Hell Hath No Fury: Women's Letters from the End of the Affair

Hell Hath No Fury: Women's Letters from the End of the Affair


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It’s as old as time: the breakup letter. The kiss-off. The Dear John. The big adios. Simple in its premise, stunningly perfect in its effect. From Anne Boleyn to Sex and the City writer/producer Cindy Chupack, from women both well-known and unknown, imaginary and real, the letters here span the centuries and the emotions—providing a stirring, utterly gratifying glimpse at the power, wit, and fury of a woman’s voice. In a never-before-published letter, Anaïs Nin gives her lover, C. L. Baldwin, a piece of her mind. Charlotte Brontë, in formal fashion, refuses the marriage proposal of Henry Nussey. In a previously unpublished letter, Sylvia Plath writes to her childhood friend and brief lover, Phillip McCurdy, expressing her wish to maintain a platonic relationship. And “Susie Q.” lets “Johnny Smack-O” know that she’s onto his philandering.

The brilliance of the mad missives, caustic communiqués, downhearted dispatches, sweet send-offs, and every other sort of good-bye that fills these pages will surely resonate with anyone who has ever loved, lost, left, languished, or laughed a hearty last laugh.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345465443
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/30/2003
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 448
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Anna Holmes is a California-born, New York City-based editor, writer and the creator of Jezebel.com. Her work has appeared in such publications as the New York Times, Washington Post, Glamour, Newsweek, InStyle, Cosmopolitan, Harper's, the New York Observer, Entertainment Weekly, O: The Oprah Magazine, Salon and the New Yorker online, and her first book, "Hell Hath No Fury: Women's Letters From the End of the Affair," was published in 2002.

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Hell Hath No Fury

Women's Letter's from the End of the Affair

Carroll & Graf Publishers

Copyright © 2002 Anna Holmes
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0786710373


Tell off (tel ôf): -phrasal verb. Informal. To rebuke severely; reprimand.

The Tell-Off n. A breakup letter in which the writer rants and raves at a loved one who has wronged or angered her. A succinct and defiant appraisal of another's failings and injustices, often involving withering critique of that person's social, physical, or sexual weaknesses.

From Emma Hart (1765-1815, later Lady Hamilton) to Charles Greville (1749-1809), with whom she had been involved for five years. This letter was written after Greville, the second son of the Earl of Warwick, wrote Hart, his mistress, to say he felt she should turn her attentions to his uncle William Hamilton, who had been courting her. Greville and Hamilton had cooked up a scheme to help Hamilton secure Hart's affections: Greville would neglect her, and Hamilton would swoop in to take his place and would settle Greville's many debts in return. But it was not so easy: Hart was obsessively devoted to Greville, and badly hurt after he betrayed her. According to Colin Simpson's biography Emma The Life of Hamilton (Bodley Head, 1983), the letter below "begins with Emma's writing that she misses the lips that had sealed the envelope, and then suddenly she explodes ... she had by now read theletter right through, for tucked into the final paragraph is Greville's suggestion that the sooner she climbs into Sir William's bed the better it will be for all concerned." Hart married Hamilton in 1791. She is better known as the mistress of Admiral Horatio Nelson and mother of his daughter Horatia.


1st of August 1786.

I have received your letter, my dearest Greville, at last, and you dont know how happy I am at hearing from you, however I may like some parts of your letter, but I wont complain, itis enough I have paper that Greville wrote on, he as foldet up, he wet the wafer-happy wafer, how I envy thee to take the place of Emmas lips, that she would give worlds had she them, to kiss those lips, but if I go on in this whay I shall be incapable of writing. I onely wish that a wafer was my onely rival, but I submit to what God & Greville pleases. I allways knew, I have ever had a forebodeing, since I first begun to love you, that I was not destined to be happy, for there is not a King of prince on hearth [earth] that could make me happy without you; so onely consider when I offer to live with you on the hundred [pounds] a year Sir Wm. will give, what can you desire, and this from a girl that a King etc, etc, etc, is sighing for. As to what you write to me to oblidge Sir. Wm. I will not answer you for Oh if you knew what pain I fell in reading those lines whare you advise me to W ... nothing can express my rage, I am all madness, Greville, to advise me, you that used to envy my smiles, now with cooll indifferance to advise me to go to bed to him, Sr. Wm. Oh, thats worst of all, but I will not, no I will not rage for if I was with you, I would murder you & myself boath. I will leave of[f] & try to get more strength for I am now very ill with a cold.

I wont look back to what I wrote. I onely say I have had 2 letters in 6 months nor nothing shall ever do for me but going home to you. Ir that is not to be, I will except [accept] of nothing, I will go to London, their [there] go in to every exess of vice, tell [till] I dye a miserable broken hearted wretch & leave my fate as a warning to young whomin [women] never to be two [too] good, for, now you have made me love you, made me good, you have abbandoned me & some violent end shall finish our connexion if it is to finish, but, Oh Greville, you cannot, you must not give me up, you have not the heart to do it, you love me I am sure & I am willing to do everything in my power that you shall require of me & what will you have more and I onely say this the last time, I will either beg of pray, do as you like.

I am sorry Lord Brook is dead and I am sinecerly [sic] sorry for Sr James & Lady Peachey, but the W-k family wont mind it much. We have been 7 weeks in doupt [doubt] wether he was dead or not for Sr. Wm. had a letter from Lord Warwick & he said Lord B. was better, so I suppose he must have had a relapse. Poor little boy, how I envy him his happiness. We have a deal of rain hear [here] & violent winds, the oldest people hear never remember such a sumer, but it is luckey for us. The Queen is very poorly with a cold caught in the Villa Reale & mine is pretty much like it. We dont dine at Passylipo today on the account of my cold. We are closely besieged by the K. in a round a bout maner, he comes every Sunday to P--po but we keep the good will of the other party mentioned abbove & never gives him any encouragement. Prince Draydrixton's our constant freind, he allways enquiries after you, he desires his compliments to you; he speaks English, he says I am a dymond of the first watter & the finest creature on the hearth [earth], he attends me to the Bath, to the walk etc. etc. etc. I have such a head ake [headache] today with my cold I dont know what to do. I shall write next post by Sr. Wm, onely I cant lett a week go without telling you how happy I am at hearing from you. Pray write as often as you can & come as soon as you can & if you come we shall all go home to England in 2 years & go throug[h] Spain & you will like that. Pray write to me & dont write in the stile of a freind but a lover, but I wont hear a word of freind, it shall be all love & no freindship. Sr. Wm. is our freind, but we ate lovers. I am glad you have sent me a Blue Hat & gloves; my hat is universaly admired through Naples. God bless you, my dear Greville prays your ever truly and affectionate

Emma Hart

P.S. Pray write for nothing will make me so angry & it is not to your interest to disoblidge me, for you dont know the power I have hear [here], onely I never will be his mistress. If you affront me, I will make him marry me. God bless you for ever.

* * *

From French/Swiss novelist (Corinne, see p. 287), Germaine de Staël (1766-1817) to the printer and writer Chevalier François de Pange, with whom she was in love, after he wrote that he was too ill to see her. De Staël-then married for nine years to the Swedish ambassador Baron de Staël-Holstein-had known de Pange since 1786, and in 1795, in her late twenties, her friendly affection turned to passion. But de Pange, in love with another woman-his younger cousin Madame de Serilly-resisted her attempts to turn the friendship into a romance. Following the publication of de Staël's political pamphlet Reflections on Domestic Peace in August 1795, de Staël was accused of protecting émigré aristocrats, among other things, and was forced into exile, leaving for Switzerland that October. The following January, de Pange married Serilly, who had been widowed when her husband was guillotined during the Great Terror. De Pange died of tuberculosis soon after his marriage.

Midnight, 11 September 1795

I am so upset by your letter that I don't know how to express or how to contain a feeling which is capable of producing on you an effect so contrary to the desires of my soul. What expressions you are using! 'Breaking off a friendship-avoiding a commitment-not knowing when you will be able to come-believing me happy where I am.' Ah, Monsieur de Pange, has love taught you nothing except its injustice, its forgetfulness, its inconstancy? ... You have no right to torture me. Remember what you said to me about friendship. What life there is left me depends on that friendship; for the past four months I owe everything to it and, what is worse, I need everything still. I have no intention of intruding on your independence ... But if to need you means to disturb you, then you have a right to be afraid of me ... You know as well as I do what is missing from my happiness here, but you cannot know as well as I know that you are perfection itself in the eyes of those who know you, that you are, to me, something even more desirable than perfection, and that I should find in your friendship all the happiness there is for me in this world, if only you removed that sword that hangs over my head.

