Hemingway in Love: His Own Story

Scott said, step easy, I was walking on eggshells. He quoted an old piece of wisdom: ‘A man, torn between two women, will eventually lose ‘em both.’
I said yes I was torn but that I needed both of them and I intended to keep them, somehow.
Scott said I was a sad son of a b**** who didn’t know a damn thing about women.

Warning: this review does contain references to mental illness and the brutal psychiatric treatment given during the 1960s.

Hemingway in Love: His Own Story (2015) is a memoir written by A E Hotchner. Hotchner met Ernest Hemingway in 1948 and they developed a quite close, almost father-son, relationship. Hemingway apparently has a reputation for being somewhat “gruff and pugnacious,” however Hotchner says this was just a myth, because one of his most abiding memories of Hemingway is for his patience. He also believes that many people judged Hemingway based on what he wrote rather than on who he was as a person. It’s a valid point. Knowing an author’s work is a very different thing to personally knowing the author.  

Over a series of meetings Hemingway tells Hotchner his story about being in love with two women at the same time, his first wife Hadley and his mistress Pauline, who became his second wife. Although these meetings took place over the 1950s, Hotchner waited until all the people involved had passed away before committing the story to paper. It is quite a short book, that moves back and forth in time, from the 1920s when Hemingway was in Paris to the last sad years of his life.

The Hemingways early life in Paris was marked by poverty. Some days they barely ate but then life took a different turn when Hemingway was befriended by F. Scott Fitzgerald and introduced to his group of wealthy friends. This is where he met Pauline. I have to admit I failed to develop any sympathy for her. She is depicted as an extremely wealthy and spoilt young woman who expected to get what she wanted when she wanted it – even if it was somebody else’s husband. In hindsight, Hemingway recognised that Pauline deliberately befriended his wife, Hadley, and infiltrated their life with the intention of destroying their marriage so she could have Hemingway for herself. However that doesn’t excuse Hemingway’s responsibility for his part in what became a very messy and painful situation. Although he tries to blame it on his naivety, I find that very hard to believe. Even Fitzgerald tried to warn him about what was happening and how it would all turn out.

You are being set up by a femme fatale….She wants you for herself…and she’ll do anything to get you….She’s going to bust up your marriage if you don’t get rid of her.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

He should have listened to Fitzgerald.

I have only read one of Hemingway’s novels, The Old Man and the Sea. Given it was a story about an old man who goes fishing, I initially expected it to be rather boring, but hey, it won the Pulitzer and was listed on 1001, so I gave it a go. It turned out to be a terrific and engaging read, and I think that anybody who can make a fishing story almost break my heart must be a great writer indeed. However, there were numerous times during Hotchner’s memoir, when I wondered what on earth was going on in Hemingway’s mind.

All I see is after a really tough day writing, there’re two women waiting for me, giving me their attention, caring about me, women both appealing, but in different ways….but now I love them both. May bring me bad luck but hope not. Hope we can go along like this.

Ernest Hemingway


It will of course be no surprise that Hadley had other ideas and eventually she divorces Hemingway. The ink on the divorce papers is barely dry and Pauline has got the church booked for a wedding. She might have got Hemingway, but it didn’t last and she had to endure the humiliation of numerous affairs which were intended mostly to push her towards filing for divorce. You might wonder why Hemingway didn’t just divorce her himself. This was still the era before no-fault divorce, and since in both marriages he had been the unfaithful party, he had no grounds to file for divorce.

Much of the book focuses on Hemingway’s retelling of the build up towards the split with Hadley and the short-lived and unhappy marriage with Pauline, but there are some other interesting and humorous anecdotes from his life. Like the time he convinced Hotchner to dress up as a matador and enter the bull fighting arena as the third matador. Luckily he wasn’t injured. And then there was his mother’s response to the publication of his novel, The Sun Also Rises.

Although as your Mother, I am pleased to hear that it is selling well, you have the doubtful honour of having produced one of the filthiest books of the year. Surely you must know some other words besides d*** and b****. I love you dear and still believe you will do something worthwhile to live after you.

You have to hand it to mothers to bring one down to earth.

It’s no doubt that in his personal life Hemingway made some poor decisions which he lived to regret. The break up of his marriage to Hadley haunted him throughout his life, but especially at the end. One of the last conversations he had with Hotchner reveals the deep pain he still felt at the loss of the woman he realised too late had been the love of his life and it provides one of the most painfully beautiful episodes of the book.

“Pecas,” he said in a soft, barely audible voice, “tell me this: How does a young man know when he falls in love for the very first time, how can he know that it will be the only true love of his life? How can he possibly know? How can he know?” 

In the years before his death, Hemingway displayed increasingly paranoid behaviour. He believed he was being followed, that his phone was being tapped, and that he was wanted by the FBI. Years after his death, the release of FBI files showed he wasn’t that paranoid after all. The FBI really did have a file on him. He was being followed and they did tap his phone. And this continued almost right up to his death. Hemingway also had a medical condition called Hemochromatosis, in which an excess of iron is stored in the body’s organs. Untreated it can lead to physical and mental decline. Years of alcohol abuse probably didn’t help Hemingway either.

The most awful part of Hemingway’s story are the opening scenes where Hotchner describes the psychiatric treatment Hemingway received shortly before he took his own life.

Back then, electric shock was brutally administered, the electric current projected into the patient’s brain without benefit of an anaesthetic, a piece of wood clenched between his teeth as he writhed in torturous pain. 

This is nothing short of barbaric. Hemingway was certainly not perfect. He may not rate well as a husband and father, but nobody deserves to be treated like that. It destroyed him and he died a broken man. How many others suffered the same fate?

There are plenty of times through the book when I rolled my eyes and shook my head at Hemingway’s chauvinism and self-centredness, but I guess he was probably no different to many other men of his era. At the end, though, it was compassion that I felt for a man who deserved a better end. 

5 thoughts on “Hemingway in Love: His Own Story

  1. There is a really good novel about Hadley and Hemmingway at that time in Paris called The Paris Wife. I have always had mixed feelings about Hemmingway, he could be such a jerk.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Sharon, I would be quite interested in reading more about Hadley. I can understand your mixed feeling about Hemingway. I must admit there were a number of times during the book when I thought he deserved a good kick up the pants, but I was moved by his brokenness and remorse at the end of his life. It was a pity he didn’t show the same kind of inner strength displayed by Hadley. A lot of people can be jerks sometimes, but I’m still interested in reading more of his work. See if I come to the same conclusion as his mother!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s