5 Bittersweet Real-Life Love Stories

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Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

It’s Valentine’s Day, the romantic holiday with pagan roots. Although love may be grand, it’s not all sunshine and roses (sometimes it’s rejection and hard time). Here are 5 love stories from history that are equal parts romance and tragedy…

Cleopatra and Marc Antony

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Cleopatra greeting Antony, A.M. Faulkner

She was Queen of Egypt, he was co-ruler of the Roman Empire. He envisioned himself as  Dionysus, Greek God of wine (and drama), and she captured his heart by presenting herself as Aphrodite, Goddess of love. Their relationship was based on passion and ambition, and it reached mythic proportions. Their twins were named Alexander Helios (the Sun) and Cleopatra Selene (the Moon). Circumstances kept them apart much of the time, and Antony was even forced to marry his rival Octavian’s sister, but Antony and Cleopatra met when they could and celebrated triumphs (and failures) together. Unfortunately, their actions led to war, invasion, and ultimately, defeat. Anthony fell on his sword in an honourable suicide. Cleopatra, knowing she would be paraded through the streets of Rome in humiliation, arranged to have an asp (an Egyptian symbol of divine royalty) smuggled to her. With a bite from the snake she committed what is possibly the world’s most famous suicide, while at the same time attaining immortality for her and her love.

Héloïse and Abélard

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Abélard and his pupil Héloïse by Edmund Leighton

In 12th century Paris, an intelligent, inquisitive young woman named Héloïse was introduced to Abélard, a philosopher and teacher enlisted by Héloïse’s uncle to tutor her. Their intellectual bond soon deepened into love. Héloïse became pregnant, and to avoid a scandal they secretly married after she had the baby (a son named Astrolabe, which goes to show that geeks have always existed). Unfortunately, scandal found them anyway (mostly thanks to her infuriated uncle). Héloïse was sent to a convent, while Abélard was viciously attacked and forcibly castrated. He went on to become a monk, and she a nun. Although they never saw each other again, they did resume a correspondence, and their letters stand as testament to their feelings. After they died, their bones were moved so that they could finally be together (there’s a dispute as to whether they’re buried at The Oratory of the Paraclete, or in their famous tomb in Père Lachaise Cemetery).

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas

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Lord Alfred, or ‘Bosie,’ as he was known, was Wilde’s love and muse at a time when LGBTQ rights were not only nonexistent, homosexuality was illegal. Their relationship was tempestuous, and marked by arguments, separations, and reunions (the latter, thanks mostly to a forgiving Wilde). Bosie’s father (the Marquess of Queensberry), angry about the relationship, denounced Wilde publicly. When Wilde’s libel suit against the Marquess failed, he was arrested and ultimately sentenced to two years of hard labour for “gross indecency.” Wilde and Bosie were reunited after Wilde was released, but it should be no surprise that their friends and families forced them apart. Then again, Bosie was a selfish and reckless person, and it’s debatable how much he really returned Wilde’s feelings. Interestingly, the phrase “the love that dare not speak its name” was coined by Bosie, not Wilde, as most people believe. Maybe a better love story was the one between Wilde and Robert Ross, who was possibly his first male lover and also a lifelong friend. Ross was with Wilde at his deathbed, and later commissioned Wilde’s tomb at Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Ross asked the artist to include a small compartment in the tomb for his own ashes, which were transferred there in 1950.

Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley

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Robert Dudley and Queen Elizabeth I

Sometimes genuinely loving someone isn’t enough. Elizabeth and Dudley’s story is a complex one, further complicated by rumours that have persisted through centuries. Dudley earned Elizabeth’s love early in her life, when he stood by her at a time when she was in trouble and it would have been easy to abandon her. Although Dudley wanted to marry her for many years, she could never allow it. As Queen, Elizabeth was averse to marriage, not least because marrying would have transferred her power as monarch to her husband, while she would have been relegated to quietly producing heirs. But even if she had wanted to marry, she couldn’t have married Dudley. There was no strategic political advantage to marrying him, he was generally unpopular, and he was a commoner (whatever position he had in society was directly thanks to her). He was also already married. After his wife died under mysterious circumstances, he was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing, but belief persisted among many that he’d had her killed. Eventually, Dudley accepted that Elizabeth would never marry him, but since he wanted heirs he went on to (secretly) marry twice more, for which Elizabeth never entirely forgave him. Still, he was her clear favourite and she gave him titles, prestige, and power; in turn, he gave her companionship, support, and devotion. They shared an emotional bond that even most married couples at that time could only dream of.

Dante and Beatrice

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Salutation of Beatrice 2 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Dante Alighieri and Beatrice Portinari’s story is one of unrequited love. Dante claimed he fell in love when he met Beatrice at the age of 9 (she was 8). Despite his intense feelings for Beatrice, Dante married Gemma Donati when he was around 20, while Beatrice married Simone de Bardi when she was 21. She died three years later. Although they barely knew each other and met only a handful of times, Beatrice would be Dante’s idealized love and muse for the rest of his life. She was his inspiration for Vita Nuova, and his guide to heaven in his Divine Comedy. Despite the lack of any real relationship between the two, the love Dante had for Beatrice has sparked imaginations to this day. There are paintings of the pair and poems written about them, references in books and on TV, and even an asteroid named after Beatrice.

Some of these stories may be more bitter than sweet, but perhaps that’s why they continue to inspire. Love isn’t love without a touch of the tragic. Or as the immortal Shakespeare put it, the course of true love never did run smooth.