I beg you on my knees to come here or to meet me in Paris or at Passy for just one hour ... I refuse to give up what I have won; this friendship is to me a necessity-I do not care if it is not one for you. Give me what you can spare, and it will fill my life....

* * *

The following letter was sent from British novelist Rebecca West (1892-1983), author of Black Lamb and Grey Falcon (1941) to the then-married author H. G. Wells (1866-1946), when West was only twenty-one years old. The two met after West published a scathing review of Wells's Marriage in 1912, and became lovers in early 1913. At the time this letter was written, Wells had broken off the relationship, then only a few months old. The couple got back together soon afterward, had a son, Anthony, in 1914, and continued their volatile relationship until West, fed up with Wells's "increasingly erratic and demanding behavior" left him in 1923 and moved with Anthony to America. The original letter was unsigned and incomplete and probably a draft, according to Bonnie Kime Scott, editor of The Selected Letters of Rebecca West (Yale University Press, 2000). This letter was edited by Kime Scott and appeared in the above book; as she formatted the letter, words that appear in were words crossed out by West and words in {curly brackets} were words West inserted above the line.

[circa March 1913]

Dear H. G.,

During the next few days I shall either put a bullet through my head or commit something more shattering to myself than death. At any rate I shall be quite a different person. I refuse to be cheated out of my deathbed scene.

I don't understand why you wanted me three months ago and don't want me now. I wish I knew why that were so. It's something I can't understand, something I despise. And the worst of it is that if I despise you I rage because you stand between me and peace. Of course you're quite right. I haven't anything to give you. You have only a passion for excitement and for comfort. You don't want any more excitement and I do not give people comfort. I never nurse them except when they're very ill. I carry this to excess. On reflection I can imagine that the occasion on which my mother found me most helpful to live with was when I helped her out of a burning house.

I always knew that you would hurt me to death some day, but I hoped to choose the time and place. You've always been unconsciously hostile to me and I have tried to conciliate you by hacking away at my love for you, cutting it down to the little thing that was the most you wanted. I am always at a loss when I meet hostility, because I can love and I can do practically nothing else. I was the wrong sort of person for you to have to do with. 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. You can't conceive a person resenting the humiliation of an emotional failure so much that they twice tried to kill themselves: that seems silly to you. I can't concede of a person who runs about lighting bonfires and yet nourishes a dislike of flame: that seems silly to me.

You've literally ruined me. I'm burned down to my foundations. I may build myself again or I may not. You say obsessions are curable. {They ate.} But people like me swing themselves from one passion to another, and if they miss smash down somewhere where there aren't any passions at all but only bare boards and sawdust. You have done for me utterly. You know it. That's why you are trying to persuade yourself that I Am a coarse, sprawling, boneless creature, and so it doesn't matter. When you said, "You've been talking unwisely, Rebecca," you said it with a certain brightness: you felt that you had really caught me at it. I don't think you're right about this. But I know you will derive immense satisfaction from thinking of me as an unbalanced young female who flopped about in your drawing-room in an unnecessary heart-attack.

That is a subtle flattery. But I hate you when you try to cheapen {the things I did honestly and cleanly}. You did it once before when you wrote to me of "your-much more precious than you imagine it to be-self." That suggests that I projected a weekend at the Brighton Metropole with Horatio Bottomly. Whereas I had written to say that I loved you. You did it again on Friday when you said that what I wanted was some decent fun and that my mind had been, not exactly corrupted, but excited, by people who talked in an ugly way about things that are really beautiful. That was a vile thing to say. You once found my willingness to love you a beautiful and courageous thing. I still think it was. Your spinsterishness makes you feel that a woman desperately and hopelessly in love with a man is an indecent....

* * *

From Violet Veitch Coward (1863-1954), the mother of playwright (Blithe Spirit, Hay Fever) Noël Coward (1899-1973), to her husband Arthur, a piano salesman. The two were married in 1890 after a courtship that took place at church services and amateur theatrical productions, and the following year, she bore their first son, Russell, who died of spinal meningitis in 1898, at age six and a half. Noël, her second child, was born a year later, and his brother Eric, in 1905.


