We’ve all heard, and told, our share of dating horror stories. Even for those who’ve found “the one,” maintaining relationships can be a struggle. If you’re feeling down about your latest bad date or marital spat, nothing can cheer you up quite like hearing about someone else’s disasters in love. And no one seems to have it quite as bad as those with the misfortune to fall for a writer. In Writers Between the Covers, authors Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon dish on the scandalous, appalling, and heart-wrenching love lives of some of the world’s most famous writers. Compared with the experiences of these spurned, used, and jilted lovers, your latest dating misfortune probably doesn’t seem so rotten.
No one can ignore you the way a writer can
Sure, your significant other might opt for a Saturday afternoon glued to a football game you have no interest in watching, or attend a book club meeting to which you aren’t invited, but no hobby takes as much time and energy as crafting that literary masterpiece. Writers are notoriously solitary when it comes to their work, and according to McKenna Schmidt and Rendon, their lovers often paid the price. Marilyn Monroe was married to the celebrated playwright Arthur Miller for four years, and often felt neglected by him. “Every morning he goes into that goddamn study of his, and I don’t see him for hours and hours…and here I am, just sitting around; I haven’t a goddamn thing to do.”
Monroe perhaps required more attention than the average person, and could be forgiven for not knowing what to expect from her literary lover. Franz Kafka’s girlfriend should have known better, though. The German writer admitted to her (in a love letter, no less!) that he “thought that the best mode of life for me would be to sit in the innermost room of a spacious locked cellar with my writing things and a lamp.” Not surprisingly, this long-distance relationship lasted five years without going anywhere before Kafka finally acknowledged that he wasn’t cut out for marriage.
At least you don’t have to read about their former flames
Is there anything worse than seeing pictures of your current flame’s former loves on Facebook? How about having to read about them? Though Thomas Hardy was unhappy in first marriage, he still wrote tributes to his first wife while married to his second. Leo Tolstoy insisted that his chaste, 18-year-old fiancée read his journals of his bachelor days—tales of womanizing, drinking, gambling, and an illegitimate child.
F. Scott Fitzgerald did them one better, though, when he based the character of Rosemary Hoyt in Tender is the Night on the seventeen-year-old actress, Lois Moran, with whom he was infatuated. While it’s unclear whether Fitzgerald had just a crush or an actual affair, his description of the character’s body “hover[ing] delicately on the last edge of childhood—she was almost eighteen, nearly complete, but the dew was still on her,” certainly couldn’t have been a pleasurable read for his wife, Zelda.
Writers, of course, haven’t cornered the market on infidelity, but the stories described in Covers are almost too outrageous to be believed. Is it the ego that comes with literary genius that compelled Wilkie Collins to set up two households, one with a lover who pretended to be his housekeeper and another with the mother of his three children, who lived across town under an assumed name? Would anyone but a writer claim, as Norman Mailer did, that eight years of infidelity was all just research for his novel on the double lives of CIA agents?
Taking infidelity to a whole new level, author of erotica Anaïs Nin wed her second husband while she was still legally married to the first. She maintained both relationships, enjoying the security provided by her first husband in New York, and the great sex with her second in Los Angeles. She eventually admitted the bigamy to her second husband; the marriage was annulled but they maintained the relationship. Her first husband did not find out until after her death.
If you are married to a writer, take heart
It’s not all tragedy and heartbreak. If you’re married to or otherwise involved with a writer, you might find yourself to be the basis of a famous character, as Virginia Wolff’s lover, Vita Sackville-West, did. Or, your entire love story might be immortalized, as happened for Gertrude Stein and her longtime partner Alice, after the publication of Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.
And don’t forget the love letters! No one can bear open a heart onto the page quite like a writer. Emily Dickinson wrote to her crush (who also happened to be her sister-in-law), “My heart is full of you, none other than you in my thoughts, yet when I seek to say to you something not for world, words fail me. If you were here—and Oh that you were, my Susie, we need not talk at all, our eyes would whisper for us, and your hand fast in mine, we would not ask for language.” And Keats wrote to his fiancée, Fanny: “I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days—three days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain.” It doesn’t get much more poetic than that.
For even more scandalous stories and inspiring love poetry, check out the book, and let us know: which writer’s love life most closely resembles your own?