Skip to main content

Love letters reveal tyrants' hearts bleed, too

By Ashley Fantz, CNN
February 14, 2012 -- Updated 2238 GMT (0638 HKT)
Former Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin wrote in one letter to his wife Nadya, while she was away from him seeking treatment for headaches in Germany, "I miss you so much Tatochka. ...I'm as lonely as a horned owl." Former Soviet tyrant Joseph Stalin wrote in one letter to his wife Nadya, while she was away from him seeking treatment for headaches in Germany, "I miss you so much Tatochka. ...I'm as lonely as a horned owl."
HIDE CAPTION
Joseph Stalin
Benito Mussolini
Napoleon Bonaparte
Adolf Hitler
<<
<
1
2
3
4
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Stalin to his wife: "I miss you. ... I'm as lonely as a horned owl"
  • Mussolini to his beloved: "Will you say, once again, that you alone love me?"
  • Hitler was less flowery about Eva Braun, called her "calm, intelligent"

(CNN) -- Stalin was to the point. Napoleon went on and on. Hitler did it as if he were writing an employee's job review.

"Evil may walk among us, but that doesn't mean evil never wrote a love letter," said John Kirkland, an author who has plundered the depths of cheesy writing throughout history by revered, infamous and just plain awful people. His book "Love Letters of Great Men" is mostly filled with leaders acting honorably. But it also features several who had an affection for tyranny.

"I found that almost all powerful people are very passionate, and that naturally can make them over the top in their personal lives," Kirkland said.

"Another truth I learned," the author said, "is that it's never a good idea to hook up with a dictator."

Nadya Stalin's family sheltered Joseph Stalin after one of his escapes from Siberian exile during 1911, and the two reconnected later when she worked as a clerk in Vladimir Lenin's office. Their romance began when she was a teenager. When they married in 1919, he was 41. They had a boy, Vasily, and a girl, Svetlana.

It's unclear exactly what the brown-eyed young woman saw in the stout and swarthy older man. Perhaps she developed an attachment to him when she was a child, or maybe it was because she too was a diehard Bolshevik. Like Stalin, she had an unpredictable temper and exceptionally bold political ambitions, especially for a woman of her time, rising up eventually through party ranks to pull her own weight. While historians describe her as conservative in dress and manner -- at least publicly -- Stalin wore his heart on his sleeve for his wife.

In June 1930, Stalin was busy revamping the Soviet Union's economy, which led to millions of people being deported and exiled and a catastrophic famine. His plans would later lead to the slaughter of millions.

He wrote to his wife, using his pet name for her, while she was away having her headaches treated in Germany.

"I miss you so much Tatochka. ... I'm as lonely as a horned owl."

The dictator didn't discuss his job in letters to his wife, Kirkland said.

"I'm not going out of town on business," Stalin wrote. "I'm just finishing up my work and then I'm going to go out of town to the children tomorrow ... so goodbye, don't be too long, come home sooner! My kisses! Your Joseph."

She replied to him by writing, "I am kissing you passionately."

While Stalin's letters were lengthy in the beginning of their courtship, he sometimes wrote the equivalent of a refrigerator Post-It to his wife.

"I forgot to send the money, but I've now sent it (120 roubles) with colleagues leaving today," he wrote. "Kiss you, Joseph."

Their correspondence flew back and forth quickly, carried by secret police couriers, writes historian Simon Sebag Montifiore, author of "Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar."

Nadya and Stalin were an explosive match, both quick to anger and not afraid to snap at each other at dinner parties. They had epic fights.

In 1926, she took the kids to Leningrad and he begged her to come back, so she did.

"Both were selfish, cold with fiery tempers, though she had none of his cruelty and duplicity," Montifiore wrote.

The two fought one night at a party. She ended up dead by dawn of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Russian officials told the public she died of illness. Some people believe Stalin killed her.

Loving Benito Mussolini ended similarly for Ida Dalser, a beautician who some sources say was his first wife. The Italian tyrant ordered her and their son, Benito Jr., institutionalized.

But in the beginning, it was all kisses and sweetness. He called her "my little friend" and signed a letter "your wild friend and lover."

