Love letters are attracting increasing scholarly attention, especially from historians of scribal culture and historians of emotions. This article brings these two strands together to explore the unpublished love letters of four Italian women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Their letters, spanning a period from the 1840s up to the First World War, provide insights into the genre, and into women's lives and emotions in this period. Three of them were from the bourgeoisie or piccola borghesia and one, in slightly contrasting mode, was a peasant. Women of the middle class lived a secluded life, and writing was essential to express themselves, to construct an identity and to become visible. Their love letters were anything but private: they were continually supervised and scrutinised by their families, so that their letters inevitably had a public quality and were sometimes multi-authored. Single young women needed to subvert social rules in order to establish their independence and claim private space for their love correspondence.