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Affair Letters

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"If you two must conduct an affair practically under His Glory's nose, will you kindly have the sense in future not to put everything down in writing?"
Jame to Ozymardien's "virgin" bride about her affair with Melissand, Chronicles of the Kencyrath

Alice and Bob are having a Secret Relationship of some sort, and as part of it, they exchange letters. The nature of these letters is romantic, erotic, or both. They are labeled as from one party and to the other, containing both Alice and Bob's names. In old times, the letters were handwritten, though nowadays, emails and texts are more likely.

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Thanks to the Rule of Drama, having written evidence of their affair is going to get messy. This can go down a few different ways.

  • Blackmail: Charlie knows—or at least suspects—that the letters exist, and actively seeks them out to use as blackmail against Alice and Bob.
  • Revenge: Alice and Bob are exes, and Alice threatens to use their letters as blackmail against Bob. In this situation, Alice usually has less to lose from their exposure than Bob—perhaps Bob was cheating on someone while she was single. Alternatively, it may be a Taking You with Me scenario, where Alice is willing to take the backlash from the letters if it means hurting Bob. Alice may be a Woman Scorned.
  • Accidental: Charlie stumbles across the letters by accident. Usually Charlie is not the person Alice and Bob really don't want to know—Charlie tends to be a third, unrelated party of some sort. Now Charlie is the Secret-Keeper, or the Secret Secret-Keeper. Charlie has to decide whether or not to tell someone. If Alice and Bob know Charlie knows, they will beg, bribe, and threaten Charlie not to tell. Charlie will likely find that Keeping Secrets Sucks.
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People may try to Destroy the Evidence, often by burning it.

A common add-on s that these are letters document a long-ago affair that either makes the paternity of a baby conceived around that time questionable, or outright proves that it's not the child of the presumed father.

This trope requires a Secret Relationship of some sort. It may be Queer Romance, Maligned Mixed Marriage, Uptown Girl, or more than one of the above.

Compare Love Letter Lunacy—a different kind of love letter drama—and love letters in general. Also see Affair Hair and Lipstick Mark for other types of evidence of affairs.


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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Familiar of Zero: Narrowly averted Blackmail version. While young, Prince Wales of Albion and Princess Henrietta of Tristain fell in love and she at one point sent him a letter declaring her eternal love. Reconquista wanted to get hold of the letter as its contents would prevent Henrietta's marriage to the Germanian Empire and the military alliance of the two nations. Henrietta predicted this and sent Lousie and Saito to retrieve it first.
  • My Girl: Inverted Trope; it is Youko's unsent letters to Masamune that confirm that she loved him from a distance for the last 5 years of her life.
  • The Vision of Escaflowne: A Paternity example, where Princess Millerna finds letters between her late older sister Marlene and Allen Schezar confirming that her son Prince Chid is actually Allen's and was conceived before she married the Duke of Freid. For worse, Millerna herself has feelings for Allen, making all of this even more awkward.

    Comic Books 
  • A Paternity example: In the Avatar: The Last Airbender – The Search comic, Zuko finds letters from his mother Ursa to her former lover Ikem to that seem to indicate his father wasn't actually Fire Lord Ozai. His father actually is Ozai, but Ursa wrote this specifically to see if her letters were being intercepted—which they were—and even though Ozai knew it was a lie, he decided to treat Zuko like he wasn't his son anyway just to spite Ursa. Zuko destroyed the letter afterwards

     Films - Live-Action 
  • Accidental example: In About Schmidt, retired life actuary Warren Schmidt finds letters written by his co-worker Ray Nichols. Those letters implicate Ray having had an affair with Warren's late wife Helen. Warren furiously goes on a rampage to "correct" this situation by destroying all of Helen's belongings, throwing the letters back at Ray and finally giving him a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
  • Evelyn Prentice: Evelyn wrote letters to Larry which he wants to use against her to blackmail her.
  • In The Great Houdinis, Harry has an affair with Daisy White. A medium obtains some of the letters exchanged and tries to use them against Harry during the congressional hearing.
  • If There Be Thorns: Jory finds a letter Chris wrote to Cathy in the attic. Unique for this trope, it's not who the letter is between that's the issue—it's the mention of Cathy being 13 at the time, when they'd told Jory they didn't meet until they were adults.
  • The basis of the plot of The Last Letter From Your Lover. Jenny and Anthony wrote letters to each other throughout their relationship.
    • While Jenny was amnesiac, her husband Lawrence found the letters chronicling her affair with Anthony and hid them in his study. When she confronts him about it, he lies that Anthony died in the car accident to throw her off.
    • When Jenny tries to take flight with Anthony years later and misses him, she leaves the letters with the London Chronicle, which is where Ellie finds them decades later.
    • In the present day, Ellie and Rory muse on the comparative ease of communicating with a lover now (texts and emojis).

