Hemingway’s Widow: About The Book

Ernest Hemingway was by reputation the most macho of a generation of macho men.  He lived through the turbulence of the two world wars, the Spanish Civil War, and the Cuban revolution.   Seriously wounded in the first war, he became a celebrated veteran.  Despite his wounds, he went on to be a boxer, sport fisherman, big game hunter, war correspondent in Spain, France and Germany, and bullfighting expert.  Hemingway came across through his journalism and fiction-writing as a brave, strong, and true man.  He championed a code that prescribed: the primacy of military values, empathy with the ordinary soldier rather than the officer class, grace under pressure, shooting only if necessary, then shooting to kill, respecting the enemy, getting a clean kill or tracking wounded animals to end their suffering, standing up to adversity with the style and courage of the matador.  He came to represent the macho model of masculinity to generations of men and women raised in the twentieth century.  The Hemingway hero was a man to be emulated.

Hemingway was a charismatic individual who drew people to himself with the power of a tornado, sucking them in, lifting them up, and destroying some caught in the vortex of his troubled personality.  Women were especially drawn to him, and he was vulnerable to them.  He married four times.

Hadley was his first wife.  Hemingway was most in love with her (at least in retrospect), but she was unfashionable, eight years older, and could not fight off the deviously aggressive Pauline.  Rich and chic, Pauline was determined to win him away, and have babies with him, while supporting him financially so he could write. She succeeded, marrying him and giving birth to two sons, before losing him to a woman who pursued him as ruthlessly as she had.  Martha Gellhorn, the third wife, was alluring, sexy (but not sexual), tantalizing him until she had him. She was gradually disgusted by him, thinking him a coward, calling him so, and hating him until he let her go.

Mary Welsh, the fourth wife, was sharp and feisty, adoring, sexually compatible, and supportive of his artistic mission.  He asked her to marry him on their third meeting, even though they were married to others. She was his kitten and he was her lamb.  Through the eyes of Mary, we see the macho Hemingway, if he ever really existed, dissolve.

Hemingway’s Widow tells the story of Mary Welsh and her partnership with Ernest Hemingway.  From the backwoods of Minnesota, she worked to establish herself as a journalist in wartime London where she met Hemingway, already one of the most famous men in the world, and eventually married him.  Everyone who read The Paris Wife (1.3 million copies were sold) will want to read Mary’s story to compare, to contrast, and to judge.  Those who loved Hadley will be curious about Mary.  Said to be prettier than the frigid Gellhorn, she was sexually experienced, playful in bed, and triggered Ernest’s fetishes.  She fought off younger rivals for his affection.  Mary had a serious career in journalism which she sacrificed for his, becoming the manager of Hemingway enterprises and carving out the space he needed to be creative.  She was the most collaborative of the wives, the most helpful artistically, the most protective of his reputation.  She tried to save him from injury, booze, and depression, even while enduring his irrational anger and abuse. She found him dead, and pretended to the world he had killed himself by accident.  She was the wife who buried him; the only person he entrusted with his estate and literary legacy.  She published one third of his work posthumously.

Meticulously researched but lightly written, Hemingway’s Widow, portrays the strong woman behind the outwardly, macho man.