You know that Shakespeare, James Joyce and Lord Byron were geniuses when it came to their ways with words, but as anyone who knows a writer can tell you, scribes frequently come with some serious quirks. I'm reading Secret Lives of Great Authors by Robert Schnakenberg, and the secrets definitely come out. So, without further ado, I give you 10 intimate quirks of some of the finest writers ever.
1. William Shakespeare liked to swoop in on his friends' women. He overheard his friend Richard Burbage making plans with a lady one night. Richard was going to show up for the secret rendezvous and call himself "Richard III" at the door so he would be admitted to her room. Shakespeare hightailed it to her house and gave the password. True to witty form, when Richard showed up, Shakespeare sent word down that William the Conquerer came before Richard III.
2. Lord Byron kept lists of his lovers and apparently slept with more than 250 women in one year alone. Lady Caroline Lamb called him "Mad, bad, and dangerous to know." He slept with her, of course, and her cousin. And supposedly his own half sister as well. And he commemorated each one in a very, um, special way: he snipped a bit of hair (not scalp hair, people) from each conquest and saved it in a little envelope marked with the appropriate name. Until 1980 or so, these locks of love were still housed at Byron's publishing house, but they're unaccounted for these days.
3. Leo Tolstoy's quirk was basically exhibitionism, I suppose. When he married 18-year-old Sofia Behrs, he made her spend their wedding night reading his diaries. Maybe not so bad, you say, but his diaries contained detailed accounts of all of the women he had slept with throughout his lifetime. Sofia was totally not into it - her diary account the day afterward called his writing "filth" and reflected how disgusted she was.
4. W.B. Yeats had a little trouble, um, performing.
So he had an operation that would surely improve his stamina - he had monkey glands inserted into his scrotum. He declared that it not only did wonders for his sex life, it also rejuvenated his creativity. It made him the subject of much ridicule, though - Irish writer Frank O'Connor said it was like putting the engine of a Cadillac into a Ford. Ouch.
5. H.G. Wells was probably the biggest proponent of free love before it was called free love. He was married twice and cheated repeatedly on both of his wives without any remorse whatsoever. In his autobiography, he said, "I have done what I pleased, so that every bit of sexual impulse in me has expressed itself." One of his lovers said the reason this balding, overweight man was so irresistible was because he gave off a delicious scent of honey.
Also, this has nothing to do with sex, but this story cracked me up so I thought I would share it. He was once at a party and took a liking to another man's hat, so he just took it from the stand. The man had written his address in the brim, I suppose in case he lost it, so Wells wrote to the man and said, "I stole your hat. I shall keep your hat. Whenever I look inside it I shall think of you. I take off your hat to you!"
6. James Joyce was a totally randy old man. He wrote boatloads of extremely graphic love letters to his lover, Nora Barnacle, and seemed to really enjoy two things specifically: being spanked, and women's farts. Yeah. In one letter to her, he sang the praises of her "arse full of farts." But he was well aware of his quirks - when a fan once asked to "kiss the hand that wrote Ulysses," Joyce declined. He explained that the same hand had done lots of other things as well.
7. F. Scott Fitzgerald had a foot fetish. He wouldn't let anyone see his own naked feet, but women's feet made him wild. Apparently he had a particular prostitute he went to who had such lovely feet that he returned to her just so he could see them.
8. Ayn Rand basically had an open relationship with her husband. Although she was married to Frank O'Connor, she set her sights on her friend Nathaniel Branden, who was also married. Ayn kindly told Branden's wife that the two of them were going to start sleeping together, and then they did. His wife divorced him after a few years, and Nathaniel started seeing one of Ayn's fans. She freaked out and publicly denounced him. She and Frank O'Connor remained married until his death in 1979.
9. Franz Kafka was a Never Nude long before Tobias Funke came into existence. He was, by all accounts, extremely self conscious and unhappy with his appearance. Nude spas were all the rage at one point during his lifetime, and although he went because he believed it would be beneficial to his health, he refused to remove his swim trunks. Kafka is said to have loathed sex and even once said, "Coitus is the punishment for the happiness of being together." That didn't seem to stop him from having quite the series of one-nighters, though.
10. Oh, Oscar Wilde. Where to begin. Although married to Constance Lloyd, with whom he had two children, Oscar had innumerable affairs and dalliances with both sexes - and he really preferred younger boys. His first well-known major affair was a year after his wedding, with the then-underage Robert Ross, which was the first of many rendezvous with boys in their mid-to-late teens. Although he was later imprisoned for "gross misconduct" and his De Profundis seemed apologetic, he was soon back to his old ways. According to his old lover Lord Alfred Douglas (that's him in the picture with Wilde), "He was hand in glove with all the little boys on the Boulevard. He never attempted to conceal it." And in a letter to Robert Ross, whom Wilde maintained a friendship with, Wilde wrote,"Today I bade good-bye, with tears and one kiss, to the beautiful Greek boy... he is the nicest boy you ever introduced to me."
Although they separated and she changed her name, Constance Lloyd and Oscar Wilde never divorced and remained on good terms, despite the fact that she distanced herself from him and his sordid affairs.