Mrs Hemingway tells the story of how it was to love – and be loved by – the most famous writer of his generation. Set against the backdrop of bohemian Paris in the 1920s to 1960s Cold War America, Mrs Hemingway is narrated by Ernest Hemingway’s four wives: Hadley, Pauline, Martha and Mary. Based on real love-letters and telegrams, the novel is inspired by the explosive love-triangles that wrecked each of Hemingway’s marriages. As each wife struggles with his mistress for Ernest’s heart – and a place in his bed – each marriage slips from tenderness to treachery. Each Mrs Hemingway thought it would last forever. Each one was wrong.
A New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice
Listen to Naomi as a guest expert talk with Michael Palin and Matthew Parris on Ernest Hemingway: Radio 4’s Great Lives
“This is a wonderful book: carefully written, richly imagined and emotionally wise . . . Mrs. Hemingway feels truer than most of the biographies, and more real than many novels. Wood’s method is an effective way of getting to grips with the central enigma: Hemingway himself, a man tortured by masculinity. But it is also a sensitive and moving evocation of those women he depended on, who his life often overshadowed” Daily Telegraph
“Magnetic… assembles a satisfying puzzle of personalities, bringing each relationship’s beginning, end and overlap into vivid focus.” Leisl Schillinger, The New York Times Book Review
“The elegant prose and finely-wrought narrative of this humane novel exceed the sum of its parts.” The Independent
“Naomi Wood’s novel about Ernest Hemingway and his four women brings their story convincingly, movingly to life… She has made Hemingway’s tragedy seem moving all over again – and that’s no mean feat.” The Observer
“…whilst this is a fictionalised account based on known facts, it is so beautifully written, so true and so vivid that it eclipses anything strictly biographical.” The Daily Mail
“When it comes to love triangles, Naomi Wood’s edgy second novel skilfully sketches the skewed geometry of Ernest Hemingway’s fraught relationships… Mrs Hemingway is a memorably sharp portrait of the contemporary social and literary milieu…Showing what happens when words fail us, Mrs Hemingway is also a testament to the power of words and the language that remains, even after love has long gone.” Sunday Express
“Exquisitely written, the Mrs. Hemingways finally have their say in this beautiful novel.” Stylist Magazine
“Wood manipulates four sets of past-and-present with ease, telling the story from the perspective of each wife in turn… her portrayal of Hemingway is enticing.” The Guardian
“A beautiful read and an amazing insight into the life of the man…” Red
“The second novel from Naomi Wood, Mrs. Hemingway delves into the lives of Ernest Hemingway’s four wives, Wood’s meticulous research informing four beautifully written and empathetic novellas…” Daily Express
“… the superb Mrs. Hemingway gives us Ernest Hemingway as seen through the eyes of his four wives… Sublime.” The Bookseller
“Luminous, intoxicating…A passionate novel based on real lives, full of betrayals and moments of heartbreaking intimacy as Wood gives four remarkable women star billing.” Marie Claire
“Mrs. Hemingway is so beautifully written, and evocative, that I could not put it down until the last page.” Jojo Moyes, author of Me Before You
“Obsessively readable, fascinating, and heartbreaking, Mrs. Hemingway captures a time and people in a style the legend himself would no doubt admire.” Erika Robuck, author of Hemingway’s Girl and Call Me Zelda
“Wood has given us a fascinating, astutely observed, gorgeously written account of the Hemingway wives and their charismatic, enigmatic, troubled and troublesome husband. This is a gem of a book.” Therese Anne Fowler, author of Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
READINGS, HAPPENINGS, FESTIVALS, EVENTS
1st – Beyond Retro Book Club, London
15th – NEW London date – Institute of Americas, UCL
19th – National Academy of Writing, London
US Book Tour
- 28 May: Books and Company on the Greene – DAYTON
- 29 May: Magers and Quinn Booksellers – MINNEAPOLIS
- 2 June: Anderson’s Bookshop – CHICAGO
- 3 June: McLean & Eakin- PETOSKEY
- 4 June: Left Bank Books – ST. LOUIS
- 5 June: Vero Beach Book Centre – WEST PALM BEACH
16th – Goldsmiths Reunite event at the Ace Hotel, New York City.
