Gwyn Conger found John Steinbeck impossible to live with and divorced him – he never forgave her. His behaviour was not unusual amongst famous writers.

The London Times revealed last week how Victorian reformer and writing superstar, Charles Dickens, tired of his frumpy wife, Catherine, and tried to commit her to a lunatic asylum. Mrs Dickens discovered ‘That at last he had outgrown his liking for her,’ according to contemporary critic and novelist, Edward Cook. Cook further wrote ‘She had borne ten children and had lost many of her good looks, was growing old, in fact.’

Recently discovered at Harvard, letters revealing Dickens’s behaviour were published in the Times Literary Supplement to show a different Dickens dimension. Dickens had fallen in love at age 45 with actress, Ellen Ternan, in 1857. Catherine for Ellen. Carole for Gwyn – it happens.

Dastardly Dickens then leaked a letter to the newspapers – many of which had serialised his early work – claiming Catherine was mentally ill. Biographer, Clair Tomalin – ‘Charles Dickens: A Life’ – confirmed this as ‘shameful.’ ‘This is a great man, who set out to do great things. But when he went off the rails, he started behaving very badly.’ Sounds a little familiar.

Lord Byron, the poet, was wayward in his short life. During their 1816 divorce his wife claimed Byron had sex with his half-sister. Publicly he denied this, but admitted it in private letters.

Topping all this, in the exasperation stakes, was Hilary Amis, wife of Lucky Jim author, Kingsley Amis, he an admitted serial adulterer. Tired of his philandering and while he was drunkenly sunbathing, Hilary wrote on his back in lipstick – ‘One Fat Englishman’ (the title of a 1963 Amis novel). ‘I fxxx Anything,’ and then took a famous photo of her handiwork.

Nevertheless Hilary must have been fond of the old charmer. Amis and she divorced, but after another divorce his sons prevailed upon Hilary and her third husband to look after Amis – not just ‘Lucky Jim’ but lucky Kingsley, in his dotage.

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