Rating: 4 stars
I have a love/hate thing about Ernest Hemingway. I appreciate his writing, but the things I read about him, and that are thinly disguised in his novels, make me despise him. I wasn’t expecting Naomi Wood’s book to change my opinion of him, and it didn’t. I was more interested in finding out what kind of woman marries a man like Hemingway. It turns out that each Mrs Hemingway is a variation on the theme of “I can’t help loving this creative manchild”/”I’ll be the one to tame him”. Hemingway also plays into this cliché by wanting to be changed by each marriage, even though he just likes the first flush of love and the writing he can wring out of it.
The book was an interesting fictionalisation, and I wonder how much the available information on each woman influenced the way they are portrayed by Naomi Wood. Only Mary Welsh wrote her own memoir. Only Mary Welsh comes across with any warmth.
Hadley Richardson was wife #1. Her tale made me sad, how weak Hemingway was and how accepting of his weakness she was. It hasn’t made me warm to Hemingway any.
Fife Pfeiffer was wife #2. She was the winner to Hadley’s loser. Feistier when it came to her own losing, but still not feisty enough to force Hemingway to grow a pair and stop chasing the thrill of the first flush. I think I despise him because I recognise his loss of interest after the first flush fades from relationships I have had. Archetypally creative men are disappointing human beings.
Martha Gellhorn was wife #3. A college-girl crush on a famous writer that turned into codependency via marriage. She is Fife+. More of a match, more her own person, but consequently blind to the inevitable, because she is focused on her own selfish needs, not his. She is neither admirable nor sympathetic. I feel like they deserved each other and nobody should care.
Mary Welsh was the better wife, wife #4. She had the measure of the man, and the man was older. The extraordinary events of the 20th century had their impact, too, it comes across. To live through 2 world wars, the Spanish Civil War and the upheavals of modern life’s rapid change meant Mary was a different woman to the previous three wives, and Hemingway a different man, by the time their paths crossed. I liked Mary.