21st – ‘Hemingway with a Rum Cocktail': The Also Festival, Stratford
24th – Neo Luxor Bookstore, Wenceslas Square, Prague, Czech Republic
10th – Richmond Waterstones: to book, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Further details: 020 8332 1600.
12th – The Telegraph Ways with Words Festival, Dartington
20th – Latitude Festival
8th – Pillow-talk and Sweet Nothings: Hemingway’s Love Letters at 5 x 15 at the Edinburgh Festival
9th – In Conversation with Guardian Books Editor Claire Armistead and author of ‘The Poets’ Wives’ David Park: Edinburgh Book Festival event
10th – Reading workshop on The Sun Also Rises (as part of Edinburgh Book Festival)
6th – Livre Sur Les Quais, Morges, Switzerland
19th – Budleigh Salterton Literature Festival, with Jessie Burton (author of The Miniaturist), East Devon
22nd – Books Talk Back at The British Library
24th – Blackheath Halls Event at Trinity Laban, London.
28th – Breakfast with Naomi Wood and Mrs. Hemingway at the Marlborough Literature Festival, Wiltshire
7th – Jessie Burton (author of The Miniaturist) and Naomi Wood (Mrs. Hemingway) discuss their inspirations at The Cheltenham Festival
12th – Sarah Churchwell and Naomi Wood discuss the Roaring Twenties at the Durham Literature Festival
14th – Knutsford Festival
BOOK CLUB QUESTIONS
Image copyright Nick Hayes
1. Who was your favourite Mrs. Hemingway, and why?
2. If you could have a cocktail with any of the women, which one would it be?
3. Which woman did you identify with the most?
4. Why do you think women were so attracted to Hemingway? And why do you think they were so willing to turn a blind-eye to his indiscretions?
5. Was it shocking to find out that so many of the mistresses and wives were friends?
6. Did you have sympathy for any of the women you previously may have disliked?
7. Ernest Hemingway was charming but also an incurable cad! Did you have any sympathy for him by the end of the novel?
8. Why do you think he married so often, and so often made the same mistake?
9. If you’ve read Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, how does the portrait of Hadley compare to her depiction in Mrs. Hemingway?
10. Do you think if Hadley had not lost the suitcase of his work, the first Hemingways may have stuck it out? Do you think Ernest ever moved on from Hadley?
11. Did Pauline Pfeiffer reap what she sowed? Or did you have sympathy for her by the end of her chapter?
12. Was Martha Gellhorn too like Ernest for them to survive each other?
13. If, in a hypothetical world, Ernest hadn’t taken his own life, do you think Mary Welsh would have been his last wife?
14. If you could choose to live in any of the locations, which would it be? Paris, Key West, Havana or Idaho?
15. If you could live in any of the novel’s epochs, which would you choose?
Mrs. Hemingway: An Extract
Everything, now, is done à trois. Breakfast, then swimming; lunch, then bridge; dinner, then drinks in the evening. There are always three breakfast trays, three wet bathing suits, three sets of cards left folded on the table when the game, abruptly and without explanation, ends. Hadley and Ernest are accompanied wherever they go by a third: this woman slips between them as easily as a blade. This is Fife: this is her husband’s lover.
Hadley and Ernest sleep together in the big white room of the villa, and Fife sleeps downstairs, in a room meant for one. The house is quiet and tense until one of their friends arrives with soap and provisions, idling by the fence posts, wondering whether it might be best to leave the three undisturbed.
They lounge around the house—Hadley, Ernest, and Fife—and though they know they are all miserable no one is willing to sound the first retreat; not wife, not husband, not mistress. They have been in the villa like this for weeks, like dancers in relentless motion, trying to exhaust each other into falling.
