To celebrate this amorous season, Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon, authors of Writers Between the Covers: The Scandalous Romantic Lives of Legendary Literary Casanovas, Coquettes, and Cads, present the 10 most memorable gestures of affection between writers and their lovers (including one that was mistakenly--and scandalously--delivered to the wrong woman).
Flaubert gave a whole new meaning to the idea of re-gifting in his novel Madame Bovary.
A heartfelt token he had received from his longtime mistress Louise Colet—a cigar holder engraved with the words “Amor nel cor” (Love in the heart)—inspired Emma Bovary to bestow a seal with the same motto on her rakish lover. The fictional rogue later breaks off their relationship in a letter he cruelly marks with the romantic insignia.
2. John Keats
The Romantic poet fell in love with the girl next door, Fanny Brawne, only to be parted from her by illness. Keats hoped a short stay in Italy would bolster his health, never imagining the parting gifts the couple exchanged would be their last.
He gave Fanny his cherished Shakespeare folio with personalized notes written in the margins, while she lined his traveling cap with silk and presented him with a lock of her hair.
When the Bard passed away, he ignited a four-hundred-year controversy by leaving his “second-best” bed to his wife, Anne. The perceived snub led many to speculate that his marriage had been unhappy.
But contrary to appearances, the bequest was probably a romantic gesture rather than a slight. Tudor custom dictated the best bed be reserved for guests, while the second-best bed would have been the one on which Anne conceived their children.
The aspiring writer received more than tea and sympathy from her husband while she was housebound recovering from a car accident.
He presented her with a secondhand typewriter and a sheaf of paper, saying: “Madam, I greet you on the beginning of a great new career.”
By then Mitchell had read most of the books at the library, and her husband insisted she try writing one of her own. Taking up his challenge, she set to work on her masterpiece, Gone with the Wind.
The Victorian novelist should have chosen his jeweler more carefully. When he ordered a bracelet inscribed to his mistress, Nelly Ternan, it was accidentally delivered to his wife instead.
The misdirected gift was the last straw in a string of indignities. Catherine Dickens finally left her philandering husband, engulfing him in a sea of scandal.
6. O. Henry
When the struggling scribe saved up money for his wife to attend the Chicago World’s Fair, she took the cash but never boarded the train. Instead she used the gift to spruce up their sparse cottage with muslin curtains and wicker chairs.
Later, while her husband was on the lam avoiding embezzlement charges, she made a lace handkerchief and auctioned it for twenty-five dollars in order to send him a Christmas care package. Her generous acts inspired his tale “The Gift of the Magi.”
7. Jack Kerouac
Edie Parker’s wedding gift to Jack Kerouac was bail money. She tapped into her inheritance to spring him from the slammer, with the stipulation that they tie the knot. The pair swapped vows while he was handcuffed to a police detective, after being arrested as a material witness in a murder investigation. Not surprisingly, the hasty nuptials ended in divorce six months later.
Struggling writer Hemingway hit up friends for cash to buy his wife, Hadley, an impressive gift: Joan Miró’s oil painting The Farm.
A roll of the dice between Hemingway and an acquaintance decided who had dibs on buying the coveted canvas, which the novelist victoriously toted home to Hadley in a taxi.
Today The Farm is on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
9. George Sand
The stormy two-year liaison between French novelist George Sand and dissolute poet Alfred de Musset was rife with quarrels, breakups, and tearful reunions. When their relationship finally fell apart for good, Sand said farewell with a dramatic parting gesture. Like the heroine in her novel Indiana, she cut off her dark, waist-length hair and sent it to Musset in a skull.
The honeymoon phase was still going strong three years after Elizabeth Barrett Browning defied her tyrannical father to marry Robert and elope to Italy. On their third anniversary, she presented her beloved with forty-four sonnets she had secretly penned during their clandestine courtship. Among the intimate love poems is number 43, which begins with the now-famous lines “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.”
-- Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon are the authors of Writers Between the Covers and Novel Destinations: Literary Landmarks from Jane Austen’s Bath to Ernest Hemingway’s Key West. Joni lives in London; Shannon is a full-time traveler. They can be found at www.NovelDestinations.com.