Today is another review for the Literary Wives blogging club, in which we discuss the depiction of wives in modern fiction. If you have read the book, please participate by leaving comments on any of our blogs. Be sure to read the reviews and comments of the other wives!
Although I liked Mrs. Hemingway better than many of the books we’ve read for Literary Wives, I still wasn’t that fond of it. Perhaps my reaction has more to do with my dislike of Hemingway.
Mrs. Hemingway purports to be about each of Ernest Hemingway’s four wives, particularly about the periods when each of them split from Hemingway (or in the case of Mary, when Hemingway died). As it is such a short book, it can’t really deal with their relationships in depth. And, I used the word “purports” advisedly, because this novel shows more insight into Hemingway than into his wives.
In fact, none of the wives seem like a distinctive character except Martha Gellhorn, and she, interestingly, is depicted with the least sympathy. She alone seems serious about her own writing career, even though two of the other wives are also writers, and she alone breaks with Hemingway.
Not that Hemingway actually breaks with anyone. Instead, he manipulates his wives and mistresses into impossible situations without making a decision, until something gives.
This novel did nothing to change my opinion of Hemingway as a loud, macho bully, so overtly masculine as to perhaps reflect an unsureness about his own sexuality. But I’m over-analyzing. An alcoholic, and a person who alternates charming and brutish behavior. In other words, a jerk.
What does this book say about wives or the experience of being a wife?
It says, don’t marry Ernest Hemingway. But seriously, I don’t think we see enough of these marriages to understand them. We start out at the end of each one, with flashbacks. But it’s hard to understand what draws these women in. I didn’t really feel the charm as described. What I saw was manipulation, cruelty, and a combination of self-regard and self-hatred. Clearly, Hadley thinks he is unbelievably handsome, which he was when he was young. The others are to a certain extent attracted by his fame.
If we are to believe this book, these marriages consist of swimming, fishing, hunting, and drunken parties. We don’t really see the characters in a day-by-day existence. Maybe we see more with Mary, Hemingway’s last wife, but she is dealing with depression and madness along with the alcoholism. Still, we don’t learn very much about what makes any of these characters tick.
The most we can say is that a wife of Hemingway’s can’t rely on him to be faithful, even when he seems at his most tender. Also, that marriage is a one-way street. Everything is for the benefit of Mr. Hemingway.