The morning is already warm and the light has turned the white cotton sheets nearly blue. Ernest is sleeping. His hair is still parted as it was during the day, and there is a warm fleshy smell to his skin that Hadley would tease him about were she in the mood. Around his eyes is a sunburst of wrinkles on the browned skin; Hadley can imagine him squinting out over the top of the boat, looking for the best place to drop anchor and fish.
In Paris, his beauty has become notorious; it is shocking what he can get away with. Even their male friends are bowled over by his looks; they outpace the barmaids in their affection for him. Others see beyond all this to his changeability: meek, at times; bullish at others—he has been known to knock the spectacles off a man’s face after a snub in the bal musette. Even some of their close friends are nervous of him—including Scott—though they are older and more successful, it doesn’t seem to matter. What contrary feelings he stirs in men. With women it’s easier—they snap their heads to watch him go and they don’t stop looking until he’s gone. She only knows of one who isn’t charmed by him.
Hadley lies looking up at the ceiling. The beams have been eaten away; she can track the worm’s progress through the wood. Lampshades sway as if there is a great weight to them, though all they are is paper and dowelling. Someone else’s perfume bottles glint on the dressing table. Light presses at the shutters. It will be hot again today.
Hadley really wants nothing more than to be in cold old Paris, in their apartment with the smells of pigeon roasting on the coal fire and the pissoir off the landing. She wants to be back in the narrow kitchen and the bathroom where damp spores the walls. She wants to have their usual lunch of boiled eggs at a table so small their knees knock together. It was at this table that Hadley had her suspicions of the affair confirmed. I think Ernest and Fife are very fond of each other, Fife’s sister had said. That’s all she had needed to say.
Yes, Hadley would rather be in Paris or even St. Louis right now, these cities which nurse their ash-pit skies and clouds of dead sleet—anywhere but here, in the violet light of glorious Antibes. At night, fruit falls to the grass with a soft thunk and in the morning she finds the oranges split and stormed by ants. The smell around the villa is ripening. And already, this early, the insects have begun.
Hadley gets up and goes over to the window. When she presses her forehead against the glass, she can see his mistress’s room. Fife’s blinds are closed. Their son Bumby sleeps downstairs, too, having fended off the whooping cough—the coqueluche—which brought them all to this villa in the first place. Sara Murphy didn’t want Bumby near her children for fear the infection would spread. The Fitzgeralds were good to offer their villa for the quarantine—they didn’t have to. But when Hadley walks around the villa, touching their glamorous things, it feels awful to have her marriage end in the rented quarters of another family’s house.
Tonight, however, marks the end of their quarantine. The Murphys have invited them over to Villa America and it will be the first time this vacation that the unhappy trio has been in the company of friends. To Hadley, the party feels both exciting and dreadful: something has happened in the villa that nobody else has seen, as if someone has wet the mattress and not owned up to the fast-cooling spot in the middle of the bedclothes.
Hadley climbs back into bed. The sheet is tense around Ernest; she tries to pull it back so that he’ll think she hasn’t yet left, but he has the cotton bunched in his fist. She kisses the top of his ear and whispers, “You’ve stolen the bedding.”
Ernest doesn’t answer but scoops her toward him. In Paris he likes to be up early and in his studio by nine. But in Antibes these embraces happen many times daily, as if Ernest and Hadley are in the first flush of romance again, even while both of them know this summer might be the end of things. Lying next to him she wonders how it is she has lost him, although perhaps that is not quite the right phrase, since she has not lost him, not yet. Rather Fife and Hadley wait and watch as if they are lining up for the last seat on a bus.
“Let’s go for a swim.”
“It’s too early, Hash.” Ernest’s eyes are still closed though there is a flicker behind the lids. She wonders if he’s weighing both of them up now that he is awake. Should it be wife? Or mistress? Mistress, or wife? The brain’s whisper begins.