    Literature 
  • And Then There Were None: General MacArthur figured out his wife Leslie was having an affair with his Number Two Arthur when he received the letter she'd sent her lover. He pulled a successful Uriah Gambit on Arthur during WWI, but the guilt caused him to retire early (and Leslie never recovered from her lover's death). This is why Judge Wargrave summoned him and other murderers to the island, since he wanted to kill them all as punishment for deaths that they got away with: he kills the General soon and rather swiftly, via hitting him on the head with a large rock.
  • A Pocket Full of Rye: Adele Fortescue was having an affair with one Vivian Dubois. She kept his letters in her desk, in what the police thought was a rather obvious secret drawer.
  • Ascendance of a Bookworm has a subverted accidental version. Rozemyne assumes that this is what she has found when she stumbles upon a secret correspondence between the deceased man who previously occupied her current job and a woman. It results in her keeping the letters secret from her mentor when she shouldn't, as the woman is actually a cherished relative of the deceased who causes many problems later on, in part because Rozemyne's mentor didn't know they were in contact with each other.
  • Chronicles of the Kencyrath
    • An Accidental version: The famous courtesan Melissand is having an affair with the "virgin" wife of the richest man in the city. They exchanged letters, and they panic when Jame inadvertently steals those letters (which were hidden inside the object she meant to steal).
    • A Blackmail version: In a backstory scene, we see how when she was young, Rawneth got let into Kinzi's room where she dug through her possessions until finding an old love-letter from Kinzi's lover Adiraina. Rawneth tries to blackmail Kinzi with it, though Kinzi shut her down.
  • In Like Water for Chocolate it looks like Gertrudis has a Chocolate Baby from cheating on her Colonel Badass lover Juan, until her sister Tita finds letters that showed their mother Elena had an affair with a mulatto man (a slur for half black and half white people), and that Getrudis was the result of such an affair. She shows Juan the letters and clears up Gertrudis' name.
  • A paternity example in The Nikolai Duology. The queen of Ravka wrote a bunch of love letters to Magnus Opjer with whom she was having an affair despite being married to king Alexander. This later causes some problems for her already rumored to be illegitimate son Nikolai (now the king of Ravka), when the rulers of Fjerda get their hands on the letters and use it to try to get Nikolai removed in favour of a cousin of former king Alexander who is more friendly towards Fjerda.
  • Implied Trope in The Purloined Letter—probably the contents of the eponymous letter that would so embarrass the royal from whom it was stolen. We never get confirmation of the letter's contents, though.
  • Sherlock Holmes
    • A Revenge version is the entire premise of the story "A Scandal in Bohemia"—Irene Adler is (allegedly) threatening to send a letter and photo from their affair to her ex-lover's new in-laws.
    • A Blackmail version: Charles Augustus Milverton specializes in paying large amounts of money to servants in exchange for such letters, then demanding huge amounts of money from the people involved (mostly women) to prevent the incriminating letters being sent to the husbands.
    • Another Blackmail version turns up in "Second Stain" - a spy uses an indiscrete letter once written by a woman now married to a minister to force her to steal important documents for him.
  • In Something New by P. G. Wodehouse, the Honorable Freddie Threepwood, son of the Earl of Emsworth, has just gotten engaged to a rich, beautiful, American heiress, when a friend of his, also engaged, gets sued by another woman for breach of promise because of some old letters. Freddie remembers that he once sent love-letters to a chorus girl, Joan Valentine, and there's a danger she might suddenly pop up and sue him. He sends someone to see if he can buy the letters back, and gets word that the letters have long since been destroyed. So, he relaxes, until his fianceé shows up a few days later with a new maid in tow... Joan Valentine! Quite by coincidence, but Freddie doesn't know that, and assumes he's about to be blackmailed.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Paternity example: In The Black Adder, a Scots lord informs Edmund of love letters between the lord's father and Edmund's mother the queen, detailing an illicit love affair. Edmund tries to use them to prove his elder brother illegitimate, but it turns out that Edmund is the love child instead. He promptly declares them libelous fakes and burns them.
  • Cable Girls: Elisa finds the letter Francisco wrote for Lidia/Alba, it says "I will always love you, Alba". Obviously this is conclusive proof of some kind of affair
  • Charmed (1998): Piper learns about her mother's relationship with her whitelighter Sam when she finds love letters Sam had kept. This happens long after her mother's death, so there really isn't a reason to hide the relationship anymore; it mostly serves to highlight the Generation Xerox, since Piper is now in a relationship with her own whitelighter Leo.
  • In season 1 of Downton Abbey there's a Revenge version: Thomas and the Duke of Crowborough were lovers once, and Thomas—who's a big fan of blackmail—threatens the Duke, saying he'll show their letters. The Duke burns them before Thomas gets a chance, though.
    Duke: You know, my mother's always telling me, never put anything in writing. And now, thanks to you, I never will again.
  • The George Lopez Show: In one episode, George and Angie find old, unopened letters that clue them in that both of them were cheating. Subverted; it turns out that Benny wrote both letters and planted them to screw with their heads.
  • Klem: A handwritten note from Hugo, adressed to Kitty, in which he writes about "our passionate night together a few years ago", ends up in Marius's hands. The latter is furious at finding out his wife had an affair. Turns out the letter was actually written by Judith, note  not by any of the two people who had the affair, so it was an Invoked Trope.
  • In an episode of M*A*S*H, Major Houlihan is very upset after receiving a passionate letter from her husband, Donald Penobscott, that's addressed to a woman named Darline. To add insult to injury, the letter mentions her as "a hard worker" and "sturdy". In the end, she decides to get back at him by sending him back an equally passionate letter addressed to a guy named Hank. The two divorce in a later episode.
  • Rutherford Falls: Reagan finds letters denoting an affair involving Nathan's mother, that seems to prove Nathan illegitimate.
  • Walker: In "Don't Fence Me In," Walker discovers his mother, Abeline, was in a relationship with another man when he finds letters from the boyfriend.