Excerpted from Hell Hath No Fury Copyright © 2002 by Anna Holmes
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Editor's Notexxvii
The Tell-Off
Emma Hart (Lady Hamilton) to Charles Greville 17863
Germaine de Stael to Chevalier Francois de Pange 17955
Rebecca West to H.G. Wells 19137
Violet Veitch Coward to Arthur Coward 19309
Anais Nin to C. L. Baldwin 194510
Anne Sexton to Torgie 194513
Jessica to Scott 199814
Kylie to Jamie 199916
Lola Fondue to Ira 200018
Tanya to Ryan 200020
Natasha Carrie Cohen to Peter 200126
The Silent Treatment
Sophia Dorothea of Celle to Philipp Christoph von Konigsmarck 169331
Lady Mary Wortley Montagu to Francesco Algarotti 173932
Girolama Piccolomini to James Boswell 176733
Lady Falkland to Lord Byron 181335
George Sand to Michel de Bourges 183737
Sarah Bernhardt to Jean Richepin 188440
Edith Wharton to W. Morton Fullerton 191042
Aline Bernstein to Thomas Wolfe (series) 193044
The Autopsy
Kate Field to Albert Baldwin 186851
Dorothy L. Sayers to John Cournos (series) 192454
Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald to F. Scott Fitzgerald 193557
Kate Christensen to John 198759
Danielle to Adam 200163
Jean Gelatt to Jack 200164
The "Just Friends?"
Anne de L'Enclos to the Marquis de Sevigne 167075
Dorothy Osborne to Sir William Temple 165377
Sarah Bernhardt to Jean Mounet-Sully 187480
Stella Bowen to Ford Madox Ford 192881
Elizabeth Waugh to Edmund Wilson 193784
Simone de Beauvoir to Nelson Algren 195086
Dame Freya Stark to Stewart Perowne 195188
Sylvia Plath to Philip McCurdy 195489
Princess Margaret to Robin Douglas-Home 196794
Anne Sexton to Philip Legler 197095
Guile to Louise 200197
Cindy Chupack to Rick 200199
The Other Woman/Other Man (Real and Virtual)
Anne Boleyn to Henry VIII 1536103
Harriette Wilson to Lord Craven 1803105
Sarah Austin to Prince Hermann von Puckler-Muskau 1836105
Etta May White to George H. White 1905107
Isadora Duncan to Paris Singer 1912109
Beatrice Forbes-Robertson to Swinburne Hale 1918110
Dorothy Thompson to Joseph Bard (series) 1926-1927113
Agnes Boulton to Eugene O'Neill 1927120
Katherine Anne Porter to Matthew Josephson 1931122
Frances Boldereff to Charles Olson 1950125
Catherine Texier to Joel Rose 1996-1997126
Helene Verin to Luke 1997137
Maggie Kim to Michael 2000137
Elisa Zuritsky to Zach 2002139
The Divorce Letter
Anne of Cleves to Henry VIII 1540143
Ellen Coile Graves to Henry Graves 1844144
Nina Eliza Pinchback Toomer to Nathan Toomer 1897146
Clara Bewick Colby to Leonard Wright Colby 1903151
Mabel Dodge Luhan to Maurice Sterne 1918156
Dorothy Thompson to Sinclair Lewis 1938158
Madeline to John 1999159
Kathy Fitzgerald Sherman to M--2000160
The "Dear John"
Agnes von Kurowsky to Ernest Hemingway 1919170
Jacqueline Susann to Irving Mansfield 1943171
Lois to Harry Leister 1944172
Virginia K. to Leonard M. Owczarzak 1944173
Annette to Sylvan Summers 1945174
Rosemarie Keller Skaine to Bob Trentz 1954176
Susie Q.to Johnny Smack-O 1970177
Carol C. to Michael Hansen 1971182
Betsy to Ben 2001184
The Marriage Refusal
Queen Elizabeth I to Prince Erik 1560189
Fanny Burney to Thomas Barlow 1775190
Fanny Kelly to Charles Lamb 1819191
Charlotte Bronte to Henry Nussey 1839192
Lucy Stone to Henry Blackwell 1854194
Mollie Bidwell to Jose Maria Eca de Queiroz 1873195
Vera Komissarzhevskaia to Sergei Tatischev 1896196
Virginia Stephen to Sydney Waterlow 1911198
Virginia Stephen to Leonard Woolf 1912198
The Classic
Heroides ca. 10 B.C.205
The Letters of Abelard and Heloise (letter by Heloise) ca. 1132211
The Invective Letters 1539220
The Love Letters of a Portuguese Nun 1669226
Olinda's Adventures 1693232
