Love letters get lots of attention, but those of us who find them a little saccharine and overwrought know that the really juicy bits are saved for the breakup letter. Hell Hath No Fury: Women’s Letters from the End of the Affair is a compilation of breakup letters from antiquity to the present, written by celebrities and average Janes. Some of the gems in this volume include a letter from Rebecca West to her lover H.G. Wells, where she writes:
I always knew that you would hurt me to death one day, but I had hoped to choose the time and place…You want a world of people falling over each other like puppies, people to quarrel and play with, people who rage and ache instead of people who burn…I can’t concieve of a person who runs about lighting bonfires and yet nourishes a dislike of flame.
or this letter from Agnes von Kurowsky to a 19-year old Ernest Hemingway:
After a couple of months away from you, I know that I am still very fond of you, but, it is more as a mother than as a sweetheart…So, Kid (still kid to me & always will be) can you forgive me some day for unwittingly deceiving you? …I am and always will be too old, & that’s the truth, & I can’t get away from the fact that you’re just a boy– a kid.
or this very short letter from Jacqueline Susann to her husband:
Irving, when we were at the Essex House and I had room service and I could buy all my Florence Lustig dresses, I found that I loved you very much, but now that you’re in the army and getting fifty-six dollars a month, I feel that my love has waned.
These are among the more “gentle” of the letters in this volume! The background notes that accompany each letter are almost as intriguing as the letters themselves. Rebecca West and H.G. Wells got back together and had a son before ending it for good. Ernest Hemingway stayed in bed for a week and wound up using this letter as inspiration for his story “A Very Short Story” and modeled A Farewell to Arms on his relationship with von Kurowsky. Jacqueline Susann and her husband reconciled (presumably after he started making more money!).
If you’re struggling with your own Dear John letter and the letters in this book don’t give you quite the inspiration you’re searching for, you can always try the Do-it-yourself Dear John Letter for help coming up with the right words.