    Video Games 
  • In the Return to Ostagar expansion of Dragon Age: Origins, you can find in King Cailan's camp letters between him and Empress Celene of Orlais revealing that he plans to divorce his wife Anora and marry her. If you have Loghain, Anora's father, in the party when you find this he's incensed by this and calls them, respectively, a "cheating bastard" and "bitch."
  • In the Hitman (2016) mission The World Of Tomotrow 47 can find a love letter to Francesca De Santis from her lover Roberto. Her being an assassination target, 47 can use this knowledge to set up a fake rendezvous with a poisonous surprise.
  • Life Is Strange: Max and Chloe find love letters Rachel wrote to Frank in his RV. Chloe does not take it well, to say the least.

    Webcomics 

    Western Animation 
  • A Paternity example in The Simpsons: In "Homer's Paternity Coot", a frozen mailman is discovered and his letters are finally delivered; one of them is a letter from a Mason Fairbanks, whom Homer's mother Mona cheated with, causing him to doubt if Abe really is his father.

    Real Life 
  • During The American Civil War, Confederate office J.E.B. Stuart once captured a Union officer's trunk and discovered within it "touching letters from a wife, and obscene ones from a mistress" and Stuart proceeded to send all of the letters to the officer's unknowing wife. "They'll be a fuss in that family" commented Stuart's father-in-law Lieutenant Colonel Philip St. George Cooke.
  • Poets are dramatic. Elizabeth Ellet liked Edgar Allan Poe, while he liked Frances Osgood. So jealous Ellet threatened to blackmail Osgood with her flirtatious letters with Poe. She was also sending him letters... which he just sent back—she was an Abhorrent Admirer to him. Ellet turned that into a fair bit of drama.
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