Dear Juliet: 'A Network of Compassion'
Lily Frost - Writer
William Shakespeare wrote a tale full of twists and turns in the making of Romeo and Juliet. It is a story of two people who found true love amongst their feuding families. Whilst the ending saw the fatalities of both lovers, the story of the star crossed lovers is everlasting. For many people, the figure of Juliet is far more than a fictitious character, but in fact a real life love guru, who can offer you a chance at love. However, in order to get this chance you may require assistance from Club di Giulietta.
Juliet’s tomb is located in Via Luigi da Porto in Verona, which many claim to be a must-see attraction. In the 1930’s one of the groundsmen of the tomb noticed that letters were being left, all addressed to Juliet herself. These were letters of love from people who needed Juliet’s help, whether that be in matters of love, loss or heartbreak. Moved by the raw emotion that these letters were filled with, the groundsman Ettore Solimani decided to respond to these letters and signed them as Juiet’s secretary. During the 1970’s, Giulio Tamassia with other literary scholars decided to collate these letters and store them in a central archive, which began what we now know as The Juliet Club. Since then thousands of people every year send letters to Juliet, which her secretaries respond to. Amongst the many who have sent letters, there is Martin Hopley, a man who at the time requested the help of Juliet. Whilst in lockdown, Martin very kindly agreed to tell me his story of how his own life has been intertwined with the Juliet Club and how he became England’s first very own official secretary of Juliet.
Martin was born with a brain tumour situated in his pineal gland. This gland is located on the back portion of the third cerebral ventricle of the brain. This led to eighteen brain operations and radiotherapy. He discussed with me that as a result of this he struggles remembering elements of his past. “Every time a memory from my childhood comes back I just try and hold on to it as tightly as possible because they’re so precious”. However, on one occasion a thought or memory sprung into his head: if you write to Juliet, Juliet will write back to you. Intrigued by this thought, Martin searched online for this concept and found the popular Hollywood film Letters to Juliet, which touches on aspects of The Juliet Club. After some digging and finding the club on Facebook he decided to tentatively write a letter. Soon after taking pen to paper, he realised that he was pouring his heart and soul into the letter and telling Juliet things he had never told anyone. Martin explained to me that as a result of his brain tumour being of the Pineal Gland, which can have an effect on a person’s mood and emotions, that for ten years he didn't believe that he could fall in love. For those ten years he said, ‘that’s how I lived’. Later, when he realised that he could fall in love he told Juliet: “I have had one miracle. Can you please bring me another one”.
Six months later he got a letter through his door and Juliet had responded to him. Within the confines of that envelope, was a message that changed his life. A single sentence which he shared with me, that he would never forget was, “Martin, you are meant to be alive”. After revealing his experiences with his brain tumour, Juliet’s words did more than just lift his spirits but actively changed the direction of his life. To show his thanks to The Juliet Club he began sending them gifts in the form of Bourbons and Jammy Dodgers: “That is something that I really have to say…the people at The Juliet Club love English biscuits”. From there he connected with Elena Marchi, a senior secretary of Juliet. In 2016, the club began to receive more letters seeking advice about dealing with serious illness and loss. It was at this time that Elena reached out to Martin and asked whether he would be able to answer these letters to help out. I saw the pride in his eyes as he said “I jumped at the chance” and then as Martin smiled he said, “Things from there just sort of snowballed”. A year of being sent roughly seven letters a week to respond to, Martin was given the recognition for all of his hard work. In 2017, Martin was approached by the Chilean National Newspaper to speak as England’s first ever Secretary of Juliet. When speaking to Giovanna about this opportunity she offered him the position of an official secretary of Juliet, and the first ever official secretary from Britain.
When speaking to Martin, I asked what advice he would give to someone reading this who may be interested in writing their own letter to Juliet. Firstly he stated that when considering writing to Juliet, you have to be open and honest because, “if you lie to Juliet, you’re basically lying to yourself”. It is very easy to feel as if you can’t open up your heart and write your deepest thoughts and then cast them out into the “big bad world”. Martin described feeling physically sick as he stood at the post box to send his letter. This is a feeling that we can all resonate with, whether that is in the form of sending a lengthy text expressing your feelings or an emotional rant to a loved one. However, as Martin experienced, writing to Juliet can be so much more than just a cathartic release for yourself, she can offer comfort that someone has listened to you and give you hope for the future. In the most straightforward terms Martin stated, “our only salvation is to have faith that Juliet is going to treat you like a decent human being”, to which he added, “and I can pretty much guarantee that she will”. He also spoke about the importance of giving Juliet as many details as possible when explaining the situation you are writing about, for that way, “she has all the information which she can draw upon and then give you the best possible answer”. I was also reassured that when writing to Juliet, there will be no judgement, in his words, “Juliet is not religious, she has no issues with sex gender, race [or] anything like that”. So if you'd like to put pen to paper or type out a letter and write ‘Dear Juliet’, you can be assured that Juliet is not biased, and there will be no judgement.
I noticed that Martin referred to Juliet, as almost a transcendent figure. In response to this I asked: ‘Do you think that for you Juliet represents more than just this epitome of love and romance, is it deeper than that?’. Martin responded by saying that to him the figure of Juliet is the perfect human being, however, “I am by no means perfect at all”. He explained that when he writes as Juliet he tries to summon up that fraction of perfection within himself so that he can write as Juliet would. Notably, he believes that everyone who is a part of The Juliet Club, official or not, has this fraction of perfection within them. Therefore, he explained: “it's that culmination of people bringing all of these fractions of perfection together that make up what we believe to be Juliet”. This to me is far more inspiring than just a figure of romance and love but that Juliet’s spirit is actually a patchwork made up by every person who writes for her. This also means that anyone can write as Juliet, as Martin phrased fantastically, “That tiny fraction is within all of us”.
In 2020, immersed in the technological era, this extraordinary epistolary tradition which has over 50,000 letters sent a year struck a chord within my romantic side. I began researching the club, believing that The Juliet Club was solely about giving solace to those who were struggling in love and heartbreak. However, since having this wonderful conversation with Martin, I have realised that in fact The Juliet Club offers so much more. For Martin, it gave him the hope that he had been looking for, and in many ways reassurance that his life has meaning. For many others, The Juliet Club offers a space to express your fears surrounding mortality, illness and death, or in other cases it can be a place where children can feel comfortable discussing their own sexuality, when their own parents don’t accept them for who they are. The Juliet Club is not the dolled up agony aunt that I once believed it to be, it is as Martin describes it, “a network of compassion”. To me, for a network such as this one to not only exist in today's world but thrive, shows me how there is hope for a more compassionate future.
If you, like I, am inspired by this story you can write to Juliet yourself, all you have to do is address the envelope: Juliet, Club di Giulietta, Vicolo Santa Cecilia, 9, 37121 Verona VR, Italy. Alternatively, if you want to put even more faith in humanity, you can just write on the envelope ‘Juliet, Verona, Italy’. If you would prefer to write an email, please write to email@example.com
I would like to express my thanks to Martin Hopley, it was a pleasure. If you would like to read the full interview where we discuss The Juliet Club in the modern world and advice Martin gives for those looking to write for Juliet, please click here.