Un-break My Heart

New Book Highlights 13 Relationships that are Likely Worse than Yours

Reading It Ended Badly might make a break-up not seem so bad.

Courtesy of Henry Holt and Company

Reading “It Ended Badly” might make a break-up not seem so bad.

Mary Kroeck

Most people have experienced relationship heartache. Thankfully, most aren’t beheaded or sent rather disturbing “gifts” in the mail (like bloody pubic hair) as a result of a relationship going south.

Yet, history is full of stories of scorned lovers who couldn’t just let go and move on. In her new book, “It Ended Badly: 13 of the Worst Breakups in History,” author Jennifer Wright, a native of Glencoe, Illinois, explores 13 of these terrible relationships:

The Independent (IN): What inspired you to write “It Ended Badly?”

Jennifer Wright (JW): I came up with the idea for the book as I was going through a breakup myself. There are a lot of books out there about how to handle your break up like a beautiful 21st century noblewoman. But if you got drunk the night before and you texted your ex twelve times culminating in “Why don’t you love me?” then that ship already sailed. So, I wanted to write a book about people who behaved worse than you or I or anyone we know will ever behave during a breakup. Fortunately, there are a lot of those figures in history.

IN: People have been in relationships and splitting up since the beginning of time. So, how did you figure out which breakups to include?

JW: I tried to choose ones where I had a very strong emotional reaction to the breakup that made me really either love or hate one of the participants. I think in some it’s pretty obvious. For instance, I love Effie Gray, whose husband told her she was repulsive on her wedding night probably because she had pubic hair and he wasn’t familiar with the fact that women had pubic hair. So, my heart kind of went out to her on that one. There were also people who I ended up really hating, like Norman Mailer, who stabbed his wife twice in the heart at a party where he was announcing his candidacy for mayor of New York. Whenever I found someone who I felt like “Oh, I really like this person and I wish I could show up and tell them everything is going to be okay” or, alternatively, “Oh I wish I was in a room so I could tell this person how terrible they are” I really, really wanted to include those.

IN: How did you go about researching the book?

JW: Fortunately all of these are very famous people so there [have] been a lot of books written about them over the past 50 or so years. There’s also an endless resource of articles available online. Thank God we have the Internet now and I could buy e-books and use that search function to find the specific parts of their lives that related to their breakup.

IN: If you had to choose a historical way to breakup with someone what would you do and why?

JW: Oh Caroline Lamb might be my favorite in that regard. She chopped off all her pubic hair, sent it to Lord Byron in the mail and demanded that he send her his pubic hair back so she could have some sort of keepsake from their relationship. He refused to do that. So she burned him in effigy.

IN: Is that what you would really want to do?

JW: I think she might be really free about her breakup! Maybe that’s not exactly right to emulate. Edith Wharton used the pain from her failed romances to go on to write wonderful novels about love and romance and heartbreak. So, maybe she’s the best one to emulate there.

IN: What’s a fun breakup fact from the book?

JW: My favorite story is definitely the one between Oskar Kokoshka and Alma Mahler. Alma was the widow of Gustav Mahler, the composer, when she met Oskar. When they broke up in 1918, Oskar was so devastated he went to the doll-maker Hermine Moos and had her make a giant, life-size doll that looked exactly like Alma Mahler. Then, he carried it with him everywhere around Vienna. …People got really used to it. It did not stop him from becoming a professor at the local university.  Finally, it all culminated with a party where he ritually beheaded the doll.  This did not stop him from going on to having a very happy marriage with a woman named Olga that lasted 40 years. They did wonderful work helping refugees and fighting against the Nazis. I think it’s a nice reminder that even if you did some crazy things, you can still go on to many other very happy relationships.

IN: What advice do you have for someone who’s going through a breakup?

JW: Take this time to eat lots of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, gin is probably the best drink in my experience, “30 Rock” is a great show because nobody is in love, no relationships work out well on that show so that’s a good heartbreak show to watch. Also, don’t let it define your life because the only people who end up really badly in the book are the people who, 10 years later, we’re still thinking about how terrible their ex was. *

IN: Do you have any advice for anyone seeking to be in a new relationship?

JW: Always try to be as positive with your partner as you can because there are a lot of people in the world that will tear your partner down. So, it’s nice to be a person that is able to build them up.

*DISCLAIMER: The Independent does not condone underage drinking. The legal drinking age in Illinois is 21.