Contest #237 winner 🏆

Love.edu: Courtship and Coincidence in Modern Academia

Submitted into Contest #237 in response to: Write a story about two people falling in love via email.... view prompt

59 comments

Romance Contemporary Happy

Thursday, Jan 18 2:12 PM

To: eliserhodes@elliott.edu

From: fredericklaird@greerstate.edu

SUBJECT: Your (Brilliant) Paper on Mirrors/Jane Eyre


Dear Professor Rhodes,


I hope this email finds you well. I must confess that, although we have never met, I am a longtime admirer of your work—I was actually at your talk on Charlotte Brontë and Elizabeth Gaskell last year, which I greatly enjoyed.


I write to you today to express my sincerest compliments on your paper The Beast Within: Mirrors and the Internalized Male Gaze in Jane Eyre. I know better than anyone how difficult it is to find something new to say about such a beloved piece of literature, but you managed it exquisitely here. You have me rethinking a book I thought I knew better than anyone else living.


I’m currently teaching an upper level seminar on feminism in gothic literature, and I had my students read your paper in conjunction with good old Jane, so I thought it was only right that I reach out and let you know how much fruitful discussion it has engendered. And—seeing as you’re clearly an expert on the subject—would you happen to have any suggestions for my little seminar? It’s my first time teaching the course, so any guidance would be much appreciated.


Warmest Regards,


Frederick Laird

Associate Professor of English Language Arts, Greer State University


***

Thursday, Jan 18, 2:47 PM

To: fredericklaird@greerstate.edu

From: eliserhodes@elliott.edu

RE: Your (Brilliant) Paper on Mirrors/Jane Eyre


Dear Professor Laird,


First, my heartfelt thanks for your kind email. I’m sure you know as well as I that toiling away in the humanities often feels like shouting into a void. These papers that fill our waking hours are no small things, and yet we send them out into the ether, to be read by ten people if we’re lucky. So your generous compliments have made my week, and I would be delighted to help a fellow Jane enthusiast in any way I can.


Would you believe me if I said I’ve long been a fan of yours, too? I actually just referred a particularly enterprising student to your (thrilling and evocative!) paper I Eat Men like Air: Du Maurier’s Rebecca as a Plathian Heroine earlier this week. One of life’s funny coincidences. If you choose to believe in those, that is—a la Mary Shelley, I do not.


Anyways, on to your seminar. It sounds fascinating! I wish my college would release me from English 101 and Writing for Accountants purgatory and let me teach courses like that. If you’re teaching Jane, then I assume you’re also doing Rebecca, especially considering your own research. Might I recommend a recent Bluebeard retelling, one that’s more on the nose—Anna Biller’s divisive but worthy Bluebeard’s Castle? It might be a welcome reprieve from all those buttoned-up Brits if you’re up for it!


Finally, a question (or two!) for you, which you need not answer if they offend you. Do you find it strange to teach a feminist literature seminar as a man? Do you think your gender gives you a unique perspective, or do you find it a hindrance?


Please let me know if I can provide any further assistance; I so rarely get to discuss such interesting fare!


Yours in Scholarship,


Elise Rhodes

Assistant Professor of English Literature, Elliott College


***

Thursday, Jan 18, 6:58 PM

To: eliserhodes@elliott.edu

From: fredericklaird@greerstate.edu

RE: RE: Your Brilliant Paper on Mirrors/Jane Eyre 


Professor Rhodes,


Many thanks for your quick, thoughtful response. And I’m so flattered that you enjoyed my paper—I agree that validation is sadly rare in our chosen profession, and your kind words mean the world to me. 


I was unfamiliar with the book you suggested, but I’ve just acquired a copy/done a cursory read and it looks to be a perfect fit for the class. Certainly controversial, but I think my students will enjoy a spirited debate. There is a dearth of modern gothic literature, and I’m so grateful to you for your excellent recommendation.


To answer your questions, which did not offend me in the least: yes, I do find it to be a little strange. I’m the only professor in my department with this particular expertise, but I still wonder if I’m right for the class. However, while I would never go so far as to say that a man could have a better perspective on feminism than a woman, I am not much hindered. The books do the work themselves, really.


Thank you again, and I will keep you apprised of how the seminar goes, if that’s agreeable to you.


