Friday, November 8, 2013

Hemingway's wives

While not worshiping at the shrine of Ernest Hemingway I have come to love his many wives. Not a one of the four became a caricature of the artist's wife which in turn made them more real and their lives more fascinating than his.

Ernest Hemingway's first 3 wives, Hadley Richardson, Pauline Pfeiffer and Martha Gellhorn were each St. Louis girls.  As Ernest wrote, "if one is perpetually doomed to marry people from St. Louis, it's best to marry them from the best families"  to which Gertrude Stein replied "anyone who's married three girls from St. Louis hasn't learned much." Several of my friends would agree.

St. Louis was a much smaller town in those days, and although not close in age, Hem's personal First 3 Wives Club had more than him in common. Growing up in the same neighborhood, one which became a modest midwest Bloomsbury (more on that soon) they had money, travelled in the same social circles, knew the same families and liked each other at least for a while. 

I have a picture in my mind's eye of Hem, who doesn't visit STL often and is unwilling to take direction, driving to his in-laws for Thanksgiving, turning left when he should have turned right,and arriving, family in tow, at the wrong wife's house. Never happened but could have. A boy can dream, can't he?

Hadley and Pauline's families each owned pharmaceutical companies. Martha's MD father was Hadley's OB/GYN. 

 Hadley Richardson

 Pauline Pfeiffer

Martha Gellhorn

Perhaps more troubling for Hem than not knowing his wives local references was keeping their birthdays straight. Today is Martha Gellhorn's birthday, tomorrow would be Hadley's. How would any husband be expected to remember back to back birthdays ?

A Moveable Feast (pre-2009 edition) is considered the beginner's guide to Hemingway's first 2 wives, Hadley was clearly the love of Ernest life, the one he let get away. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain tells her story clearly and convincingly.  

History is somewhat unkind to Pauline, the beautiful, young, rich girl Hemingway dumped Hadley for. Ultimately, it was her money and her family connections that gave Hemingway's talent room to blossom. 

Martha Gellhorn quickly saw through Hemingway's act, and tired of it. She was the only wife to divorce him.  Martha was a more talented writer, and braver than he'd ever be, and would not allow herself "to be a footnote in anyone's biography." Travels with Myself and Another, written by Martha is a good intro. The Another is Hemingway although he is never mentioned by name.

Fourth wife Mary survived Hem and was his literary heir.  A Moveable Feast, while completely written by Ernest, supposedly was edited by Mary after Ernest's death. Maybe/Maybe not. Pauline's family felt the Pfeiffer contribution was slighted in the original. The 2009 edition, edited by Pauline's grandson Sean, adds their story.  Read the earlier edition.



Main Line Sportsman said...

He was always just searching for the nurse he missed in Italy...

Anonymous said...

History of Pauline is now being revised via a new book: Unbelievable Happiness and Final Sorrow: The Hemingway-Pfeiffer Marriage by Ruth Hawkins. An insightful read that puts the spotlight squarely upon the woman who was the mother to two of his three sons, and undoubtedly made the big house in Key West, the fishing boat,and African safari possible.

Anonymous in NY

Toad said...

Thank you Anon I can't wait and look forward to it. Pauline was my favorite wife.

Bibphil said...

My understanding was that Hadley initiated the divorce, Hemingway was sitting on the fence perhaps hoping the protagonists would slug it out and a winner would be declared.