Today marks the 140th anniversary of the birth of Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, the French novelist and performer who was, during her lifetime, hailed as France’s greatest female writer. She also had a particularly exciting love life, and a pretty stupendous life in general, and her sensual semi-autobiographical novels continue to delight readers to this day. To honor Colette’s birthday, we’ve put together a list of a few of the famous authors with the juiciest love lives, to inspire us all to love a little more extravagantly. And hey, Valentine’s Day is coming up. Read about them after the jump, and if we’ve forgotten your favorite tale of literary romance, add it to our list in the comments.
Ah, Colette. At age 20, she married a then-famous writer and music critic 15 years her senior, Henry Gauthier-Villars (a total hack, mind you), whom she called Willy — it was under his name that she published her first novels. Gauthier-Villars was Colette’s earliest literary mentor, but he was also a complete cad, and she eventually left the unfaithful, boring man after thirteen years of marriage. She went to go work in the Parisian music halls, where she had affairs with both men and women, including the masculine Mathilde de Morny, Marquise de Belbeuf, with whom she performed an act — de Morny as archaeologist, Colette as jewel-bra-clad mummy being unwrapped– that culminated in an onstage kiss at the Moulin Rouge, causing a veritable riot — the police had to be called in, and the show only lasted two performances. In 1912, when she was 39, Colette married Henri de Jouvenel, the editor of the newspaper Le Matin. They had a daughter together, but they divorced in 1924, after Colette had an affair with his 16-year-old stepson Bertrand de Jouvenel (Bertrand would go on to have another affair with Martha Gellhorn, lucky devil). In 1935, Colette married yet again, this time choosing Maurice Goudeket, who was 17 years her junior, and who published a book about her entitled Close to Colette: An Intimate Portrait of a Woman of Genius. She spent the last years of her life being pushed about in a wheelchair by this younger, handsome fellow, who doted on her, like the entirety of the country. Not a bad life.
Another wild child, Nin married her first husband, Hugh Parker Guiler, in 1923, when she was 20 years old. Unlike Colette, she stayed married to him, but this didn’t seem to impede her love life one bit. She famously had a passionate love affiar with Henry Miller, living with him in Paris in the 1930s (it’s hard to know what her husband thought of this, since he insisted on being completely written out of her diaries), and financed the first printing of Tropic of Cancer in 1934. In 1947, at the age of 44, she met 28-year-old Broadway actor Rupert Pole. In her diary entry that night, Nin wrote “Danger! He is probably homosexual,” but he was no such thing. The two began dating, and eventually went to California together. In 1955 she married him. What about Guiler, you ask? Well, he was in New York, still married to Nin, who privately referred to her two marriages as her “bicoastal trapeze.” Eventually, Nin had to have her marriage with Pole annulled, due to tax reasons, but she continued to live with him until her death in 1977, and he served thereafter as her literary executor.
“I need several mistresses,” Dumas once said. “If I had only one, she’d be dead inside eight days.” An incurable playboy from his teens until his death, Dumas didn’t want to get married. In fact, he only married the actress Ida Ferrier, with whom he had been sleeping, when she had a friend buy up all of his unpaid IOUs and threaten him with debtors’ prison if he did not marry her. He married her in 1840, but this did nothing to quell his ways. According to Dumas scholar Claude Schopp, the writer had some 40-odd mistresses, and fathered at least seven illegitimate children. Incapable of fidelity himself, Dumas knew better than to expect it from any of his many lovers, even his wife. When once he caught her in bed with a mutual friend, Dumas, though slightly annoyed, hopped into bed with them, thinking it too cold to do otherwise. Eventually, Ida ran off with a nobleman, and Dumas continued to date. He died of syphilis in 1870.
Poor Oscar Wilde. Literature’s most famous dandy, as a young man he was shocked at the idea of homosexuality. His first love, Florrie Balcombe, broke his heart when she decided to marry Bram Stoker. At 30, he married the wealthy Constance Lloyd, and the couple had two sons — and it was around the second pregnancy that Wilde was seduced by a very precocious 17-year-old fan, Robert Ross, who initiated Wilde into homosexual sex. In 1891, he met Alfred Douglas and the two rapidly fell into a passionate affair. Wilde was infatuated with Douglas, whose nickname was “Bosie,” and denied him nothing. Bosie introduced Wilde to the underground world of gay prostitution, and was reckless where Wilde was flamboyant. Bosie’s father, the Marquess of Queensberry, fought constantly with his son and hated Wilde, and once called on him to declare, “I do not say that you are it, but you look it, and pose at it, which is just as bad. And if I catch you and my son again in any public restaurant I will thrash you.” After the Marquess left a calling card at Wilde’s club, inscribed with the words “For Oscar Wilde, posing somdomite”[sic], and at Bosie’s prompting, Wilde leveled a lawsuit against the Marquess, accusing him of criminal libel. The Marquess hired private detectives to find proof of Wilde’s homosexuality, and turned the case around on him, ending in Wilde’s incarceration. From jail, Wilde wrote Bosie one of the longest and most famous break-up letters in history (though they did reunite for a short while after his release), but never recovered from the lawsuit. He died penniless of cerebral meningitis in 1900.
“Mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” That’s our Lord Byron, famous for his bisexuality and constant affairs. He carried on high-profile illicit romances with the married Lady Caroline Lamb, who, though she originally spurned him, ended up being so obsessed with him that after he broke things off she would show up at his house dressed as a pageboy and plead with him. Eventually, he married her cousin, Anne Isabella Milbanke, in 1815. There are also rumors that Byron had a romantic affair with his half-sister Augusta Leigh, though sources are split. Eventually, disgusted by his behavior, Lady Byron left her husband, taking their child with her. The rumors were so intense that Bryon left England to escape societal censure, never to return.
Edna St. Vincent Millay
By all accounts, Edna St. Vincent Millay was irresistible. She had affairs with many people of both sexes, and ultimately rejected offers of marriage from both Floyd Dell and Edmund Wilson. Eventually, she married Eugen Jan Boissevain, but the two maintained a happy open marriage, sleeping with whomever they pleased — Millay’s most prominent lover during this time was the poet George Dillon, who was fourteen years her junior. After 26 years of marriage, Boissevain died of lung cancer, and Millay followed a year after.
Guy de Maupassant
De Maupassant’s story is probably more impressive than it is “juicy” — though he never married, the famed short story writer reportedly slept with thousands of women, and held his achievements in lovemaking in higher esteem than he did his literary ones. He wanted to sleep with everyone he met, and frequently did. He had only a few longtime affairs: he spent eight years of affection on Marie Kann, and during that time wrote her 2,200 odd love letters.
Simone de Beauvoir
The author of The Second Sex is one of our favorite literary intellectuals, and she applied her wide open mind to her love life as well as her feminist philosophy. Freed by her family’s inability to provide a dowry, she declined to marry her boyfriend, Jean Paul Sartre, but the two shared a fruitful and revolutionary lifelong relationship. Not so juicy, you say? Both de Beauvoir and Sartre had other affairs, and were quite open about them, even sharing some of them. De Beauvoir also apparently had a penchant for her young students. In 1943, she was suspended from her teaching job after word spread that, four years earlier, she had seduced one of her 17-year-old students, Nathalie Sorokine. The girl’s parents leveled charges against de Beauvoir, who had her teaching license revoked.