Regards,


Frederick Laird


P.S.: You truly don’t believe in coincidence? Mary Shelley notwithstanding, I believe you’re in the literary minority on that. I leave you with Tolstoy: “All this is only the coincidence of conditions under which every organic, elemental event of life is accomplished.”


***

Friday, Jan 19, 7:16 AM

To: fredericklaird@greerstate.edu

From: eliserhodes@elliott.edu

RE: RE: RE: Your Brilliant Paper on Mirrors/Jane Eyre


Professor Laird,


To be honest, I’m relieved you didn’t try to claim some unique male perspective on feminist literature—it would have disappointed me to end such an interesting conversation. 


I don’t know if I should be flattered or concerned that you took my recommendation so quickly. Looks like I’m not alone in having no personal life to speak of!


And, as I’ve said, you need not thank me. Please, keep me posted!


Best,


Elise (if we are to continue these emails, I must insist on first names!)


P.S.: It almost seems like cheating to punctuate your point with Tolstoy—the man was so wordy that he has a pull-quote for just about anything! I leave you with Albert Einstein, who I would argue knew more about so-called coincidence than any author: “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”


***

Friday, Jan 19, 7:19 AM

To: fredericklaird@greerstate.edu

From: eliserhodes@elliott.edu

RE: RE: RE: RE: Your Brilliant Paper on Mirrors/Jane Eyre


Professor Laird,


I'm sorry if I offended you with my joke about your personal life. It was unprofessional, and I can only blame the early hour.


Apologies again!


Elise


***

Friday, Jan 19, 11:00 AM

To: eliserhodes@elliott.edu

From: fredericklaird@greerstate.edu

SUBJECT: Fred’s Lack of a Personal Life


Elise,


No apologies needed. Your joke was both appropriate and spot-on. I—like you?—am “married to the job,” which is especially pathetic considering how low my salary is even after twelve years. And here I’d been told academia was where the money was.


Anyways, I had a thought about my seminar. What about Northanger Abbey? A gothic satire could be a fun addition, and I’d love to include Jane Austen. Even if this was admittedly far from her best.


Let me know what you think.


Fred


P.S.: I hope you don’t mind that I started a new chain. Scrolling through the old one was exacerbating my eyestrain.


P.P.S.: I’m out of quotes, so agree to disagree on coincidence.


P.P.P.S: Do you have anything interesting going on? This conversation is feeling far too me-centric.

***

Friday, Jan 19, 3:02 PM

To: fredericklaird@greerstate.edu

From: eliserhodes@elliott.edu

RE: Fred’s Lack of a Personal Life


Fred,


That’s a relief! And, yes, I suppose I’m in the same sort of marriage (though mine is only eleven-years strong)—if only it weren’t so one-sided. I think my department forgets I exist half the time.


I think Northanger is a wonderful idea! You said you needed guidance, but your instincts are faultless as far as I can tell. I love the Brontës, but I agree that a light satire to break through all that gloom would be welcome. Though you’re right that it’s far from Jane’s best—that would have to be Persuasion for me, Pride and Prejudice be damned.


Enjoy the weekend!


Elise


P.S.: “Interesting” and “me” don’t often overlap. Unless you consider grading a mountain of Freshman essays (most of which will inevitably be written by ChatGPT) to be interesting? I am driving up to my sister’s this weekend, though. And I promised I’d leave my laptop at home for once, so I’ll probably be out of reach until Monday.

***

Friday, Jan 19, 4:58 PM

To: eliserhodes@elliott.edu

From: fredericklaird@greerstate.edu

RE: RE: Fred’s Lack of a Personal Life


Elise,


I’m sorry, and very surprised, to hear about your professional dissatisfaction. If someone of your caliber feels forgotten, I can only assume that your department is woefully mismanaged.


And I should have guessed you would be the one to agree with me on Persuasion. My colleagues have accused me of being contrarian just for the sake of it, but I’ve always found it to be Jane’s most romantic work. There’s a pervasive melancholy to it that reflects a total departure from something like Emma, and I (perhaps selfishly) love the idea that more realistic characters who are past their youthful prime can still find perfect happiness. That it was Jane’s final novel makes me mourn her early demise all the more—who knows where she would have gone next?


I hope you have a safe trip and a relaxing weekend.


