Wednesday, April 11, 2012

historical BLOW OFFS: Ernest Hemingway & Hadley Richardson

Welcome to our new regular column: historical BLOW OFFS! Yes, it's true. We are now in the business of edumucating. Meet our first featured couple:

Hadley was Ernest Hemingway's first wife. They were married on September 3, 1921 (exactly 90 years before the H-bomb and I tied the knot, really hope the fact that we share an anniversary with them is not a bad omen.) Ernest and Hadley moved to Paris together where they rubbed elbows with other writers and artists, had a baby boy, and drank a lot of whiskey. I recently became familiar with their love story after the book club I'm in read The Paris Wife by Paula McClain (a work of fiction based on the marriage of Ernest & Hadley) followed by A Moveable Feast, Hemingway's memoirs on the same time period.

Here's what went down between these two. Being married to a writer and living in Paris might sound super hot and sexy, but not if their work is pretty much all they cared about. Hadley was the perfect devoted wife (even though she once accidentally lost ALL of Hemingway's early work on a train), while Hemingway was obsessed with becoming the quintessential American writer, even if it meant neglecting his family. Things in their marriage got really fucked up when Hadley discovered Ernest was having an affair with her best friend, Pauline Pfeiffer. Hemingway wanted to have his cake and eat it too: stay married to Hadley, while continuing his affair with Pauline.

Eventually, Hadley couldn't cope with bringing someone else into their marriage and she left Hemingway. BUT at one point, she gave him an ultimatum. She would grant him a divorce only if he and Pauline did not see or speak to each other for 100 days. Pauline and Ernest agreed. I think this was Hadley's last ditch effort to see if Ernest would choose her instead, but maybe she was on to something. Maybe anyone who's considering leaving their spouse for someone else should give themselves a hundred days of no contact to think long and hard about their decision. It was Hadley though that put an end to the 100 day deal. She called it off and moved forward with divorcing Hemingway. Ernest and Pauline married, had two sons, he eventually cheated on her too, and they got divorced. Hemingway was married two more times before he shot himself in 1961. Pauline died in 1951-- allegedly after a phone call from Hemingway caused a tumor she had to secrete excessive adrenaline. The change in blood pressure that followed caused the shock that killed her.

Hadley fared much better. She was remarried to Paul Mowrer for nearly forty years until his death in 1971. And I'm guessing she found some closure when it came to her marriage to Ernest. In his memoirs, published three years after his death, Hemingway writes about how regretful he was about the way he ended his marriage to Hadley ("I wished I had died before I loved anyone but her.") Um, I kind of wish every guy that ever dumped me would devote a chapter in their memoirs about how much they regretted it...and then shoot themselves, of course. Hemingway on the affair:

There is all that time when you do things that are impossible and when you are with one you love her and with the other you love her and together you love them both. You break all promises and you do everything you knew that could never do nor would want to do. The one who is relentless wins. But finally it is the one who loses that wins and that is the luckiest thing that ever happened for me. (A Moveable Feast, restored edition p. 216)

Wow. The man could write. I love this passage. I love that he claims his mistress won, because she was the relentless one. But ultimately, Hadley ended up happier than all of them. And that her happiness sort of alleviated his guilt in the end.

I leave you with this line from A Moveable Feast which sort of encapsulates why I started this blog in the first place:

...maybe in the end it is easier to break your legs than to break your heart, although they say that whatever breaks that many are stronger at the broken places.


  1. this is an AMAZING idea. i love it. And y'all should read the Paris Wife for sure.

  2. such a good story! I think michelle williams will be dyeing her hair black to play Pauline.

  3. Great post girl! Their love story is stuck in my head forever because of these books.