Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Literary Wives #24!!

While I usually adjust the cover image size to something smaller, 
honestly, I believe this cover needs to be LARGE to better represent 
the LARGE person who was Ernest Hemingway, 
as well as all the people who loved and/or were obsessed with him.
Quite naturally, this listing includes the four women who actually married him,
all the men who were obsessed with him, all the women who slept with him, 
as well as all the others who were charmed by him.
And he was certainly a "charmer"...though in my opinion, he was quite the cad, 
particularly within his intimate relationships.

Be sure to check out the other LW cohosts' reviews:

Naomi of Consumed by Ink

Kay of whatmeread
Emily of The Bookshelf of Emily J.
Ariel of One Little Library

Here is my Literary Wives page listing all the past reads/reviews, as well as the cohosts who are currently on hiatus.

This is an online book discussion group that analyzes books with regard to the following question: 

What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?
First a review and then answering the question...

Having read and reviewed The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, I have a bit of familiarity with Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley/"Hash", and his second wife, Pauline/"Fife." However, Wood takes us into different territory in this novel, taking the reader into Hadley's head a bit more regarding her struggle with a realization that her husband is not only sleeping with her BFF, but is most likely in love with her, and possibly planning to make her 'Mrs. Hemingway #2.' 
[She] can feel Fife's ache for Ernest as strongly as if it were in her own body. (30)
I just cannot imagine being put in that situation. 😞 I also gained a better understanding of Hadley's mindset at the point in time that she first met Ernest. Her father had committed suicide during her youth, and she had spent a year recovering from a broken back.
She was six years old. Wheeled around for months in a stroller to keep her spine still, 
she felt as if she had been in a stroller like that all of her life. 
Her whole life spent in the killing blandness of St. Louis! 
Then Ernest had arrived, at a party one night in Chicago, 
unexpected, uninvited, and the world had ripped open with its riches. (27)
I could relate to her willingness to let loose and try something new and exciting in her life following the death of her mother after serving as her constant caretaker for months.  

Hadley considered herself a spinster at age 27 and never felt as if she 'fit in' with the "Lost Generation" of expats in Paris in the 1920's. A group of them would visit periodically during their son, Bumby's quarantine and recovery from whooping cough:
Hadley would watch them until they were out of sight: imagining the exquisite conversations back in Villa America, where one dressed for dinner and did not always undress in one's own bed. (32)
Yuck! Definitely not my kind of people! While considering Sara and Gerald Murphy:
...Hadley has always preferred Gerald. Ernest thinks him a poseur, 
but it's precisely this that appeals to her. Both she and Gerald seem miscast for their roles, 
while the others are pitch-perfect, delivering their lines pat. 
He is a mortal, like her, among the gods. (65)

Hadley mistakenly believes that inviting Fife to spend the summer with them will somehow force Ernest to choose to remain faithful to her. I had to chuckle at this:
...when Mr. and Mrs. Hemingway made love that night, Hadley made sure to scream out 
as loudly as she could, and the next morning over a breakfast of sherry and toast, 
Ernest's mistress was quieter than usual. (41)
However, I could never play such games... And did you notice? Sherry. For BREAKFAST! I venture to say the vast majority of these people were alcoholics, just to varying degrees. Good thing they employed caregivers for their children! At one point, one of the women calls Scott (F. Scott Fitzgerald) "a selfish infant who belongs in a kindergarten" and 
             Hadley thinks to herself, children are more civilized than this gang on the sauce. (77)

And never was there to be any admission of hard work, as in discussing the release of Ernest's book, The Sun:
"The Sun is going to make you a star, Ernest."
"Of course it is," Hadley says, looking over at her husband. 
"It's the best thing he's ever done. And he's worked so hard at it."
No one speaks. Ah yes, she has forgotten that success should come effortlessly or not at all. 
It's always got to be playtime. Cocktail hour. As if life were always a mooning adolescence or always blindingly fun. Hard work was for other people. (69)
These people really did believe in deluding themselves, if necessary... I believe Hadley was, by nature, much too realistic and pragmatic to truly fit in with them... She obviously 'played the game,' but I believe she really never did quite feel comfortable with these people. 

Fife states that in her sons' first few years of life they had practically been raised by their nursemaid and her sister, Jinny, while she, Fife, their MOTHER, accompanied Ernest wherever he wanted to go. 
She could manage being away from her sons, but not her husband. (114)
This reminded me of a conversation I recently had with a total stranger regarding one of my favorite authors whom I've met, Ayalet Waldman. This woman informed me Waldman had caused a shitstorm on Oprah by authoring a 2005 New York times article in which she stated "I love my husband more than I love my children." I guess some people are reacting very negatively to this, we both agreed that her point is well taken, it is your spouse/partner with whom you must maintain a relationship long after the children are adults and (hopefully) living their own lives. This is demonstrating the fact that there are many types of "love," and individuals love different people in different ways, and it is possible to love both your partner and your children without making one of these two your sole focus. (Though as a former full-time stay-at-home mother, I would say that your children MUST, by definition, be your highest priority, particularly during the infant/toddler stages. Unless you have the financial resources and choose to hire others to care for them.)