Fred


P.S.: It seems coincidence is not the only thing we disagree on. From our limited correspondence, I can already tell that a Venn Diagram of “Elise” and “interesting” would be a circle.

***

Saturday, Jan 20, 11:19 PM

To: fredericklaird@greerstate.edu

From: eliserhodes@elliott.edu

SUBJECT: Elise after a bottle of wine


Fred,


Ok i couldn’t figure out how to reply on the old thread. I guess I lied about being out of touch all weekend. My sister basically forced a bottle of wine down my throat then wetn to sleep. Is 2 days of emails enough for me to be telling you this?? Going with yes


You’re so nice to say all that. I think I kind of needed to hear it actually. Its been a while since i’ve felt seen by anyone and somehow you;ve done it over email. And yes yes yes about persuasion!!!! Wentworth’s letter at the end is the most romantic thing i’ve ever read. Half agony, half hope!! And i think about what jane would have done next every day. You get it


Do you agree that emails are kind of like letters??


Elies


PS: My sister looked you up on facebook and we know everything you;ve done since 2008. I can’t believe you were in marching band?? You should probably private that before your students find it.  


PPS: i think you’re interesting too


(Sent from my Phone)

***

Sunday, Jan 21, 8:01 AM

To: eliserhodes@elliott.edu

From: fredericklaird@greerstate.edu

RE: Elise after a bottle of wine


Elies,


I’m glad you’re having fun with your sister, even if she did liquor you up then leave you to fend for yourself. And I’d say 2 days of emails is plenty. It’s not like I have anything better to do on a Sunday morning, considering my well-established lack of a personal life. Which you apparently know far too much about now—I think I’ll skip private-ing and just delete my Facebook entirely. I shudder to think of someone (else) important finding evidence of my frosted tips phase. 


It hardly seems fair that I don’t know anything embarrassing about you, although I’m sure you’d argue that your last email suffices. We’ll call it even for now; I suspect your embarrassment when you wake up will be even worse than the hangover (not that I think it should be, to be clear.)


Yes, of course Wentworth’s letter is the best part. I agree that emails are a sort of modern equivalent to letters, and I think that the well-known ease of texting makes choosing to send emails all the more romantic. 


I hope you don’t feel too bad when you wake up.


Fred


P.S.: I won’t lie and say it’s pleasant, but I recommend a shot of pickle juice for the hangover. Believe it or not, the marching band drank as much as any fraternity.

***

Sunday, Jan 21, 8:16 AM

To: eliserhodes@elliott.edu

From: fredericklaird@greerstate.edu

RE: RE: Elise after a bottle of wine


Elise,


I just realized that I used the word “romantic” without clarifying which of its multiple definitions I intended. I meant “romantic” in the sense of an idealized, aestheticized view of the past, nothing more. I hope you didn’t think I misunderstood the tone of your last email, and I apologize for any offense.

***

Sunday, Jan 21, 8:21 AM

To: eliserhodes@elliott.edu

From: fredericklaird@greerstate.edu

SUBJECT: Fred and Elise’s Fresh Start


Elise,


I fear that my correction has created a much bigger problem, and I ask that we strike it from the proverbial record. I leave my original response up to your interpretation, and you may read into every word whichever definition is most amenable to you. It also felt appropriate to start a new thread, for both of our sakes. Though I reiterate that you have no reason to feel embarrassed—that (dis)honor is all mine, I’m afraid.


Have a safe trip home.


Fred

***

Tuesday, Jan 23, 6:46 PM

To: fredericklaird@greerstate.edu

From: eliserhodes@elliott.edu

RE: Fred and Elise’s Fresh Start


Fred,


I’m sorry for being MIA. I hope you didn’t think I was offended by anything you said! It was just my own embarrassment, and I didn’t see any of your responses until now (and now that I have, you have nothing at all to be embarrassed about?). Honestly, I’ve been avoiding my email since I woke up on Sunday. Which has been especially difficult because this is my work email! I needn’t have worried, though. Of course you would be so nice about it. Still, I promise that’s the last drunk email you’ll be receiving from me—I’m swearing off alcohol for the foreseeable future!


Anyways, yes, I like the idea that there’s something romantic about emailing over texting. Actually, emails are almost a perfect marriage of the past with the present—we acknowledge that technology has facilitated ease of communication without completely doing away with the formalities and idiosyncrasies that gave letters character. 


While it might be easier for us to exchange numbers if we plan to keep this conversation up, I suggest we don’t, at least for now.


How’s your week going? Any updates on the seminar?


Elise


P.S.: Thank you for giving me interpretation rights on “romantic;” that was very generous of you. I’ve always been of the camp that you should assume the most popular definition unless the author indicates otherwise. And if the author indicates otherwise, but immediately "strikes that from the record", then I guess that puts us back at the most popular definition of "romantic." Which is perfectly fine by me. Unless you’d like to issue another correction?


P.P.S: Call me crazy, but I didn’t think the frosted tips looked that bad.

***

Wednesday, Jan 24, 8:27 AM

To: eliserhodes@elliott.edu

From: fredericklaird@greerstate.edu

SUBJECT: Fred’s Proposition


Elise,


I admit I’m relieved that the late response had nothing to do with me. And I love your idea about emails bridging the gap between the past and the present. That actually sounds like an interesting paper, if you’re looking to try something new. And, yes, let’s keep the emails going.


Speaking of my seminar, I just had a thought: would you be interested in coming in to do a guest lecture? Funnily enough, we’re actually talking about letters in a few weeks. Nothing so romantic as Wentworth’s letter to Anne, sadly—we’ll mainly be discussing marriage as an instrument to subjugate women through Isabella’s letter from Ch. 13 of Wuthering Heights. A bit dark for right before Valentine’s Day, I’m aware. Still, I know you’ve written on this issue before, and we would love to get your expert perspective.


The class is Wednesday, February 13 from 5:00 to 7:00 P.M. I know you have your own classes, and that we’re about an hour’s drive from you, but please let me know if you’re interested.


To quote a more eloquent Frederick than I: I am half agony, half hope as I await your reply.


Fred


P.S.: No corrections here.


P.P.S.: If you are able to come, does “swearing off alcohol” mean I can’t persuade you to have a drink with me after class?

***

Wednesday, Jan 24, 12:18 PM

To: fredericklaird@greerstate.edu

From: eliserhodes@elliott.edu

RE: Fred’s Proposition


Fred,


I would be thrilled to do a guest lecture, especially on such an interesting topic!! I only teach in the morning on Wednesdays, so that should work. We can figure out logistics closer to the date, but I’m excited about this! And of course it will be nice to finally meet in person.


Elise


P.S.: I see how you could read “swearing off alcohol” that way but I, the author, am indicating otherwise ;)

***

***

Wednesday, Feb 13, 4:42 PM

To: fredericklaird@greerstate.edu

From: eliserhodes@elliott.edu

SUBJECT: Elise arrived (?)


I think I’m outside the English building? Suddenly this “not exchanging phone numbers” thing is feeling very silly!!


(Sent from my Phone)

***

Thursday, Feb 14, 2:12 AM

To: eliserhodes@elliott.edu

From: fredericklaird@greerstate.edu

SUBJECT: Fred coming around to Elise’s view on coincidences


Elise,


If ever I did a good deed in my life…I am rewarded now. Or whatever it was Jane E. said.


Fred


P.S.: I mentioned how brilliant you were today, right?


P.P.S.: This may be my last letter for a while. I’ve found something much more interesting to occupy my time.


(Sent from my Phone)

February 14, 2024 02:27

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

59 comments

Cynthia Hansford
04:58 Feb 22, 2024

This story is a charming portrayal of intellectual camaraderie and friendship. Through dialogue and relatable characters, it explores themes of validation, loneliness, and the search for connection in academia. With its engaging and thoughtful exploration of literary passion, it resonated with me as reader and a teacher, albeit elementary and not collegiate, who appreciates meaningful conversation and the power of human connection.

Reply

Eliza Levin
01:32 Feb 23, 2024

Thanks for the thoughtful comment!!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Lyss V.
08:22 Feb 24, 2024

You deserve the win! I really mindblown by how you effectively create the scene and story without even a single world of narration and just relying solely on emails. And what fascinates me more in your writing is the way you portrays the character personality. No much description needed and we could almost imagine the sparkling chemistry between two intellectual individuals.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Mary Bendickson
01:36 Feb 18, 2024

Literary fools fall in love. Congrats on the win!🎉

Reply

Eliza Levin
19:20 Feb 23, 2024

Thank you!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Marty B
22:52 Feb 23, 2024

Fantastic take on the prompt! Of course two Jane Eyre and Bronte academics would be the perfect pair to romanticize an email chain. I liked how they kept starting new email threads!! Congrats and well deserved win!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Shiloh Avery
20:17 Mar 11, 2024

This is so fantastic. I couldn't wait long enough to respond in order to craft a more thoughtful comment because I'm smiling so much. You just made me get to know these characters and cheer them on even though I haven't read all the works they cited. But we all understand nerding out on something and you made us feel that connection of two people finding a very unique common interest. Thanks for sharing this with us!

Reply

Show 0 replies
David Pampu
00:45 Mar 04, 2024

Oh my God. What a great piece you've written, Eliza. A well deserved win. I can feel the two characters slowly drawing closer together like magnets with each email. So much happening, so romantic! "Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” I love this Einstein quote. How appropriate. You've made me want to read gothic literature now!

Reply

Show 0 replies
15:49 Mar 01, 2024

I think I appreciated the formality and references to great works of Fred and Elise's emails more because I have not worked in academia. I also enjoyed watching the formality dissolve as they found more in common. I could feel their need for connection through their words and post scripts (nice touch). I envisioned the other checking emails and feeling disappointed when there was a gap in responses. And then feeling relieved when the next email arrived. Nice work.

Reply

Show 0 replies
08:47 Mar 01, 2024

It is just amazing😘, no other descriptions is needed

Reply

Show 0 replies
Hajar Alias
01:03 Mar 01, 2024

Congrats

Reply

Show 0 replies
Rebecca Detti
14:15 Feb 27, 2024

Beautiful Eliza! I really enjoyed the development of their relationship and the drunken email part did make me laugh. Who hasn’t sent a drunken email?

Reply

Show 0 replies
Jubilee Forbess
21:03 Feb 23, 2024

Great read! So fun and smart. I love the ending and am rooting for these two. Lovely pacing and the cautious tone both of them keep is really entertaining. Congrats on the win!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Anne Shaw
20:02 Feb 23, 2024

What a lovely, well-crafted story. The inclusion of details from literature but also the drunk email created humor and character. A well-deserved win!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Diana Jo Filip
13:58 Mar 30, 2024

Amazing email exchange! I enjoyed it to the last line: from the pure literary topics to the most mundane life hacks, just to "explode" in a striking short discard.

Reply

Show 0 replies
04:13 Mar 19, 2024

I keep coming back to read this story ,every few days. One of the best pieces I have read in a while. I really hope this is turned into a episode on one the social media sites for others to enjoy (crediting the writer of course and due royalties etc.)

Reply

Show 0 replies
McKade Kerr
13:34 Mar 15, 2024

Wow, what a great story, and it's written so well. I couldn't stop thinking it after reading it, I felt like I knew the characters. I'm very impressed and inspired!

Reply

Show 0 replies
12:56 Mar 14, 2024

New here, but fancied a read. This is so well thought out and crafted. It's as if it were literally unfolding in front of me. A touch of fine if somewhat clumsy romance beneath the academic genius that runs through. Very clever... loved stopping by. Congratulations on your deserved win.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Stevie Burges
08:56 Mar 14, 2024

What a charming delightful story. It flowed so easily. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Hannah Floyd
11:06 Mar 12, 2024

I'm in 100% agreement on Persuasion, the value of letters (email at a push), and with the 117 other people who liked this story! I'm convinced this is a real thing that has happened, not a fiction at all. Well done!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Karen McDermott
22:01 Mar 11, 2024

Delightful. I found myself absolutely rooting for these two (and pining for my days at university studying Gothic Literature. Of which I may have to rediscover some of the classics soon). 🦇📚

Reply

Show 0 replies
Caleb Cave
20:06 Mar 06, 2024

This was an amazing short! They sounded just like my professors, very intellectual. Even though the both of them were embarrassed on multiple occasions they still kept their professional stature. A lot of romantic shorts I've read regarding people with similar jobs dropped their professionalism after the first two paragraphs just to get to the mushy stuff. I love how these characters slowly find out more about each other with each Email. The way you talked about how letters are similar to Emails was a fantastic way to tie together the roman...

Reply

Show 0 replies

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.