Naomi Wood gives each of Hemingway's wives their say upon that relationship both with him and each other in her novel Mrs. Hemingway. The story is divided into four parts,beginning with Hadley towards the end of her marriage as she,Ernest and Pauline "Fife" Pfeiffer are sharing a beach house together in France.
Part of the reason for their close quarters is due to Hadley and Ernest's son Bumby needing to be quarantined after a bout of illness. Fife arrived to offer Hadley some much needed companionship,since Ernest intends to join them a little later, but all too soon, it becomes clear that Fife's devotions are meant for Ernest first and foremost.
As much as Hadley wished that it was not so, the mutual romance between her husband and her friend is virtually impossible to ignore. Even their circle of friends that includes Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald(along with Gerald and Sara Murphy) can barely turn a blind eye to that affair.
Fife's driven desire to have Hemingway as her husband is successful yet several years into that marriage, she finds herself in Hadley's position as his eye turns to Martha Gellhorn, the bold and beautiful journalist who enjoys sharing wartime reporting with him. Unlike his previous brides, Ernest had to talk Martha into marrying him. The two of them were better as lovers than partners in marriage, with Hemingway wanting more of a stay-at-home wife than a fellow writer towards their inevitable end.
Mary was with him to the last, as her section of the book deals with her mourning Ernest's death not long after his suicide(which she insisted upon calling an accident). Her grief is tender torture, as she struggles to decide what to do with the papers and other things that Hemingway left behind him.
Over the course of reading this book, I was planning to find the right theme song for this story(it's something that I've been doing for this series) and to my surprise, there are actually two songs that suit this novel well. The first half of the book, in both the Hadley and Fife segments, Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" felt like the solid click of ice cubes in a warm glass of gin that perfectly expressed the bittersweet pain that each woman went through as Hemingway wanted to have his proverbial cake and eat it too:
In the later portions with Martha and Mary, however, Wood's stirring depictions of those relationships lead to me to take a more sympathetic look at Hemingway's affairs of the heart.
While Ernest's failings as a husband are clearly shown, Naomi Wood also gives each of the women in his life opportunity to reflect on the good along with the bad moments of their relationship. Hemingway seemed to go all in emotionally when it came to love,no matter how fleeting his central focus was, and that vibrant combination of talent,charisma and chaos is what made him both hard to love and hard to resist.
Wood elegantly captures the voice of each woman,as well as draws engaging portraits of the other people in their lives such as the Murphys(the scene where Martha and Ernest show up to a dinner party very late and Sara seems ready to throw her now cold soup at them is darkly amusing).
Her ultimate take on Hemingway's wives is that despite their different approaches, the one tie that binds them all together is missing Ernest when he leaves. With that in mind, the other song for Mrs. Hemingway is appropriately titled "Mrs. Hemingway" sung by Mary Chapin Carpenter as a tribute to Hadley. For both Ernest and his other love interests, Hadley was the standard that they all felt they had to live up to and it does bookend the novel quite nicely:
The film begins with their meeting up in Florida during his marriage to Fife(Molly Parker) and continues through their budding romance covering the Spanish Civil War right through to the end of their marriage as Mary Welsh(Parker Posey) enters the picture.
The movie does cover some of Hemingway's last years and looks in on Martha in her later years as she's giving an interview about her life and times. What really engaged me was Kidman as Gellhorn, both in her younger days and as a strong older woman reflecting on her experiences. She gave a riveting performance that made you see what Hemingway must have seen in the real life Gellhorn, a smart,determined woman who was eager to live and love on her own terms:
I know the movie received mixed reviews and to be sure, it does have it's flaws(the running time alone needed a good trim) and yes, I could have done without seeing Robert Duvall ham it up as a Russian general ready to have a bar fight with Hemingway over Martha.
However, the movie always held my interest, even during the slow parts towards the end, and while the offbeat artistic choices made here like certain scenes turning from color to sepia tones, not to mention having Martha and Ernest consummating their love in a hotel room during a bombing raid, the performances truly made this all work. The connection between Owen and Kidman onscreen really brings the figures of the past that they're playing come to vivid life, making you understand them a bit more as real people in love yet at odds with each other:
That brief romance was the inspiration for one of Hemingway's iconic novels, A Farewell to Arms, which I will be reading as well. There are about three adaptations of AFTA(one of which was made for TV) but I think that checking out In Love and War might be a more interesting compare and contrast there.
Not sure how convincing Chris O'Donnell is going to be as a young Hemingway, especially after the robust energy of Clive Owen in H&G, but willing to give both him and A Farewell to Arms a fair shot. No doubt one will be truly better than the other but you have to admit, the movie does sound like old school romantic fun: