Some authors are far different in person than they are on the page. Here at Bookstr, we’re calling out five of the biggest jerks in literary lore. From Percy Shelley’s heartless affair to Ernest Hemingway’s misogynistic mannerisms, it’s time to turn the page to the lesser-known chapters of their personal lives.
1. Percy Bysshe Shelley
Percy Shelley may have been one of the premier English Romantic poets of the 19th century, but his own approach to love was far from the passionate tales he so carefully crafted.
Shelley married his first wife Harriet when she was 16 and he was 19. After 3 years together he ran away after falling in love with Mary Shelley, famed author of Frankenstein. In the process, he left behind a pregnant Harriet and their first child. Harriet committed suicide, drowning herself in the Serpentine River at just 21-years-old.
Upon hearing the news, Shelley deflected any blame writing:
“Everything tends to prove, however, that beyond the mere shock of so hideous a catastrophe having fallen on a human being once so nearly connected with me, there would, in any case have been little to regret. Hookham, Longdill – every one does me full justice; – bears testimony to the uprightness & liberality of my conduct to her…”
2. Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway is well-known for being a “macho man” so to speak. He indulged heavily in drinking, fighting, hunting, and womanizing. In one case, he even recommended shooting women instead of breaking up with them. In a letter to his editor on the subject of romance he wrote:
“You can always trade one healthy woman in on another. But start with a sick woman and see where you get… Anyway let’s leave the subject. If you leave a woman, though, you probably ought to shoot her. It would save enough trouble in the end, even if they hanged you.”
3. Hunter S. Thompson
Famed “gonzo” journalist Hunter S. Thompson is most notable for his “indulgent” lifestyle in the world of drugs and booze, which frequently fueled his famed chaotic writing style and larger-than-life persona. It should come as no surprise that in the midst of these outrageous benders and hungover aftermaths, Thompson could be a huge jerk.
In one instance, as a “birthday gift” to Jack Nicholson, Thompson left a raw elk heart on his doorstep, fired a gun, and played a recording of animal cries through a speaker. Nicholson, unaware Thompson was behind this, called the FBI out of fear. In Thompson’s addled mind, this was all meant to be a joke. Although Nicholson and Thompson remained close friends even after the incident, this was definitely a jerk move on Thompson’s part.
(For more on Thompson check out “8 Times Hunter S. Thompson Revolutionized Literary History“)
4. George Orwell
Orwell warned about a dystopian future of Big Brother and secret police in his famed book, 1984. This was pretty hypocritical considering that in real life, Orwell kept a list of people he thought were secretly communist sympathizers, which he even sent to the British Secret Service. To make matters worse, a large number of authors and actors on the list were Black, Jewish or Gay. He listed that the historian Isaac Deutscher was a “Polish Jew” and that actor, musician, and activist Paul Robeson was a “US Negro” and “very anti-white.”
5. J.D. Salinger
Salinger is most known for his novel Catcher in the Rye but it turns out he was also a huge pervert when it came to young women. On multiple occasions, Salinger wrote young girls romantic letters hoping to seduce them. When he was in his 30’s, he began courting actress Jean Miller who was just 14-years-old at the time. He kept in contact with her until she was 20, had a one-night stand, and dumped her almost immediately after.
If you’re curious about more authors who have done horrible things, check out “Five Authors You Didn’t Know Were Terrible People,” on Bookstr’s Facebook page!