Fife (who does become the second Mrs. Ernest Hemingway, notes that Miss Gellhorn (Martha) is no Miss Mason (Jane). Fife knows that Ernest was traveling to Cuba to see Jane, but never felt threatened by her:
Ernest always liked his women happy and healthy, and the affair--if that is what it had been--
seemed to end just as soon as it had begun. (126) 
Jane, the poor and obviously deluded woman, suffered a broken spine as a result of jumping off a balcony following an argument with Ernest! Geeminy! 
It was as if Hadley had never felt that Ernest was hers;
whereas Fife has never felt Ernest was ever anybody else's. (136-137)
I guess this rather fits in with the power/powerlessness within a relationship. It was much easier for Fife in many ways to believe she had more power: she was independently wealthy, she was extremely confident and gregarious, and she was much more of an adventure-seeker than Hadley. Though as much as Fife wanted to believe he was all hers and only hers...that isn't how it played out in the end. In fact, that's not how it played out for any of the first three wives. 

And now for the Literary Wives question: 
What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?

I have always felt that if someone cheats on their spouse, the likelihood is that they will never choose to remain faithful to any one partner on a long-term basis...at least not for the 'long haul.' 'Once a cheater, always a cheater,' is the phrase that came to mind when Fife was considering her betrayal of Hadley and their own relationship as BFFs. But discounting her involvement with Ernest, especially while he was married to Hadley, as "something that just happened" is pure bullshit, in my opinion. I realize my inability to believe such a rationale is a direct result of my own personal experience. I had just completed my bachelor's degree after returning to college full-time once my children were in school. My ex-husband shocked me by stating that he was aware I would now be working among other professionals and eventually would meet another man, 'fall in love,' and want a divorce from him. I was momentarily dumbfounded. Firstly, I had no idea he lacked confidence to this degree, and I felt sympathy for him. Secondly, I was shocked that he didn't realize it was a "choice" we each made every day whether to allow others to believe we were 'available' or not. Last, but by no means least, I asked him if he honestly believed I had never been around any other males who appealed to me, or whom I found interesting, 'cause I most certainly had, but I made certain in my interactions with them, there was no misunderstanding as to whether I considered myself to be 'married,' which to me meant I was in a truly monogamous relationship (at least from my end) and faithful to only one man--in other words, I was NOT available!! And I left no doubt in anybody else's mind... To me, an individual must purposefully decide to engage in a relationship. I cannot conceive of my participation in an extramarital affair being 'out of my control.'      

Hadley, Ernest, and Fife are out on the raft, swimming and diving, and Hadley swims to shore. Immediately, Fife asks Ernest to go up on the rocks with her, but he refuses.
Ernest, evidently, could take her or leave her. She, on the other hand, wanted him always.
He had once told her that love was never about the powerful and powerless. 
But Fife can't think of what else might constitute a marriage. (112)
This really made me think. I do believe much of a marriage can honestly be determined by the sense of 'power' each partner may or may not believe they hold within the relationship. There are many variables that can contribute to a sense of power/powerlessness: economics/finances, manipulation and emotional control, aggression/violence, sexual satisfaction. A friend of ours was describing a date he had with a woman who insisted on paying her own way--it really threw him off and as a result, he decided he didn't like her. My advice to him? "Get over it." I would personally never allow or expect another person to 'pay my way' on dates, believing that, in effect, that can serve as a concession of power, recognizing the 'paying' person has some sense of 'control' or 'power' over you and/or the relationship. It sets a bad precedent with respect to a future relationship with that person, in my opinion. 

To Fife, it seems that "theft, possession, [and] recompense" are the "irreducible components of marriage." These thoughts came to her as she considered the fact of Ernest's continuing affair with Martha Gellhorn as her possible "undoing." Even Hadley noted that Ernest seemingly displayed "two personalities" as if he were actually "two different men." If loyalty is a characteristic of being a 'wife,' Fife certainly excels in that department: I would go so far as to say her attempt to retain Ernest bordered on obsession. 
"I won't divorce you, Ernest. Not for a long time, if that's what you're hoping."...
Ernest makes a grab for her, and Fife--not quite consciously--socks him on the jaw.
The shock of it--because it can't be the power--makes him stumble into the surf.
"You chickenshit coward!" she screams. "I could kill you!"
And for a moment she thinks she might just take his neck and hold it under the surf. 
She would rather kill him than have him be the possession of a woman 
who is nowhere near her equal.
This is why her love is better than Hadley's, better than Martha's.
No one, ever, will love him like this: enough to see his brain smashed into rock or 
his lungs fill with brine.... "You bastard," she says, "you don't even know what you've lost." (160)
I'm fairly certain Fife is correct. I don't believe Ernest ever realized what all he had 'lost' by cheating on his wives. And she is definitely proof just how thin the line between love and hate can be... Though I believe Ernest did feel shameful and guilty about Hadley...his first wife.

