Broken hearts often make the best artists and history is full of examples when tragedies and failed love stories created phenomenon and writers are no exception.
For instance, when 9-years-old Durante Degli Alighieri, better known as Dante, got the first glimpse of eight years old Beatrice Portinari in a party organized by her father donning a crimson dress, little did he know that she would be the woman he would be writing numerous poems about throughout his life and would never get tired of her and there wouldn’t be another woman who could replace her in his mind and heart.
Though Dante never could make a conversation with her, he remained totally captivated by her charm and took delight in watching her whenever they would meet on the streets. Nine years after their first meeting in the year 1283, when he was 18 years old, as they were passing each other on a street, she greeted him for the first time. He was so thrilled by it that he locked himself in his room to reminisce about the encounter.
But as arranged marriage was the norm of that time in Europe, Dante was married at the age of 21 with another woman and Beatrice got married a year later. Three years later, at the age of 24, Beatrice died. Dante was devastated, but he remained in love with her and his writings are the testimonies of his unrequited love for her. He went on to write ‘The Divine Comedy’, one of the greatest narrative poems ever written and Beatrice was right there in his masterpiece even years after her death.
Here are three more sad failed love stories of history’s most influential writers that will break your heart.
1. John Keats and Fanny Brawn: The purest love that didn’t deserve the tragedy.
John Keats met Fanny Brawn, who was five years his junior while he moved to Hampstead, London in the year 1818 after the death of his brother Tom Keats of tuberculosis. He had taken shelter in the house of his friend and fellow poet Charles Brown. Fanny, along with her widowed mother and two siblings lived next door and was fascinated by the young struggling poet.
Though John tried to not fall in love with Fanny in the beginning, he eventually failed and by 1819 John and Fanny were head over heels in love with each other and were writing passionate love letters that would eventually become a center of attention for the world long after their deaths.
They were engaged but since John couldn’t keep a wife still due to his finances, they decided to keep it a secret for a while. John, meanwhile, wrote some of his best works and Fanny was an inspiration and motivation behind many of those. John was always eager to be with Fanny and it was evident from one of his letters where he wrote: “Whenever you know me to be alone, come, no matter what day.”
But, fate had something else in store for them. In February 1820, John noticed blood when he coughed and knew he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. In the subsequent months, it became more and more evident to him that he was going to die and would never get to marry Fanny.
“I can bear to die. I cannot bear to leave her,” John wrote to one of his friends. Fanny took care of him. As his disease progressed, in September 1820, he left London on the advice of his doctor and moved to Italy. He was angry, bitter and depressed. He gave up writing poetry. Five months later on February 23, 1821, at the age of 25 years, John died in Rome, largely unknown and poor.
His genius only became widespread after his death and Fanny witnessed the name of her John rising from her neighborhood to become a worldwide phenomenon. She treasured all the letters and notes John had written to her and kept them with her secretly till her death in 1865. After she died, the letters were discovered and her relationship with the now famous John Keats was revealed to the world. She could have used those letters to make a good profit and attain fame, but she decided to secretly take delight in them and remember the love she and John shared.
Movie to watch: Bright Star
2. Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred: The love the world was not ready for.
The world is still a wrong place for gay people where they are still continuously tortured, alienated and seen with disgust over their sexuality and Oscar Wilde, one of the most popular playwrights and novelists who had ever lived, happened to see tougher times when he lived more than a hundred years ago in London.
Wilde was already a successful writer when he met Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas, a talented poet himself in the month of June 1891 who later on went to become the muse of his life and reflected in many of his works.
Bosie was a 21 years old Oxford undergraduate when he met Wilde who was in his mid-thirties at that time and quite soon they fall in love, despite the grave consequences of ‘sodomy’ of that time. Bosie was, nevertheless, not a very fair choice for the witty and extraordinarily talented Wilde according to many but Wilde had loved him and that was all that mattered.
