36

Bad Romance: History’s Ill-Fated Literary Couples

Rebecca West and H.G. Wells


Wells with Rebecca West and friends. Photo credit: Bridgeman Art Library

This letter says it all:

“Dear H.G.,

During the next few days I shall either put a bullet through my head or commit something more shattering to myself than death. At any rate I shall be quite a different person. I refuse to be cheated out of my deathbed scene. I don’t understand why you wanted me three months ago and don’t want me now. I wish I knew why that were so. It’s something I can’t understand, something I despise. And the worst of it is that if I despise you I rage because you stand between me and peace. Of course you’re quite right. I haven’t anything to give you. You have only a passion for excitement and for comfort. You don’t want any more excitement and I do not give people comfort. [...] On reflection I can imagine that the occasion on which my mother found me most helpful to live with was when I helped her out of a burning house. I always knew that you would hurt me to death someday, but I hoped to choose the time and place. You’ve always been unconsciously hostile to me and I have tried to conciliate you by hacking away at my love for you, cutting it down to the little thing that was the most you wanted. I am always at a loss when I meet hostility, because I can love and I can do practically nothing else. I was the wrong sort of person for you to have to do with. You want a world of people falling over each other like puppies, people to quarrel and play with, people who rage and ache instead of people who burn. You can’t conceive a person resenting the humiliation of an emotional failure so much that they twice tried to kill themselves: that seems silly to you. I can’t conceive of a person who runs about lighting bonfires and yet nourishes a dislike of flame: that seems silly to me.You’ve literally ruined me. I’m burned down to my foundations. I may build myself again or I may not. You say obsessions are curable. But people like me who swing themselves from one passion to another, and if they miss smash down somewhere where there aren’t any passions at all but only bare boards and sawdust. You have done for me utterly. You know it. That’s why you are trying to persuade yousrelf that I am a coarse, sprawling, boneless creature and so it doesn’t matter. [...] 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 unecessary heart-attack.”

–Rebecca West to H.G. Wells, 1913

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 7,987 other followers