4 Famous Writers Who Used Romantic Rejection as Literary Inspiration

Posted by Hayley on June 15, 2015
"Let no one who loves be called altogether unhappy," J.M. Barrie once wrote. "Even love unreturned has its rainbow."

Some rainbows linger longer than others. When the following writers saw their love denied, they channeled their heartache into their work. From a mild act of literary revenge to heavenly closure, here are four unforgettable stories inspired by unrequited love.


Dante Alighieri


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The True Story: Dante was nine years old when he first saw Beatrice Portinari, the young daughter of a prominent Florentine banker. "From that time forward, love fully ruled my soul," Dante recalled later. Unfortunately, while loved ruled his soul, it didn't rule his reality. The two spoke once, nine years after their first meeting, and then were both married off to other people. Dante remained besotted with Beatrice, even after she died at the age of 24.

The Fictional Story: After her early death, a character named Beatrice becomes one of the blessed in Heaven in Dante's Divine Comedy. She aids the narrator's journey through Hell in Inferno, steps in as guide in Purgatorio, and leads Dante (quite literally) to God in Paradiso.




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The True Story: In 1842, Brontë stayed with Professor Constantin Heger and his wife in Brussels. She was there to study languages, but she left infatuated with the married man. Two years later, she began writing the professor love letters: "Out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaketh and truly I find it difficult to be cheerful so long as I think I shall never see you more." Heger tore the letters up and threw them in the garbage. (We only know the contents of those letters today because Heger's wife fished them out and sewed them back together.)

The Fictional Story: Lucy Snowe, Brontë's heroine in Villette, falls for a Belgian teacher—but it's strongly suggested he dies in a shipwreck by the end of the novel. And then there's Jane Eyre, who does find her happy ending, even after falling for a man with a crazy wife in his attic.


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


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The True Story:: It's a tale as old as time. Boy meets girl. Girl gets engaged to boy's older friend. Boy somewhat begrudgingly buys the wedding rings. For Goethe, the girl was always Charlotte Buff. She married his good friend Johann Christian Kestner, a distinguished art collector and diplomat.

The Fictional Story: In The Sorrows of Young Werther, Goethe let himself vent, unraveling a loosely autobiographical tale about a man tormented by his unrequited love for an engaged woman named Lotte. While the novel catapulted Goethe to fame, his literary counterpart did not fare so well. Young Werther ends up shooting himself in the head.


Charles Schulz


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The True Story: After courting Donna Mae Johnson, his petite, red-haired coworker, for months, Schulz worked up the nerve to propose. She rejected him—and married his rival shortly after. "I can think of no more emotionally damaging loss than to be turned down by someone whom you love very much," Schulz said of the whole ordeal. "A person who not only turns you down, but almost immediately will marry the victor. What a bitter blow that is."

The Fictional Story: Schulz had Johnson; Charlie Brown has the Little Red-Haired Girl. The hapless Peanuts protagonist is hopelessly in love with the largely unseen character, forever working up the nerve to talk to her.



Still in the mood for one-sided love? Then check out these books on Listopia: Popular Unrequited Love Books.

Comments Showing 1-40 of 40 (40 new)

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message 1: by Hasnamezied (new)

Hasnamezied Great Article


message 2: by Stenedria (new)

Stenedria Very interesting


message 3: by Carolina (new)

Carolina Martin great!


Arlenis Ralfsdóttir You fucking spoiler me of (Jane Eyre) big secret of Mr. Rochester. I wanted to read the book in this days. Aff.. Well.. I still goin to read it.


message 5: by Erma (new)

Erma Talamante Going to add these to my reading list - ay, yi yi. My library hates me, I think. I am forever adding books, at my maximum check-out limit (I've sometimes had friends borrow books for me under their library card), and my maximum hold limit. But with lists like these, who can help it?! lol


message 6: by T. (new)

T. Soto This makes me think about how intimate the author/reader relationship can be. When an author writes a book, she/he can't help but share a little part of themselves, and when someone reads it, a complete stranger is becomes privy to their emotions and life experiences. It's kind of neat and fascinating when you think about it :) Thank you for sharing this article!


Erin *Proud Book Hoarder* I loved this idea for a blog post. Enjoying the frequency of them! Some neat stories there. I'm surprised, though, that Dante could have been so smitten by such a small encounter with a woman like that. She must have made quite the impression.


