Ernest Hemingway and Aldous Huxley: Background information when reading Hemingway's Boat

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Hemingway's Boat

Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost, 1934-1961

by Paul Hendrickson

Hemingway's Boat by Paul Hendrickson
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2011, 544 pages
    Jul 2012, 544 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Marnie Colton

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About this Book

Beyond the Book:
Ernest Hemingway and Aldous Huxley

Print Review

On the surface, few early- to mid-twentieth century writers could be more different than Ernest Hemingway and Aldous Huxley. Hemingway (1899-1961), a rugged American with an appetite for alcohol, women, and outdoor sports, fine-tuned the art of the terse, elliptical sentence. Huxley (1894-1963), on the other hand, was born into a prominent English family, wrote elegant satirical and dystopian novels like Crome Yellow and Brave New World, and embraced the new frontier of hallucinogenic drugs, most explicitly in his extended essay on mescaline usage, The Doors of Perception. Hemingway eagerly participated in World War I as an ambulance driver, sustaining a serious wound that kept him hospitalized for months and that stoked his public image as a man's man. Huxley abhorred war and was denied American citizenship for his refusal to pledge to fight in any sort of military endeavor.

Ernest Hemingway and Pauline Pfeiffer

If the two men had ever met, it's likely that Hemingway would have found Huxley effete, and that Huxley would have written off Hemingway as a bore. But the two share a tenuous yet powerful link: Hemingway's second wife, Pauline (above), had a sister, Virginia (aka Jinny, spelled Ginny in some accounts), who notoriously detested Hemingway and equally notoriously lived with the woman who became Huxley's second wife, Laura Archera.

Laura Archera and Virginia Pfeiffer

Open lesbianism was practically unheard of in the 1940s, but Jinny and Laura (an Italian expatriate who played violin in the Los Angeles Philharmonic and worked as a documentary film producer) were "companions" whose relationship was evident to those in the know, according to Hemingway's Boat author Paul Hendrickson. Surprisingly, even contemporary websites gloss over the nature of the relationship, referring to Jinny as Laura's "close friend" rather than her romantic partner.

Aldous Huxley and Laura Archera

After Laura married Aldous Huxley in 1956, she joined her husband in his psychedelic explorations and became involved with the self-help movement as it gained popularity in the United States, especially on the West Coast. Jinny remained an important part of the Huxleys' lives though - especially after Laura and Aldous moved in with her in the wake of a house fire.

Huxley died of cancer on November 22, 1963, the same day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. In 1973, Jinny also died from cancer, designating Laura the guardian of her granddaughter, Karen; among her many daring exploits, Jinny had become one of the first single American women to adopt children. Little information is available about Jinny beyond footnotes in Hemingway biographies, but she seems to have been a fascinating character who flaunted convention and knew two radically dissimilar authors.

Top image: Ernest Hemingway with Pauline Pfeiffer
Middle image: Laura Archera and Virginia Pfeiffer
Bottom image: Laura Archera with Aldous Huxley

Article by Marnie Colton

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

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