Bosie’s father was a nobleman and he was alarmed by the growing closeness of his son and Oscar Wilde and warned his son to stay away from Wilde, to which Bosie had always reacted rather provocatively and stupidly and went on to telegram his father one time: “WHAT A FUNNY LITTLE MAN YOU ARE”.
Bosie, though he was in love with Wilde, had also but a thing for male prostitutes of London and often left his clothes to the brothels carelessly, with Wilde’s passionate love letters still in them.
His father, meanwhile, decided to get back his son by all means and started stalking Wilde in public places and leaving notes for him accusing him of sodomy and unwisely enough, under the encouragement of Bosie, Wilde decided to file a defamation case against Bosie’s father which had far-reaching effect that Wilde would have possibly imagined. Wilde has assumed that he would outwit Bosie’s father, but his father provided the letters of Wilde to his son that he got from the prostitutes as evidence, tarnishing his reputation in the society and on March 25, 1895, Wilde was sent to jail for two years for homosexuality.
He but remained in love with Bosie and once out, he decided to stay away from him because of his fears of further imprisonment, but he couldn’t keep himself away for long and they met one more time in a station and spent their whole day together, perfectly happy.
Soon after, Bosie’s father died and he inherited a sum of 15,000 pounds from him, of which he continued to send Wilde little sums for his survival till the time of Wilde’s death in the year 1900, in the absence of the love of his life. Bosie nevertheless came for the funeral and paid for it. He later went on to marry poet Olive Custance in 1902.
Movie to watch: Wilde
3. Sylvia Plath and Richard Sassoon: The split that drove Plath to a wrong man and suicide.
American poet Sylvia Plath was the first writer to win the prestigious Pulitzer Award posthumously in 1982, nineteen years after her death.
Plath, before marrying Ted Hughes in 1956 at the age of 24 had dated hundreds of men, and Richard Sassoon, a senior at Yale, who didn’t possess the exact physique that she had in her mind for her suitor, became an obsession and perhaps contributed to some extent to her lifelong case of depression.
Sassoon was a British citizen and Plath saw in him an intellectual rival who could challenge her, and no other boyfriends of her came close to Sassoon. Plath once described him to her mother as ‘the only boy I have ever loved so far’.
Plath met Sassoon in early 1954 and in May same year, Richard invited her to New York where they spent most of their days in bed. They met again in December that year in New York. This time their car was broken into and someone stole her clothes, books and other items. Plath created such hysterics at this that frustrated Richard hit her across the mouth. Soon after, Plath earned a scholarship and left for Cambridge where she met other boys, but no one was quite like Sassoon. When her term at the university ended, she went straight to Paris, to Sassoon, where he was studying. He gave her a tour of the historic city as well as showed her the red-light areas much to her fascinations. But as she was leaving, he told her that it was better for her to not try to meet him for some time as he was going to America to enroll in the army for two years after which he planned to start a business and until they meet again she was free to date other men.
Soon after, Plath met poet Ted Hughes, a reputed seducer in Cambridge, in a party and was infatuated by him, though she still was in love with Sassoon, nevertheless, she and Ted had ventured into a form of intimacy. Plath finally wrote to Sassoon sometime later that she wanted to meet him and that she didn’t clearly understand why they shouldn’t meet. She also made the mistake of sending him letters mentioning about Ted to make him feel jealous. So by the time Plath had traveled to Paris to meet Sassoon, with a speech ready in her mind to win him over, he had already left France to Spain to avoid her meeting, shattering her aspirations and spirits. She returned to England and wrote Sassoon to never write to her again. She eventually married Ted Hughes a year later and had two children together.
The couple however separated after some years when Plath discovered an affair Ted was having with another married poetess Assia Wevill. She was fatally depressed and on February 11, 1963, she opened the window of her children’s room, left plates of bread and milk for them in the room and closed herself in the kitchen. She sealed the gaps underneath the kitchen door with towels, put her head in the oven and committed suicide at the age of just 30 years. Assia Wevill, years later, also committed suicide after finding out Ted was having an affair again.
Movie to watch: Sylvia