Why did you decide to write the book?
Allis: I adored my grandfather. He was the most interesting person I've ever met. He died the year I graduated from college. But he could sit down and quote anything from any book. When I first heard about this woman that he loved before my grandmother, I wanted to know who was this woman he carried a torch for his whole life.
We do very little letter writing today. Do you think the letters reveal something that we've lost?
Absolutely. It's interesting to see how much technology can sometimes damage communication. The real reason that this finally got off to a start. I had all the letters hauled out one day, and my granddaughter, Michaela, came over and started reading them. She loved them. There was something about picking up a letter — a piece of paper in your hand. It's not the same on a screen. It just isn't.
Do you think courtship and romance were different back then?
Absolutely. There's something about the words they used. I can pull out practically any letter. They were truly romantic. I'm convinced that it's something that young people do want, that people do want. Just seeing how young people in our family who have read some of the letters have responded to them.
I've learned more about Victorian literature in this book than I have from any college course, because they were so well-read.
Did you have trouble finding a publisher for your book? Why did you decide to self-publish?
I had to get the story out. It's been with me for so long, and to think that it would just languish again, stuffed away and filed in my office. It was being true to the story and to my grandfather and Anna. I just felt this was hidden for so long that it was important to get out.
How do we know they were lovers? They don't talk about it explicitly, I understand.
There's nothing physical in the letters. It's all completely emotional, from the heart. There's one letter where Anna talks about, "We will write to each other for a thousand years. We will never get tired of each other." It's probably the one I love the most. They are beautiful writers.
Why would people outside of your family be interested in this book?
It's full of history. It's full of the writing of the times, but mostly because it's a love story. There's a lot of need or want these days for love that lasts, love that in this case will last for decades. I think people still look for that.
What: "Dearest Anna: A Valentines program" will involve a
dramatic reading of some of the letters exchanged by Anna and
Roy. Where: History Center of Olmsted County, 1195 W. Circle Drive,
Rochester. When: From 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 8. Cost: The event is a fundraiser for the history center and costs
$15 each. Space is limited so to reserve a seat call
507-282-9447. How to get a copy of the book. The book can be purchased online
from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com and costs $17.95.
What: "Dearest Anna: A Valentines program" will involve a dramatic reading of some of the letters exchanged by Anna and Roy.
Where: History Center of Olmsted County, 1195 W. Circle Drive, Rochester.
When: From 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 8.
Cost: The event is a fundraiser for the history center and costs $15 each. Space is limited so to reserve a seat call 507-282-9447.
How to get a copy of the book. The book can be purchased online from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com and costs $17.95.