Erin *Proud Book Hoarder* E. wrote: "But with lists like these, who can help it?! "

I know, right?


message 9: by Kay (new)

Kay J Wow now when I reread some of these classics it will have deeper meaning, thanks for this information, very interesting indeed.


message 10: by D.G. (new)

D.G. Wow, Goodreads! What's with the spoilers? Are you going to tell us next who's the murderer in And Then There Were None? Or which character will die in Harry Potter? Please remember that some people (specially those of us who didn't grow up in English speaking countries) are now reading the classics!


 Ƹ̴Ӂ̴Ʒ Yosbe  Ƹ̴Ӂ̴Ʒ Literary wrote: "Dear Goodreads,

Stop spoiling the novels' ending!

Overall, very nice blog post."


you were the one who CLICK on this article "4 Famous Writers Who Used Romantic Rejection as Literary Inspiration"

Do you think that they wouldn't post the books? The blame is on you.


message 12: by Lily (last edited Jun 16, 2015 05:08PM) (new)

Lily Lighten up on spoilers, would you! If you care that much, be a hermit and do your reading from that lifestyle.

I'll posit that, except perhaps for mysteries, "spoilers" do not really exist. Perhaps sometimes one encounters a bit more foreshadowing than one would prefer. But, any book worth reading is worth reading twice -- even if one can never find the time for that second reading.


message 13: by Lori (new)

Lori Glad i had already read Jane Eyre.


message 14: by Carrie (new)

Carrie poor charlie brown..


message 15: by Julia (new)

Julia Lori wrote: "Glad i had already read Jane Eyre."

Yep, there should be a big spoiler alert.


message 16: by Penny (new)

Penny Oh so glad that I'm not alone in the romantic rejection to literary inspiration stakes. And such great company too!


message 17: by Maryam (new)

Maryam حبيت , قَلبي ليس الوحيد في هذا العالم .


message 18: by C. J. (new)

C. J. Scurria Great article. I knew the tale of the "Red-Haired Girl" but still great job!


MaryannC. Book Freak Kay wrote: "Wow now when I reread some of these classics it will have deeper meaning, thanks for this information, very interesting indeed."

Yes, very interesting and informative, love the insight into these well known classics.


message 20: by Melissa (new)

Melissa Good blog post, but next time let the reader know that there are spoilers.


message 21: by Marijan (new)

Marijan Hah! Spoilers for hundred and more years old books. Lighten up, people. Spoiler for last harry potter book and Werther, who has become archetypical romantic hero exactly because he shot himself, is simply not the same.


message 22: by Kressel (new)

Kressel Housman The protagonist in Villette falls for two guys, and her heartbreak over the first is one of the most masterful things I've ever read because you're simultaneously crying for the protagonist and enjoying the love story between the man and the woman he prefers.


message 23: by Penny (new)

Penny Igarashi I agree with Marijan. Books such as these are beloved, discussed and re read for decades. And perhaps hundreds of years more? They are treasures of English literature. We are not reading them for the big surprise at the end.


message 24: by Cristina (new)

Cristina I love the formatting of this blog post! Good job!


message 25: by sunsetsylvia (new)

sunsetsylvia The plot of those books are - or at least should be - common knowledge.
For those, who complain, here are more spoilers ahead: the Titanic sank and Cesar was stabbed.


message 26: by Melissa (last edited Jun 17, 2015 09:19PM) (new)

Melissa I Just a little note of my words and shared words from Goodreads blogger, Hayley. What I shared on Facebook and tweeted. These are one of my most looked forward to things on Goodreads. How I never saw them much sooner than I did.....?.......I must be blind.

Part of my FB share which I'm saying here because Hayley Igarashi is awesome with these!

"Two of the quotes from Goodreads fantastic blog post. Another fantastic one! ‪#‎HayleyIgarashi‬ works her blog magic once again on @Goodreads"

---------------------------------------------
"Two years later, she began writing the professor love letters: "Out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaketh and truly I find it difficult to be cheerful so long as I think I shall never see you more."


message 27: by Sharon (new)

Sharon Wonderful article. I want to read all of these books! And I still read Peanuts every day. I don't care about "spoilers." These books are hundreds of years old.


message 28: by Manuel (new)

Manuel William Butler Yeats is missing.


message 29: by Mayra (new)

Mayra Really, Goodreads? Spoilers?? Thanks for ruining Villette for me...


message 30: by Mayra (last edited Jun 18, 2015 02:31AM) (new)

Mayra So freaking arrogant. Just because a book is a classic, and it's a "hundred years old", its whole plot IS NOT general knowlege, people. If you shout out its ending, it's still a spoiler, because, by definition, it spoils the novel. You don't normally go into a novel already knowing every single thing that's going to happen, and discovering it for yourself is what makes it great. No one is supposed to know everything that happened in all the classics in history. Quit the arrogance ;)
And of course an ending or a big "plot twist" is not what makes a great classic, but still, they are essential parts of it, and having the option, I would highly prefer getting 100% of the experience the authors meant for the reader when they wrote their books.
If you don't care about reading a book the way the author meant it to be read, than good for you. But if Tolstoy wanted you to know what happened in the last chapters of Anna Karenina before you even got to know the characters he would have written it in the first pages. So, please, have the least bit of kindness and don't ruin it for other people. Thanks.


message 31: by Sharon (new)

Sharon I've already ordered The Sorrows of Young Werther! Thanks again for a great list and a very interesting topic.


message 32: by Kressel (new)

Kressel Housman Mayra wrote: "So freaking arrogant. Just because a book is a classic, and it's a "hundred years old", its whole plot IS NOT general knowlege, people. If you shout out its ending, it's still a spoiler, because, b..."

Read Villette anyway. It's a masterpiece. There are some dull parts in the beginning, but it's worth pushing through them. Also, if you don't know French, it helps to have footnotes with translations.


message 33: by Mayra (new)

Mayra Kressel wrote: "Mayra wrote: "So freaking arrogant. Just because a book is a classic, and it's a "hundred years old", its whole plot IS NOT general knowlege, people. If you shout out its ending, it's still a spoil..."

Thank you so much Kressel! It's been on my TBR for ages, think I'll pick it up next month.


message 34: by Kressel (new)

Kressel Housman Mayra wrote: "Kressel wrote: "Mayra wrote: "So freaking arrogant. Just because a book is a classic, and it's a "hundred years old", its whole plot IS NOT general knowlege, people. If you shout out its ending, it..."

It's also kind of anti-Catholic. That might offend some people.


message 35: by Mayra (new)

Mayra Kressel wrote: "Mayra wrote: "Kressel wrote: "Mayra wrote: "So freaking arrogant. Just because a book is a classic, and it's a "hundred years old", its whole plot IS NOT general knowlege, people. If you shout out ..."

Thanks, duly noted. I'm ok with that, though ;)


message 36: by Suvi (last edited Jun 18, 2015 11:09AM) (new)

Suvi Mayra wrote: "So freaking arrogant. Just because a book is a classic, and it's a "hundred years old", its whole plot IS NOT general knowlege, people. If you shout out its ending, it's still a spoiler, because, b..."

I agree with you one hundred percent, Mayra! I was just about to write almost all the same things that you did, but you were faster :D

The age of the book should have nothing to do with the spoiler discussion. Where should we draw the line? A hundred years? Fifty years? More than two hundred? And what classics should be common knowledge then?

I still don't know what happens at the end of Crime and Punishment, and I'd prefer to keep it that way. Just because I - gasp! - want to be surprised and enjoy myself while trying to figure out what could possibly happen.

I'm glad that this time I decided to read the comments first, otherwise Villette would be ruined for me. Spoiler alerts are just common courtesy. Those who don't mind spoilers can just read ahead, but it's arrogant to think that everyone should have the same way of reading.


message 37: by Mayra (new)

Mayra Suvi wrote: "Mayra wrote: "So freaking arrogant. Just because a book is a classic, and it's a "hundred years old", its whole plot IS NOT general knowlege, people. If you shout out its ending, it's still a spoil..."

Thank you so very much, Suvi! It's great to know I'm not alone here!


Erin *Proud Book Hoarder* I haven't read these books either, so I agree with comments on spoilers here.


message 39: by Erma (new)

Erma Talamante Surprised at all the comments on spoilers here! While I didn't know the endings on much of the above, I see what is deemed a 'spoiler' as something to look forward to.

Maybe this is just the self-preserving approach I have developed over the years, though. So many passive-aggressive people I've known find out I'm an avid reader, then throw a 'spoiler' out for to get under my skin.

Guess what? Doesn't work. Like I say, it's now something for me to look forward to, and a new way to view the characters involved. I can see the development that leads up to that event, instead of it fading into the background.

So instead of being angry about a 'spoiler', I say 'thank you' - my reading has been enhanced!

And I realize that not everyone will be able, or even desire to take this approach, but maybe it will help a few people who are up for a little bit of fun. (Besides, nothing irritates a Spoiler - a person who spoils, than *not* getting upset!)


message 40: by Michael (new)

Michael I was once enamored with a woman who turned me down. It hurt, obviously, but I like to think the process of healing and self-discovery helped me invest deeply in my writing. Perhaps that may not have happened had she reciprocated my interest.


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