This Valentine’s Day, we asked our website writers to contribute the real-life love stories of those who write literature. Whether it’s a tale of happily ever after or heartbreaking rejection, read on to discover some of the romantic adventures of the authors we still read today.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, Scotty Villhard
In the novel The Great Gatsby, Jay Gatsby falls in love with a woman, Daisy, and wishes to marry her. He was in the army when they met, a penniless soldier, while she was a woman of high society. He set off to make enough money that he might be worthy of her hand, eventually entering the world of the wealthy and purchasing a mansion across the lake from hers, where he could watch the green light at the end of her dock every evening.
The novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, who wrote The Great Gastby, entered the army as a poor man. While dispatched, he met a young woman, Zelda Sayre, with whom he fell hopelessly in love. But he was penniless, and she was a woman of high society, the daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court Justice. While they courted each other for a few years, being engaged for a time, he felt himself unworthy of her because he lacked wealth and broke off the engagement while setting off to become a rich man. Only after the publication of his first novel, This Side of Paradise, did he consider himself worthy of Zelda, and they married a week later.
Virginia Woolf & Vita-Sackville West, Megan Snopik
Though both married to men, Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West’s incredibly intimate and romantic relationship in the 1920’s changed the scripts of female love and desire for years to come. In a time where (male) homosexuality was illegal in Europe, their love for each other abounded. As both women had troubled relationships with men due to sexual violence, the comfort and community they found in each other apart from male dictated society and literature changed the course of their careers. Woolf’s acclaimed novel, Orlando, is said to have been inspired by their relationship and Sackville-West published her own work at the Woolf’s publishing house, Hoggarth Press. Sackville-West’s son would go on to chronicle their relationship in Portrait of a Marriage (1973). In their now published letters, Vita wrote, “I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia…It is incredible how essential to me you have become” showing just how deep their sexual and intellectual relationship ran. They even had nicknames for each other “Potto” (for Virginia) and “Donkey West” (for Vita) with which they would begin their correspondence.
Hans Christian Andersen, Stephanie Pickrell
Known today as the creator of cherished children’s stories such as The Emperor’s New Clothes and The Princess and the Pea, Hans Christian Andersen had a wildly passionate (and unsuccessful) love life. He saw himself as a bit of an ugly duckling, but that did not stop him from becoming impressively infatuated with various men and women throughout his life. Unfortunately for him, the targets of his infatuations were for the most part married, uninterested, or just plain confused by Andersen’s love. Among them were the opera singer Jenny Lind, also known as the “Swedish Nightingale,” the future Duke of Weimar Carl Alexander, and Edvard Collin, the son of Andersen’s artistic benefactor. None of these relationships, as far as we know, were requited (with the possible exception of the Duke of Weimar), but Andersen poured his passion into his stories as well as his love letters. Today, some cite The Little Mermaid as queer allegory, and his story The Nightingale inspired Jenny Lind’s international nickname. Not all of Andersen’s love was in vain, however, for his stories continue to bring joy and love to the world.
Philip Roth, Abdallah Hussein
Philip Roth, an acclaimed author, and the actress Claire Bloom were long-standing companions whose relationship seemingly culminated in their 1990 marriage. However, they separated in 1994 and divorced a year later. Was it an amicable divorce? Events years after would suggest otherwise; in 1996, Bloom published a memoir detailing all her marriages and affairs, and it was particularly stirring when she described her relationship with Philip Roth as very flawed and unflattering. Roth fired back in 1998 with a novel whose female protagonist seemed to depict Bloom as a manipulative and promiscuous wife. Leading up to Roth’s death in 2018, it seemed those harsh feelings between the two former lovers never diminished one bit.
Radclyffe Hall, Skylar Epstein
Radclyffe Hall was a romance writer who lived from the years 1880 through 1943. She wrote tragically beautiful and beautifully daring romances. Hall’s audacious work drew from her own experiences, as she boldly claimed that she was never once attracted to men—a radical statement for a woman coming of age in the 1900’s. Her most notorious novel, The Well of Loneliness, starred a lesbian woman named Stephen, and was banned from publication in both the United Kingdom and the United States. But although Hall’s career as a writer was tumultuous and stymied by censorship, she didn’t face the perils of 19th century publishing alone. Mabel Batten, Hall’s first love, was the first to champion Hall’s poetry. After Batten’s husband died in 1910 and the two moved in together, Hall dedicated her fourth poetry anthology to her. Depending on your beliefs in the spiritual, you could say that Batten and Hall had a love that outlived death. After Batten died in 1916, Hall began attending seances with her newest paramour, Una Troubridge. Hall believed that Batten’s gave her and Troubridge advice from beyond the grave. Even though Troubridge was Hall’s lover during her life, Batten was Hall’s companion in death.