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

5 Famous Authors’ Drafts

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Although readers are generally interested in a writer’s final product, it can be interesting to see the early process. Drafts can be funny, surprising, and illuminating. For example…

Joseph Conrad’s preface to Victory:

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Conrad had trouble deciding on the right wording to convey his meaning in this preface. He was hesitant about using the word “victory” in relation to World War 1, and he couldn’t decide whether he was worried about “misleading,” “deceiving” or another word I can’t make out (any guesses?) the public.

Sylvia Plath’s outline for The Bell Jar:

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This outline was written two years before The Bell Jar was published. Since no copy of the manuscript draft survives, this outline is the only evidence of Plath’s original intentions for the book. Apparently Plath had planned a “coda” of two extra chapters at the end of the book. There are also smaller changes, such as the character of Joan starting out as Jane.

Marcel Proust’s draft of Remembrance of Things Past:

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Shirley Hazzard’s draft for The Great Fire:

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Both Proust and Hazzard show that, no matter the time period, the first draft is never the final draft. How either could even decipher their edits is a mystery.

Mark Twain’s notebook:

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Twain, pondering the concept of a doctor writing a play, jotted down several potential character names, including Siphillis Briggs, Asphyxia Beedle, and Typhoid Billings.

Would you want to see your favourite author’s early drafts and notes? Share in the comments…

See more:

Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God

David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King

George Orwell’s 1984

Emily Dickinson’s poetry (written on an envelope)

Christina Georgina Rosetti’s poetry

A Peek Inside the Notebooks of Famous Authors, Artists and Visionaries

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.]

It’s Okay to Hate Your Work

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If you’re creative at all, you’re well familiar with the feeling of hating your own work. At some point you’ll be 100% convinced that everything you’ve done is garbage. It’s not fun. It’s also probably not accurate. More importantly, just because you hate your work doesn’t mean anyone else does or will. Need proof? Here are some famous writers who hated their own work…

Anthony Burgess regretted A Clockwork Orange, claiming the misinterpretation of it (partly from the way it was presented in the film) would “pursue me until I die,” and also calling it his “little squib of a book” in his introduction to a later edition.

Stephen King thought his book Carrie was such a waste of time that he threw the manuscript away. His wife fished it out of the trash and encouraged him to keep trying.

Leo Tolstoy ended his life regretting and being ashamed of having written both War and Peace and Anna Karenina. Tolstoy scholar Pavel Basinsky claims it’s the Russian way to renounce everything they’ve done before. It might also be the writer’s way.

Speaking of Russian writers, Vladimir Nabokov got so disgusted with Lolita that at one point as he was working on it, he fed the pages into a fire. His wife, Vera, saved as much as she could and Nabokov ended up completing the novel.

Peter Benchley so regretted the paranoia toward sharks caused by his novel Jaws that he because a shark conservationist. He claimed in an interview that he could never write a book like that again, having learned about what sharks are actually like. Maybe hating your own work isn’t always a bad thing.

How do you cope when you hate your work? Share in the comments…

To find out more about these and other writers and the books they’ve written and hated, check out LitHub and Goodreads.

[This was originally posted 5 March 2018.]

10 Stunning Writers’ Homes

I love old houses (old buildings in general, actually). While I can appreciate the practical benefits of a new house, they leave me, well, bored. Old houses have style. They have personality. They have soul. Throw in a resident writer and you’ve got a house worth living in (or at least visiting). Here are 10 writers’ houses that are worth checking out…

WH Thomas Hardy

Higher Bockhampton, Dorset, England: The cottage where Thomas Hardy was born. I love the thatched roof and garden.

WH Agatha Christie

Galmpton, Devon, England: Greenway Estate, home to Agatha Christie, was designated a World Heritage Site in 2004. Christie set several of her novels in the area.

WH Eugene Oneill

Danville, California, USA: Eugene O’Neill wrote The Iceman Cometh and Long Day’s Journey Into Night at Tao House.

WH Virginia Woolf

Rodmell, East Sussex, England: Not only is Monk’s House where Virginia Woolf worked on Mrs. Dalloway, it was also where she hosted the Bloomsbury Group.

WH Emily Dickinson

Amherst, Massachusetts, USA: With a house like this, I can understand why Emily Dickinson was a recluse. The poet didn’t spend her entire life at the Homestead, but she was born here, and after moving back as a young woman spent the rest of her life here.

WH Alphonse Daudet

Draveil (former village of Champrosay), France: Can I just go ahead and move into Alphonse Daudet’s home, located a few kilometres south of Paris? Daudet finished Letters from My Windmill here, and also held famous weekly gatherings of the luminaries of the French arts scene (Zola, Proust & Rodin were among the regulars).

WH George Sand

Nohant, Indre, France: More gorgeous French style at George Sand’s home. Sand wrote many of her books here, as well as hosting artists, musicians, and writers (Frédéric Chopin lived, and composed, here for several years). The house has been classified as a National Historic Monument of France.

WH Mark Twain

Hartford, Connecticut, USA: Mark Twain wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in this house’s billiards room, which also doubled as his study.

WH Edith Wharton

Lenox, Massachusetts, USA: Edith Wharton’s grand home, The Mount, was where she wrote most of her novels, and where she presumably implemented the advice from her first book (co-authored with Ogden Codman), The Decoration of Houses. 

WH Louisa May Alcott

Concord, Massachusetts, USA: Orchard House, where Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women.

What’s your favourite writer’s home? Share in the comments…

Further Reading:

Orchard House

The Mount

The Mark Twain House and Museum

George Sand House

Alphonse Daudet House

Emily Dickinson Museum

Monk’s House

Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site

Thomas Hardy Cottage

Architectural Digest

KQED Arts

New England Historical Society

Air France

Boston Globe