The Female Critick 1701234
Letters from the Marchioness de M*** to the Count de R*** 1735236
Letters from a Peruvian Woman 1747238
Clarissa 1747241
Epistles for the Ladies 1749243
Lettres of Mistriss Fanni Butlerd 1757245
Persian Letters 1761245
Julie 1761247
Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1782255
The Prescriptive Letter
Familiar Letters on Important Occasions 1741
From a Young Maiden, abandoned by her Lover for the sake of a greater Fortune262
The Lovers' Letter-Writer ca. 1800
Reply to a letter sent by a Stranger who saw a Woman at Church264
Angry Reply to a letter from a Jealous Man264
Reply to a letter from a Gentleman in Moderate Circumstances to a Rich Lady265
Unfavorable Reply to a letter regarding a Reverse of Fortune and the Duty arising therefrom265
Unfavorable Reply to a letter from an ardent young Man, avowing a passion he had entertained for a length of time, fearful of disclosing it266
Reply to a letter from a Gentleman desirous of discontinuing his addresses267
The new universal letter-writer 1834
From a Young Lady, to a Gentleman that courted her, whom she could not like, but was forced by her parents to receive his visits, and think of none else for a husband268
The American lady's and gentlemen's modern letter-writer
A Lady Refusing Proposals 1847269
Beeton's Complete Letter-Writer for Ladies and Gentlemen 1873
Answer to a Missionary's Proposal negatively270
Maid Servant answering a cool Letter from her Lover271
The Practical Letter-Writer 19--
An answer to a letter from a Young Man just out of his Apprenticeship, to his Sweetheart in the neighborhood272
From a Lady to a Gentleman, complaining of indifference272
The Love letter writer 19--
From a young woman to her lover notifying him of her breaking away273
A reply to "a letter of courtship from an elderly man to a girl of nineteen"274
Love Letters 1925
A reply From one who has experienced a change of feeling, but wishes to express herself in as kind a manner as possible275
Mad's All Inclusive Do-It-Yourself "Dear John" Letter 1979276
Kiss-Off Letters to Men 2001281
Dear Jerk Sample Letter 2001282
The Fictional Letter
Corinne 1807287
Sense and Sensibility 1811289
The Seducer's Diary 1843290
The Way We Live Now 1875291
Falso in scrittura 1899294
Love Letters of an Irishwoman 1901295
The Vagabond 1910297
The Dangerous Age 1910299
Love Letters of a Divorced Couple 1915301
Summer 1917303
"A Very Short Story" 1925303
Mary 1926304
New Portuguese Letters 1972305
A Woman of Independent Means 1978309
Great Expectations 1982310
A Love Letter Never Sent 1995311
The Unsent Letter
Alma Mahler-Werfel to Gustav Klimt 1899318
Henrietta Szold to Louis Ginzberg 1905319
Jennifer Belle to Richard 1994322
Chris Kraus to Dick 1995323
Rhiannon to Simon 1998326
Trece to Quentin 1999327
Kim W. to Tobey 2001328
Elizabeth Hayt to Anthony Joseph Costagliola 2001330
Rebecca to Randy 2001331
Lynn Harris to Daniel 2001333
Molly Jong-Fast to Married Fashion Designer 2001334
Lucinda Rosenfeld to X 2002336
Leigh L. to Brian, Josh, Sam, Paul, Christian, Will, Johnny, David, Zack, Rapper, Max, and Ethan 2002338
Chandra to Ellis 2002342
The Goodbye Letter 1776
Julie de Lespinasse to Comte de Guibert 1796347
Mary Wollstonecraft to Gilbert Imlay 1803348
Charlotte Smith to Benjamin Smith 1803349
Charlotte Perkins Gilman to Charles Walter Stetson 1888351
Paula Modersohn-Becker to Otto Modersohn 1906352
Dora Carrington to Gerald Brenan 1924353
Laurel Stalla to Josh 2001355
Alex Kuczynski to M. 2001357
Lisa G. to Lee 2001358
Permissions Acknowledgments389

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