Despite the high critical praise he receives, I’ve always felt Ernest Hemingway was an overrated writer. Maybe his chauvinistic sweat offends me. That shouldn’t be a reason for shunning his art, of course, but it does explain why his female characters are so flat and docile — paper dolls waiting for a man to give them dimension. That includes Lady Brett Ashley who only sounds authentic when she’s drunk.
In contrast to his early novels, I do like A Moveable Feast, Death in the Afternoon and The Old Man And the Sea, where he perfects his spare, biblical style. Much of the time, however, his machismo shines through his work and spoils my enjoyment. No doubt, the defect reflects his life story– the trail of wives he sucked dry with his ego. Only one wife resisted. Martha Gellhorn. (Click)
She’s seldom written about, probably due to Hemingway’s spite. She was the woman who dared to leave him.
Paula McLain gives us a brief profile of her in an article for Town&Country. (“The War Wife,” by Paula McLain, Town&Country, August 2018, pgs. 60-65.) Like Hemingway, Gellhorn was a war correspondent when the pair met — work which she continued to do after her marriage and into her 80s. She was also the one who found and remodeled the Cuban hideaway which became a shrine to Hemingway’s legend, though it provides little evidence she ever existed. As McLain speculates, that’s because Hemingway tried hard to ruin her. (Ibid pg. 64.) He hated that she was away so much when they were married and once wrote to her, “Are you a war correspondent or wife in my bed?” (Ibid pg. 62.)
Hemingway’s other wives chose him. Gellhorn chose her career, a blow to the literary man’s ego, and one for which he sought revenge.
A correspondent for Collier’s, Gellhorn lost her credential when Hemingway offered them his byline, instead. Collier’s accepted. But, fate had other plans for her. During the eve of the D-Day invasion, the famous author, along with other correspondents, sat stranded on the English side of the Channel. Gellhorn, with no credential, took a different route. She waved her expired press pass to someone on a Red Cross barge, and he waved her aboard.
That night she slept in a locked lavatory, afraid her fraud would be detected. It wasn’t. The next morning, she sailed for Normandy while Hemingway and the other reporters remained stranded. Her husband watched the allied invasion through a pair of binoculars. Gellhorn, the single woman among 160,000 American soldiers, landed on Omaha Beach. (Click) Hers account was firsthand. Even so, when Collier’s printed her story alongside Hemingway’s, her husband got top billing. (Ibid, pg. 65.)
The couple divorced the following year.