Hemingway’s Four Wives

June 27, 2012

Hadley Richardson, Pauline Pfeiffer, Matha Gellhorn, Mary Welsh — I sometimes think of them as punctuation marks to the writing.  And yet a good chunk of world history seems written into these marriages.

Hadley was in Paris with Hemingway in the 1920s: her small legacy and the strong American dollar after World War I made the financial insecurity of a struggling author much less of a burden than it would have been back home.

Pauline’s uncle bought 907 Whitehead Street, the Key West house that the Hemingways lived in from 1931 to 1939, with a $20,000 swimming pool.  American readers think of Key West when they think of Hemingway, and yet the first time he went there – he had come on the ferry from Havana – it was going to be no more than a pit stop, occasioned by the nonappearance of the car that was supposed to have been waiting for him.  And in fact Hemingway was never in Key West the entire time.  1937 and 1938 were spent mostly in Spain covering the Spanish Civil War, including the Battle of Ebro, the Republicans’ last stand.  Pauline, who was Catholic, was meanwhile fervently pro-Fascist.

Martha was of course in Spain with Hemingway, though, oddly, there’s very little overlap between her accounts of the Siege of Madrid (later collected in The Face of War) and For Whom the Bell Tolls, set in the countryside, behind enemy lines.  In 1941 Martha was sent by Collier’s Magazine to cover the Chinese Revolution; Hemingway went with her, though he seemed to have disliked that country, much preferring Cuba.

And indeed he was in Cuba longer than any other place – 1939 to 1960 – living first with Martha and then with Mary at Finca Vigia (now the Museo Hemingway), 15 miles from Havana.  Santiago, the protagonist of The Old Man and the Sea, is Cuban.   Even today, as Ewen MacAskil reports in the Guardian, Finca Vigia remains on “the frontline” for those opposed to U.S.-imposed sanctions.

Not the way the story is usually told, but why not?

About wcd2

Professor of English and American Studies
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