What do you think? Do you have a favourite historical couple? Share in the comments. And happy Valentine’s day ❤

Read More:

Cleopatra and Marc Antony

Héloise and Abélard

Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas

The Life of Elizabeth I

Dante and Beatrice

When Publishers Pass You By

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When I was much younger and just beginning to realize that I wanted a future as a writer, I had starry-eyed notions of a major publisher recognizing my talent and jumping to offer me a contract (with a generous advance, of course). Yeah, not so much. Instead I have a pile of rejection letters, mostly of the form variety, some with encouraging words about how my writing is good (just not quite right for them). I had to learn the hard way that being a good writer isn’t enough to get published. In fact, sometimes you don’t even have to be able to write at all as long as you have a big enough name to guarantee sales. Depressing doesn’t even begin to cover it.

A recent article in the Washington Post shares how Madeleine L’Engle and other well-known writers have suffered rejection over their careers. So how to deal with it when it happens to you?

Like L’Engle, stick to your vision. Don’t compromise your work to suit the industry’s sometimes narrow definitions of salable. Your readers are out there, even if your book is genre defying and a little odd (something readers are a lot more open to than publishers).

Like J.K. Rowling, keep persisting. Just because 12 publishers reject your book doesn’t mean 13 won’t be your lucky number. [Edited to add: Also like J.K., if you’re a woman, you might want to submit under initials or a gender neutral name instead of an obviously feminine name–especially if you don’t write romance or “women’s fiction.” Sexism in publishing is real, and I wish I’d realized that years ago.]

Like Beatrix Potter, do it yourself. Self publishing has been around a long time and is only getting bigger. When traditional publishers have let you down (or you don’t even want to bother with them in the first place), don’t be afraid to go the indie route (which is what I did with my dark fantasy novel, Love Lies Bleeding–and what I will also be doing with the new novel I’m working on).

Whatever you do, don’t let rejections get to you. They are common, they are inevitable, and they don’t reflect the quality of your work or you as a person. Just remember: a good story will find a way.

How do you deal with professional rejection? Share in the comments.

[This was originally posted on 13 March 2018. Re-posted with minor edits.]

Interview with Rita Lee Chapman

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I’m pleased to post my first author interview, with mystery author Rita Lee Chapman (http://ritaleechapman.com). Welcome, Rita!

Thank you, Aspasia, for inviting me to your blog. It is lovely to have this opportunity
to talk to your readers.

Thanks for being here. Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about yourself?

I have lived most of my life in Australia, but I was born in London and migrated to
Australia in my early twenties. Before I retired I had started writing but never finished a novel. Of course in those days it was written on a typewriter so it required much more planning in terms of the storyline and also the formatting. It is so easy now with computers to turn paragraphs around or even to move whole chapters. I find the editing and formatting much harder and more time-consuming than the writing.

Editing is a chore for me, as well (I think many authors would agree). When did you write your first book?

It wasn’t until I retired and moved from Sydney to Queensland that I finished my first book, Missing in Egypt. This became Book 1 in the Anna Davies Mystery Series, followed by Missing at Sea and Missing in London. In between I wrote Dangerous Associations, a crime mystery, and Winston – A Horse’s Tale, one for horse lovers from teenagers upwards.

You’ve accomplished a lot since you retired. What do you do when you’re not writing?

I play tennis, walk on our lovely beaches or around the river or lakes, and swim. My husband and I are lucky to have a great circle of friends through our tennis club and spend many hours socialising, taking it in turns to cook for each other. We also enjoy travelling around Europe and this year drove around the South of France exploring the Loire Valley, the Dordogne, La Rochelle, Nice, Marseille and most places in between! Horses are still my passion, although I no longer ride.

Wow–can you take me on your next vacation? Where can readers find your books?

Missing_in_Egypt_Cover

Missing in Egypt
Book 1 in the Anna Davies Mystery Series

Amazon
Large Print
Smashwords

Missing At Sea Cover

Missing at Sea
Book #2 in the Anna Davies Mystery Series

Amazon
Large Print
Smashwords

Missing_in_London_Cover_

Missing in London
Book #3 in the Anna Davies Mystery Series

Smashwords
Amazon
Large Print

 

Dangerous Associations:

Amazon
Smashwords
Large Print

 

Cheers, Rita, for being part of my blog and giving my readers a chance to get to know you! Find out more about Rita and her books here.

IWD: Women in Writing

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A recent article in Bustle shares research from a new study showing female representation in fiction was better in the Victorian era than now. My instant reaction was disbelief, but as I thought about it, it’s not really that surprising. Based on my own (highly unscientific) experiences and observations, I’ve noticed that:

  • Publishing jobs tend to be low paying, are overwhelmingly held by women–and the women still almost always get paid less than the men in equivalent positions (more here).
  • Female writers tend to be taken less seriously than men, and their careers suffer for it. Don’t believe me? See here, here, or here, for just a few examples.
  • The genres in which women predominate are looked down on (this article discusses genre prejudice in general, but check the #1 and #2 most hated genres listed).
  • All difficulties are magnified for queer, trans, and POC women writers. For example, they’re largely excluded in genres dominated by straight white women.
  • Only women and girls seem to face mass derision for their reading preferences. Perhaps you yourself have encountered the hate for Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey. Yes, neither of these are literary masterpieces, but the last time I checked, not every book enjoyed by or written by men is pure gold either. Yet I can’t think of a time when men have been criticized on a mass scale for their fandom of a particular book.
  • The women writing about this topic are probably less likely to be believed and listened to than this man writing about the same topic.

On this International Women’s Day, I hope everyone will spare some time to think about the difficulties–past and present–faced by women everywhere, and more importantly, to do something about it.

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