The Juliet Club: ‘There was just something really lovely about the idea of reading people’s love stories’

The first ‘Juliet’s secretary’ is believed to have been Ettore Solimani, known as ‘the guardian of Juliet’s tomb’

The letters come from India, Brazil, the United States, Ireland, Australia and many other countries across the globe. Addressed to Juliet, the fictional protagonist of William Shakespeare’s 16th-century play, they have made their way to this small office in Verona, Italy, where a team of volunteers from the Philippines, UK, Poland and Italy are gathered around a table.

Giovanna Tamassia, who carries a wallet bearing the slogan “love is blind”, tells the assembled group: “We are very free in our replies, so answer like a friend.” However, they should keep in mind that Juliet was “young, brave, passionate. She fought against everything for her love”.

Each year, thousands of letters make their way here, she says. The writers seek advice, share stories or request blessings. Letters arrive by normal post or are left by the building featuring “Juliet’s balcony” on the Via Capello, where tourists gather to touch one of the breasts on a statue of the character, said to bring luck. From there, the letters are taken to the Juliet Club office – so small it has no toilet – and separated according to language.

Many receive no reply. “Maybe in the future, if we will have more help from the city, with some money we could always do more,” Tamassia says.


The first “Juliet’s secretary” is believed to have been Ettore Solimani, known as “the guardian of Juliet’s tomb”, an empty sarcophagus in the underground crypt of the church of San Francesco al Corso. In the 1930s Solimani spotted letters left in the crypt and responded to them himself.

A version of the Juliet Club was set up as a cultural organisation in 1972, when Tamassia’s father Giulio Tamassia gathered friends to “organise events, concerts, exhibitions in the city of Verona”. Seeing his passion, the mayor of Verona asked Giulio to begin answering the letters to Juliet, because no one else was doing so, Tamassia says. “My father said yes because he had always been in love with the character of Juliet and the story of Shakespeare.”

At first, it was a hobby he enjoyed doing with “helpers, the first Juliet secretaries”. Tamassia studied languages at the University of Verona and would assist in translating English and German. While in her early 30s – nearly two decades ago – she started managing the club herself. Today, she greets volunteers, goes to the post office and liaises with local authorities – who cover postage costs.

The Juliet Club also organises the Premio Cara Giulietta, a competition for the most beautiful letters, which was won by Irish student Jessica Lynch in 2013.

As well as the letters left by “Juliet’s balcony”, some are posted directly to the Juliet Club. Even letters posted to “Juliet, Verona” will get to the club. There was a notable new rush of letters after the release of the 2010 film Letters to Juliet, starring US actor Amanda Seyfried.

Many international volunteers now sign up through Airbnb to be a Juliet “secretary for a day” for €25. “This way to get donations is a good way to keep this tradition and keep the office open,” Tamassia says. “Of course there are also people who come without paying, for example there are many people who stay in Verona for a while ... or people who can’t pay of course.”

She likes running the club but says it needs more young people from the area to get involved. “Maybe the main problem is that I’m getting old,” Tamassia adds. “In this moment it is not a paid job, it is not a real job, it was born as a hobby and maybe in the future we will have to look for a way to get money.”

The volunteers each decide themselves which letters to read and which to reply to on headed paper. All volunteers on this particular day are women, apart from one man, who says his partner brought him along.

Among them is Monika Morgan, a 33-year-old communications consultant and writer from Poland who lives in the UK. She responded to nine letters in the roughly two hours she was there.

“I love reading and writing ... There was just something really lovely about the idea of reading people’s love stories,” she says. “I’m a bit nosy by nature. So I thought it would be really cool to read what people have to say to Juliet.”

She was surprised by how much people shared. “A lot of very sad personal stories ... and a lot of things that I could really draw on my own experience [in order] to reply”.

Among the letters was one from a grieving widow, who sent photographs of her late husband. An Irish woman lamented marrying the wrong man. “How will I know that someone is ‘my person’?” wrote a Romanian. A Brazilian woman described trying, unsuccessfully, to forget someone for five years. An American teenager confessed he loves a girl with “all my lying, crooked, corrupt heart”.

“I can’t help but think there is more. More adventure, more passion, more romance. I am in a committed relationship with my partner but I want more. But I’m scared that if I ask for it I will lose it all,” said a woman in Australia.

“Reply to our letter, and share with us your advice for a love that conquers all, in life as in death,” wrote an Austrian couple.

“All the world writes to Juliet,” says Tamassia with pride. The most common languages are English, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian, but there are also letters in Polish, Hungarian, Czech, Vietnamese, Japanese, Russian ... She trails off.

There are of course some stories that are complicated: long-distance relationships, betrayals, separations, people who want to be together but there are some problems

—  Giovanna Tamassia

“Letters arrive from teenagers, from adults, from old people. Their problems are different but more or less the same all around the world.” Teenagers are shy, afraid to be rejected or not sure what love is. “They are not used to being in relationships so they have lots of questions. Maybe it looks like the problems are apparently easy but they are not, so sometimes it is not easy to give the right reply of course, you have to be careful and give hope for the future.”

Adults’ letters are often from those who have not found love yet, or they have lost it and are afraid they will never find it again, Tamassia says.

“There are of course some stories that are complicated: long-distance relationships, betrayals, separations, people who want to be together but there are some problems. Of course we also receive letters [from people] talking about happiness. They are not so common of course because those who are happy do not write but there are many people who are happy in a relationship and they want to share [their story].”

Tamassia says it seems strange that letters continue to arrive at all, given the many other means of modern communication. But maybe they comebecause “there is this need to tell your story”.

The problems cited in the letters have been more or less the same throughout the years, even if the way people meet has changed. “We often receive stories of people who met on the internet or on some app, or maybe [have] more long-distance relationships. I noticed that in the past maybe we received more often letters which told [us] about families who were against a relationship due to religion or social conflicts, in the latest times it is less common, maybe it is a good sign.”

The archives – stacked up against the walls – show that, even in the 1990s, letters arrived from as far afield as Shanghai and Istanbul. Some were from students, asking questions such as whether Juliet and Romeo practised safe sex, or giving Juliet advice not to play dead as Friar Lawrence told her to. In 1992, a Turkish woman asked for advice on maintaining a relationship with her boyfriend, a Christian foreigner, given the differences between their families.

“Reading stories makes you learn a lot,” says Tamassia. “We help people [by] answering their letters, trying to give advice but we also receive a lot back. Maybe we learn that love is the most important thing in human life and this is a good thing to know everywhere, love can be painful, can hurt, but it is always worth [it].”

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden

Sally Hayden, a contributor to The Irish Times, reports on Africa