Ernest Hemingway & Martha Gellhorn on their wedding day, 1921
I love this piece from Literary Hub: “Famous Literary Relationships From Best to Worst”
Here are 3 of the most fascinating (at least to me).
Virginia Woolf & Leonard Woolf & Vita Sackville-West
Leonard had to propose three times to Virginia; at first she wasn’t sure if she was sexually attracted to him. Actually, at first she was sure she wasn’t; but that ultimately changed. When she finally accepted his offer, she wrote to a friend: “My Violet, I’ve got a confession to make. I’m going to marry Leonard Woolf. He’s a penniless Jew. I’m more happy than anyone ever said was possible—but I insist upon your liking him too. May we both come on Tuesday?” The two began a loving, mutually supportive relationship, both personal and professional—they founded the Hogarth Press together. In 1937, Virginia wrote in her diary, “Love-making—after 25 years can’t bear to be separate… you see it is enormous pleasure being wanted: a wife. And our marriage so complete.”
As far as the famous Vita is concerned, she and Virginia met in 1922 and began an affair (Leonard knew all about this, and so did Vita’s husband, and everyone was fine with it; they were modernists, after all), writing gorgeous love letters to one another, the most accomplished of which, of course, is Woolf’s Orlando, about which Sackville-West’s son later wrote, “The effect of Vita on Virginia is all contained in Orlando, the longest and most charming love letter in literature, in which she explores Vita, weaves her in and out of the centuries, tosses her from one sex to the other, plays with her, dresses her in furs, lace and emeralds, teases her, flirts with her, drops a veil of mist around her.” The affair lasted until 1929, and the two remained close until Woolf’s death. But in the end, it was Leonard to whom Virginia addressed her last letter, one that attests to the happiness they shared:
I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don’t think two people could have been happier ’til this terrible disease came. I can’t fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can’t even write this properly. I can’t read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that—everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer.
I don’t think two people could have been happier than we have been. V.
Ernest Hemingway & Martha Gellhorn
Like many relationships, things in this famous literary marriage started off great. They fell in love. They gave each other nicknames. Hemingway encouraged Gellhorn’s journalistic writing. They were happy. But then, as Caroline Moorehead, Gellhorn’s biographer, put it:
In so much as ends have beginnings, theirs came in the summer of 1943. Hemingway was drinking heavily and she found his lack of cleanliness, his boundless egotism and his crassness increasingly offensive; he accused her of being a prude and a prima donna. There was little laughter and few jokes.
One night, when he was drunk, she took over the wheel of his much loved Lincoln Continental. He slapped her; she drove it slowly and deliberately into a tree. They fought over money, over work, over his drunken cronies. He bullied, mocked and snarled at her. Then the day came when he told her that he had accepted a commission to cover the Allied invasion for Collier’s—effectively demoting her, since no paper could have more than one reporter at the front. There was little more to be said. Hemingway left for London on a priority flight; Gellhorn crossed the Atlantic on a Norwegian freighter carrying dynamite.
Later, Gellhorn would refuse to talk about Hemingway in any interviews, and reportedly didn’t even like to discuss him with friends. She didn’t want, she said, to become “a footnote in someone else’s life.” She wanted only to do her work.
Simone de Beauvoir & Jean-Paul Sartre
It shouldn’t be surprising that the leading intellectual couple of the 20th century had an unusual relationship—though, actually, it isn’t even that unusual. Just an open relationship, if one that was a little more lurid than Ginsberg and Orlovsky’s. As Louis Menand reports, de Beauvoir and Sartre had a pact: they could sleep with whomever else they wished, so long as they told one another everything. “The comradeship that welded our lives together made a superfluous mockery of any other bond we might have forged for ourselves,” de Beauvoir wrote. “At times this meant that we had to follow diverse paths—though without concealing even the least of our discoveries from one another. When we were together we bent our wills so firmly to the requirements of this common task that even at the moment of parting we still thought as one. That which bound us freed us; and in this freedom we found ourselves bound as closely as possible.” From Menand’s account, the two had a distinctly Cruel Intentions vibe—they indeed told each other everything, which amounted to a lot of voyeuristic shit-talking behind their other lovers’ unsuspecting backs. Apparently, de Beauvoir would even sometimes romance her young female students and then “pass them on” to Sartre, in a move they called the “trio.” She was eventually fired for this, and even lost her license to teach in France.