The Love Lives of Authors

Love is dangerous—best to leave it to the experts.

Spend your Valentine’s Day living vicariously through these writers and their passionate love lives. Because let’s face it, you’d rather be draped in chocolate wrappers than a volatile amour, right? Just me?

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Lord Byron

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The 6th Baron Byron was a Romantic with a capital ‘R,’ but that doesn’t mean he was particularly gentlemanly. His first partner in scandal, Lady Caroline Lamb, described him aptly when she professed he was “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” Indeed, she was just one of many public conquests that rocked British society, several of which produced children. Only one of these was legitimate, the Honorable Augusta Ada Byron, also known as the co-creator of the first computer, Ada Lovelace. Others, save for a daughter he had with Mary Shelley’s sister, were never proven or recognized by Byron. In essence, he was a cad with a weakness for women, or so we can assume from his poem “Don Juan.” I mean, not even his own half-sister was off-limits to him.

But still some come to his defense. Poet Katha Pollitt excused Byron’s bad boy behavior with an interesting take on his contribution to feminism: “Byron’s great insight, in an era where women were expected to be placid and insipid (not that they were!), was to see that women were much like men: They wanted sex and went after it eagerly, if secretly.”

William Butler Yeats

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It’s never too late to find love, or in Yeats’ case lust. The Irish poet was already in his fifties when he proposed to and married twenty-five year-old Georgie Hyde-Lees. It only took until their honeymoon for him to regret this decision, though they stayed married for the duration of his life and shared two children. Obviously a pragmatic and forgiving woman, Georgie wrote to her husband, “When you are dead, people will talk about your love affairs, but I shall say nothing, for I will remember how proud you were.”

Well, she was right: we’re still talking about his love life almost as much as his poetry, mostly because of the Lolita-esque nature of Yeats’ infidelities. At the age of sixty-nine Yeats underwent the “Steinach operation,” a procedure created to renew vigor in older men by increasing hormone production. It seemed to do the trick; for the last five years of his life he found poetic inspiration in the arms of numerous young women. “I find my present weakness made worse by the strange second puberty the operation has given me, the ferment that has come upon my imagination. If I write poetry it will be unlike anything I have done.” So I guess we’re thankful for his lasciviousness?  Ick.

W. H. Auden

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In 1928 Auden was engaged to be married, to a woman. Such was expected of a closeted gay man of that time. So, in 1929 the poet embarked for a sojourn in Berlin, where he could openly gratify his homosexuality. His goal was to essentially binge until he outgrew such desires, but ten months later nothing had changed except his own view of his sexuality. He returned to England, broke off his engagement, and wrote six love poems in German.

His journal of that time, discovered in 1990, reveals a poet’s typical tormented view of love: “He noted in his 1929 journal that he liked to suffer and that he regarded suffering as part of his identity as an artist. He also observed in the journal that the torment of his homosexuality was, for him, one of its attractions; he associated mutual love with despair.”

Most likely, Auden’s views on Valentine’s Day and requited love wouldn’t gel with your own. However, there is one thought from his diary I petition us all to take to heart: “all bureaucrats should be obliged to prove that they have a happy love-life, and immigration officials most of all.”

H. G. Wells

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The writer of the famous War of the Worlds appeared to also suffer a war with women, at least one woman in particular. Wells was married to his cousin Isabel when he fell in love with one of his students, Amy Catherine Robbins. Yet, this was not his greatest upset. After divorcing Isabel the author married Amy, who agreed to an open marriage. Wells proceeded to carry on affairs with prominent women, some of whom were activists and novelists. He had a daughter out of wedlock with the writer Amber Reeves and then a son with the feminist Rebecca West, who was twenty-six years younger than him, only nineteen at the time. She apparently expected Wells to leave his wife for her, which didn’t happen, and their tempestuous love affair ended with an angry letter from West:

When you said, “You’ve been talking unwisely, Rebecca,” you said it with a certain brightness: you felt that you had really caught me at it. I don’t think you’re right about this. But I know you will derive immense satisfaction from thinking of me as an unbalanced young female who flopped about in your drawing-room in an unnecessary heart-attack.

Translation: “You’re a jerk for making me feel like a crazy person.” Basically the old-fashioned version of a break-up text.

In his autobiography Wells confessed, “I was never a great amorist, though I have loved several people very deeply.” Let’s hope it soothed the burn.

Want more author-related Valentine’s Day posts? Check out our most popular articles on the Top Ten Love Letters of Writers and Top Ten Love Lines from Literature for Your Valentine.