In a recent radio interview British writer Naomi Wood light-heartedly apologized to Americans for “appropriating” their literary hero, for it is Ernest Hemingway who is, inevitably, the pivot around whom her novel Mrs Hemingway turns. At some time in each of Hemingway’s marriages there were (at least) three integral participants, except perhaps for the first few months of his first marriage to Hadley Richardson. It is these triptychs that provide the structure for Wood’s novel as she focuses the story of each wife at the beginning and the end of their marriages and the points of overlap between the “unlikely sisters”. They were an eclectic collection: Hadley, the shy, slightly frumpy woman, out of her depth in Hemingway’s anarchic social world; Pauline Pfeiffer – Fife – the dazzling socialite who created an environment that nurtured Hemingway’s most creative period and who was left the most damaged by his philandering; Martha Gellhorn, ambitious and adventurous war reporter, famed in her own right; and finally Mary Welsh, the American journalist, daughter of a lumberjack; the tentative one, protective even after his death.
As Mary, acknowledges: “Ernest had, by default, to be shared. There weren’t two women in her marriage; there were always four … The thing was not to be heartbroken about it.” Indeed, the wives stayed in contact with each other long after divorce, not quite a friendship rather an understanding forged by extremes of marital happiness and disintegration.