Hemingway's Leading Ladies: Background information when reading The Paris Wife

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The Paris Wife

A Novel

by Paula McLain

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2011, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2012, 352 pages

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Beyond the Book:
Hemingway's Leading Ladies

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Paula McLain's novel, The Paris Wife, centers on the relationship between Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Elizabeth Hadley Richardson. However, over the course of his life (1899-1961) Ernest Hemingway married four different women, each unique and interesting in her own right:

Elizabeth Hadley Richardson Elizabeth Hadley Richardson: Born on November 9, 1891, Hadley was raised in a rather cheerless household. She suffered a serious injury as a child when she fell out of a second-story window, putting her in the hospital for months and igniting her mother's overprotection. This, plus the suicide of her father when she was 12, contributed to Hadley's severe shyness, and she sought refuge from her difficult childhood in music. After her mother's death, Hadley visited a friend in Chicago, whereupon she met Ernest. They were married on September 3, 1921 and shortly thereafter moved to Paris. On October 10, 1923, John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway (Bumby) was born, Ernest's first child. However, during his time writing The Sun Also Rises, their marriage began to fall apart, and after Hadley discovered that Ernest was having an affair with Pauline Pfeiffer, they officially divorced in January 1927.

Pauline Pfeiffer Pauline Pfeiffer: Born in Iowa on July 22, 1895 and raised in St. Louis, Pauline graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 1918. She worked at the Cleveland Star, moved to New York, was hired by the Daily Telegraph, and finally landed jobs at Vanity Fair and Vogue, where she was a fashion reporter. She met Ernest in Paris, and they began a romantic affair, effectively ending his marriage to Hadley and leading to their own marriage in May 1927. In 1928 they moved to Key West and had two sons - Patrick (born 1928) and Gregory (born 1931). The couple divorced in November 1940 on the grounds of "desertion."

Martha Gellhorn Martha Gellhorn: Born on November 8, 1908 to a well-educated family, and one of four children, Martha Gellhorn graduated from John Burroughs School in 1926 but never finished her studies at Bryn Mawr College, instead pursuing a career as a foreign correspondent. A close friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, and well-known as an extremely accomplished journalist, she also wanted to write fiction. In November 21, 1940 Martha and Ernest were married - just two and a half weeks after his divorce to Pauline was finalized. Their marriage, however, did not last long, as Martha's strong will and Ernest's frequent drinking habits put them at odds. They were divorced in December 1945, without children.

Mary Welsh Hemingway Mary Welsh Hemingway: Born in Minnesota on April 5, 1908, Mary worked as a war correspondent and journalist, both within the United States and internationally. At the time she met Ernest, she was living in London and writing for Time. After her divorce from Noel Monks in 1945, she and Ernest were married in the spring of 1946 in Cuba. Eventually, they moved to Ketchum, Idaho. Ernest's marriage to Mary was the only one that did not end in divorce. Tragically, Mary became his widow in 1961 after Ernest's suicide.

For more information on the wives of Ernest Hemingway, check out Bernice Kert's fabulous book: The Hemingway Women: Those Who Loved Him - the Wives and Others

This article was originally published in March 2011, and has been updated for the November 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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