If there was ever any doubt that John F Kennedy, the slain American President, was a hopeless romantic, if not an out-and-out rake with a foggy grasp of the commitments of marriage, a newly revealed collection of love letters written in his own hand to a straw-haired Swedish siren will surely put it to rest.
True, the then young senator from Massachusetts first met the woman in question, Gunilla von Post, before his marriage to Jacqueline Lee Bouvier – but only one month before. It was the summer of 1953 and the pair – he 36 and she just 21 – were both on holiday on the French Riviera. They danced all night and parted with a moonlit kiss.
Most about-to-be-married men might consider such a night as a last fling of bachelorhood with no prospects for continuation, particularly if they are in public life with aspirations one day to lead their country. But Mr Kennedy did not think like most men. So he was to begin corresponding with Ms von Post, mostly in the hope of organising a clandestine reunion, a dream that was at first thwarted but finally resulted in a week-long assignation in Sweden.
The details of the affair were made public by Ms von Post herself in a book and an interview with ABC News in the US in 1997. But only now are the 11 letters written by Mr Kennedy, many filled with swooning language (and showing a blithe disregard for the most rudimentary rules of English punctuation), coming to light. More than that, they are up for sale on an online auction site based in Chicago.
"Do you remember our dinner and evening together this summer at Antibes and Cagnes," Mr Kennedy asks in the first of the letters, sent in March 1954, five months after his marriage to Jackie and six months after meeting Ms von Post. "How are you? – and what are you now doing in Paris, you said you were going to work for an airline. Do you – and do you fly to the United States. I expect to return to France in September. Will you be there?"
Attempts by JFK to arrange a secret rendezvous in the summer of 1954 came to naught after his hospitalisation in New York for a back operation which he very nearly did not survive. But the couple did finally meet in a Swedish castle away from the prying eyes of the American voter (and Jackie) in August 1955. "I borrowed him for a week, a beautiful week that no one can take away from me," Ms von Post was to tell ABC decades later.
Bidding for the letters began on Monday with an opening price of $25,000 (£15,800). By yesterday morning, however, four bids were registered on the auction site, with the last standing already at $32,500. The sale will close in two weeks.
More breathless than the former president's missives is the blurb about them on the auction website. "He pursued her despite the daily demands of public service and newly-wed nesting, and even despite a near-death experience on the operating table," it says. "No obstacle was too great to bar the soon-to-be King Arthur from courting his beguiling Lady of the Lake." The letters, the auction house says, are surely worthy of the finest of Kennedy collections.
JFK attempts flattery – "under that beautiful, controlled face that still haunts me – beats a warm heart" – to keep Ms von Post on the hook, as well as humour, calling her once his "SWEDISH GORILLA" (presumably referring not to her physique but her first name).
In the last letter dated August 1955, Kennedy admits that his wife and sister were arriving and adds ruefully. "It will all be complicated, the way I feel now-my Swedish flicka [little girl]".
'My Swedish flicka': Extracts from letters
* I shall be coming to Europe at the end of August... Might it be possible to meet – I thought I might get a boat and sail around the Mediterranean, with you as crew. What do you think? June 1954
* If you should decide to go to Italy, let me know as I do not want to be freezing in Scotland while you are warm in Capri. If you want to go to Italy – I will need someone to point out the right roads – so I will borrow you. July 1955
* I just got word today – that my wife and sister are coming here. It will all be complicated the way I feel now – my Swedish flicka. All I have done is sit in the sun and look at the ocean and think of [you], Gunilla. August 1955