Martha was his third wife for 5 years, with this marriage ending in much the same way as the first two had...Ernest had already found wife #4! As Martha notes:
"I don't understand you. You say ou can't bear to lose me, 
but all the while you're writing poems to another woman?"
Ernest looks at her beseechingly but says nothing... 
"Mary who?"
"And who is this Mary Welsh? Is she your lover? Your mistress? Your next wife?"
Ernest looks about to say something but doesn't reply.
Martha thinks how typical all of this is of him: he wants his wife, 
he wants his mistress, he wants everything he can get. 
He is not so much greedy for women as blind to what he thinks he needs and so he grabs 
at everything. Wives and wives and wives--Ernest doesn't need a wife; he needs a mother! (210)
 And Martha is so correct...Mary will indeed become Ernest's fourth and last wife, before he takes his own life. I don't have much knowledge of Ernest's childhood, but I can't believe he was a child who felt secure in his life. That certainly might help explain his inability to remain faithful. As Martha notes...
Between divorcing his ex-wife and marrying her he'd left thirteen days; 
it seemed he was a man who couldn't bear being alone. (219)
I believe that is the truth. 
This big strapping man stomping about the city--and yet he couldn't seem to spend a week, 
a day, even an hour on his own. (219)

Martha almost admires him: what a feat,...to want to marry every woman he fucks.
He is so good at being in love that Ernest Hemingway makes a rotten husband. (220)
This made me laugh! How ironic, yet it did seem to be the truth of Ernest's life and loves. Adding to the irony, Martha actually meets with Mary and discovers they have much more in common than just an attraction/love for Ernest:
They walk down the Elysees together, Mrs. Hemingway and Mr. Hemingway's mistress...
Paris is where this sort of thing happens to Ernest, where women knit together his fate. 
He thinks he is the one making all the choices...He is not." (230)

Fife notes:
What a pull he has! What a magnetism! Women jump off balconies and follow him into wars.
Women turn their eyes from an affair, 
because a marriage of three is better than a woman alone. (126)
It seems this is the conundrum faced by virtually each of Ernest's wives... Yikes! That's all I have to say. I cannot imagine putting up with infidelity. And actually...I didn't...

As Wood states in the Afterword:
Mary Welsh [Mrs. Hemingway #4] said being loved by Hemingway was like 
being in a beam of light--and I imagine when that beam was turned off, 
it must have been a very heavy darkness indeed. (Afterword, 4)
Indeed, it did seem as if it was unbearable for each of them when that beam was no longer shining on them. 

Again, in the Afterword, I believe Wood summed up Ernest...
Norman Mailer wrote that Hemingway "carried a weight of anxiety within him...
which would have suffocated any man smaller than him." 
Reading about the depression and paranoia that accompanied his suicide moved me, 
and I think a good deal of human compassion makes you 
understand his behavior while refusing to excuse it. (Afterword, 7) 
I am fascinated by the Lost Generation and Hemingway specifically. He is definitely a complex and flawed personality...and I'm just glad I was not around to possibly be drawn in by his 'larger than life' persona.

I enjoyed Wood's book and getting to know a bit more about 
the Mrs. Hemingways #3 and #4.
I really need to make time to read some of the books he wrote! 
Have you read any of his books?
Have you read The Paris Wife or this one?

Join us for our next Literary Wives review 
on Monday, February 6: 
The Wife by Meg Wolitzer.

I have never read a Meg Wolitzer book
 and am looking forward to this one!

Happy Reading


  1. Your last sentence reminds me that I wondered about that while reading the book - what would I have thought of Ernest had we met? I would like to think I would have kept my head, but would I have fallen for him like everyone else?
    I think Hadley did well for herself to get out of there. I'm not so sure I could have handled watching all those adults getting drunk and ridiculous night after night.
    I didn't know what to think about Fife's decision to go everywhere with Ernest rather than be with her children. I'm not so sure it was out of love that she did it. Maybe more out of fear of losing him, which isn't the same thing. So I felt bad for her that she was missing out on her children because of that fear.

    1. I envision Ernest as the stereotypical "party boy"--fun to be around, but definitely not someone you would want to be "involved with"! I never will forget in The Paris Wife how Hadley, Fife, and Ernest were having toast and sherry for breakfast! Geeminy! Those people were never NOT drunk, were they? I felt Fife's love was more obsession than anything else--she was determined to WIN by not only marrying him but 'keeping him,' in my opinion. I have known a couple of women (though not well) who seemed to be so devoted to their husbands they basically neglected their children...I think that is so sad! Why have children if you don't intend to get to know them and care for and about them? Though I believe some women just have children because they feel it is "expected" of them. And it's not as if Fife (and thereby Ernest) ever had to worry about money...they could do as they pleased. In rereading my Goodreads review, I had noted that Hadley was the only one of the four wives who hadn't been his mistress first!! :)