5 Literary Lovebirds

Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes
Category: Reading

When it comes to love, having interests in common definitely helps, so it’s no wonder that creative types tend to be drawn to each other. Painters, sculptors, actors and, yes, authors have made some famous pairings throughout history. Not all of the relationships were successful, but plenty were definitely memorable, and oftentimes the output of those involved benefitted. Here are just a few of the literary lovers who made an impression:

Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning: One of history’s most famous literary couples is also one of the most romantic. Elizabeth’s father disapproved of his daughter (or any of his children, really) having a personal life, and he thought Robert Browning was just a golddigger anyway. The couple courted in secret, primarily through letters (his first was a bit of fan mail for her book, Poems), eloped, and went to live in Italy, where they became major players in the expat literary scene. Defying Mr Barrett’s expectations, they remained a devoted couple until Elizabeth died, in her husband’s arms, in 1861.

Ernest Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn: Hemingway was already famous when he met budding writer Martha Gellhorn in Key West, Florida in 1936. Sparks flew almost immediately, and the two set off for Madrid, where they both reported on the Spanish Civil War. They married in 1940, after Hemingway managed to secure a divorce from his second wife. Both went on to become celebrated (or, in his case, more celebrated) writers—she was a gutsy war correspondent who was one of the first journalists to report from the Dachau concentration camp after it was liberated—but their marriage was troubled, and it ended in 1945.

Zadie Smith and Nick Laird: Smith and Laird are a literary golden couple, gathering praise and awards whatever they publish while raising two children and maintaining homes in New York and London. The pair met while students at Cambridge University—they both entered a literary competition, which he won—and married in 2004. A year later, she published On Beauty, which won the Orange Prize in 2006, dedicating it to ‘my dear Laird’. Although Laird admits that Smith’s fame has occasionally made him feel ‘two feet high’, they’re supportive of each other and their writing, sharing work and advice.

Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky: The ‘Howl’ writer first met painter’s model Orlovsky in San Francisco in 1954. Ginsberg encouraged Orlovsky to write, and Peter soon took to poetry. Before long, the two of them, along with Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs, came to form the literary centre of the Beat Generation. Ginsberg and Orlovsky remained together until Ginsberg’s death in 1997.

Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath: Another well-known, but fairly tragic couple. Like Smith and Laird, Hughes and Plath met at Cambridge, courted by writing poems to each other, and married just a few months later. But Plath’s depression was kicked into high gear by Hughes’s philandering, and they separated in 1962, shortly after she finished writing The Bell Jar. Plath completed a collection of poetry as well before committing suicide in 1963, shortly before The Bell Jar’s release. Hughes, devastated, wrote to a friend: ‘That’s the end of my life. The rest is posthumous.’ Birthday Letters, his final poetic work before he died in 1998, explores their complex, volatile relationship.

Want more? Check out our love-themed book lists or woo a playful loved one with a dirty limerick

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