"My little Ida," he wrote, "I have just arrived after twelve endless hours on a train that left me completely covered in soot. I washed it off as best as I could and my first thought, even before going to dinner, is you. Are you pleased? Will you say, once again, that you alone love me, while I don't love you? I love you too, my dear Ida, even though I haven't been able to prove it to you."

Another letter: "How happy I would have been to have you with me, today, while the train was racing along under a cloudless sky, through a countryside displaying all of autumn's melancholic seduction, towards this beautiful Rome which appeared before me just as the sunset was setting ablaze the horizon of the seven hills of the Eternal City."

"When they met, he was pretty much a nobody, enlisting and heading off to World War I," said Kirkland. "After the war, his career takes off. He has his minions declare her insane, locks her and her son up and she dies."

Josephine de Beauharnais was much more in control of her relationship with Napoleon Bonaparte, a notoriously temperamental military commander. Kirkland said that the French emperor seemed to perform better in battle when Josephine returned his smothering affection.

"She wore the pants," the author said. "He was completely in love and obsessed with her."

Shortly after they were married, Napoleon left to command the French army near Italy. Much of his correspondence to Josephine bordered on begging, particularly in April 1796. He wanted her to join him closer to battle so they could have a honeymoon.

"I have your letters of the 16th and 21st. There are many days when you don't write. What do you do, then? No, my darling, I am not jealous, but sometimes worried. Come soon; I warn you, if you delay, you will find me ill. Fatigue and your absence are too much."

"Your letters are the joy of my days, and my days of happiness are not many," he writes, saying that he's racked with "hopeless sorrow, inconsolable misery, sadness without end."

"But you are coming, aren't you? You are going to be here beside me, in my arms, on my breast, on my mouth? Take wing and come, come! A kiss on your heart, and one much lower down, much lower!"

Napoleon appears to have written multiple letters on the same day, like a guy who leaves a half dozen increasingly desperate voice mails back to back.

"I am going to bed with my heart full of your adorable image. ... I cannot wait to give you proofs of my ardent love," he writes in November 1796. "... How happy I would be if I could assist you at your undressing, the little firm white breast, the adorable face, the hair tied up in a scarf a la creole. You know that I will never forget the little visits, you know, the little black forest. ... I kiss it a thousand times and wait impatiently for the moment I will be in it. To live within Josephine is to live in the Elysian fields. Kisses on your mouth, your eyes, your breast, everywhere, everywhere."

Most of Napoleon's letters were flowery, as were those of the many other leaders in Kirkland's book.

"Almost everyone was descriptive and seemed to put a lot of care into what they wrote," he said. "Except Hitler."

Eva Braun met Adolf Hitler in Munich when she was a teenager. By every standard, Braun had a terrible experience. She tried to kill herself twice during their relationship. She was married to the Fuhrer for only 40 hours before she bit a capsule of cyanide in his bunker and they both died there in April 1945.

There are no surviving letters between the two. But there are accounts, Kirkland said, of what Hitler said about Braun to his inner circle.

Braun had a "calm, intelligent and objective way of being," Hitler remarked.

"There's a coldness, like he's evaluating her," said Kirkland. "He controlled everything."

Perhaps the only control Napoleon had over Josephine was that he gave her that name. Her real name was Rose. And Rose lost interest in her French fighter not long after they married.

During the First Italian Campaign, according to a PBS documentary, rumors reached Napoleon that Josephine was cheating on him.

When he returned to her home in Milan, she wasn't there. Historians believe she might have taken off with her lover. Napoleon waited for nine days for her to come back and wrote, "I don't love you anymore; on the contrary, I detest you. You are a vile, mean, beastly slut."

No couples therapy could help them. Napoleon grew resentful and took a lover -- and kept taking them -- while Josephine came back to him and tried to persuade him to stay with her. But his ego was trampled and he divorced her, claiming that that was best for France. Napoleon married a 19-year-old who bore him a son.

In 1814, a coalition of enemies invaded France. Napoleon went off to war, lost and was exiled.

He learned that the love of his life had died of a cold by reading about it in a newspaper. Napoleon locked himself in a room for two days.

For the rest of his life he wore a locket around his neck containing tiny violets he gathered in Josephine's garden.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT