New York: Century Co., c1910.
read via Open Library
This charming novel from 1910 is also slightly epistolary - while the story itself is told in regular narrative, letters are included, and letter-writing makes up the plot.
Carl Stanton is a youngish Boston businessman who has recently become engaged to the beautiful, cold Cornelia. She is going to Florida with her mother for the winter season, but Carl can not go along - he is suffering from a lengthy attack of rheumatism and is currently invalided. His is a sentimental nature; he begs Cornelia for long, intimate letters while she is away. She, however, promises only to write on Sundays, more than that would be excessive.
And she keeps that promise. She writes short, impersonal notes and even postcards, while Carl suffers pain, boredom and loneliness in his rooms all alone. She does enclose something in her first letter which she thinks might interest him: a circular from the Serial Letter Co, a company promising to write letters to you from imaginary people, for a fee. Carl signs up for the love letter program, hoping both for some entertainment and to have a model to show Cornelia when she returns.
But, predictably, the charming, fun-loving, flirtatious love letters (and gifts) begin to beguile Carl, and he becomes desperate to know who "Mollie Make-Believe" really is. Without realizing it, he is falling in love with the spirit of these letters. The false note in this novel comes as he is discussing his situation with a doctor friend, and they realize that for all they know, the letter writer could be an old spinster making some money, a man, or even - gasp - a black woman! How terrible that would be. If it were indeed one of these the story could have been much more current and sharper than it is.
But of course, it is really a young and pretty unmarried white girl who has seen Carl at social functions before, and is equally smitten with him. She hides her identity from him even as her feelings grow to match his, though she's unaware of his side of things.
In the end, Carl recovers enough to break things off with Cornelia and go in search of his own Mollie. Unfortunately, the scanned copy at Open Library, which I read, and which is the only one I can find anywhere, is missing the final two page spread.
There is enough at the end to know what happens, but oh my, to lose the conclusion! I'll be searching out a paper copy just to read the last page. It's a period piece, for sure, but a mostly light and entertaining one. The letters from Mollie are charming, there is some humour and pathos involved, and we all know that the right love match is going to win out.
I enjoyed the letter writing concept quite a lot; it sounds like a fine idea to me! Here is a page of Mollie Make Believe's brochure, outlining the kinds of letters on offer - I think it is delightful. If you also enjoy letters and the charm of early 20th century romantic fiction, this is one that's not drowned in purple prose, rather, is readable and amusing.