Chapter 12: Changing Wives

Pauline looked a trim and elegant 30, as she had been in Paris, when he first saw her.

“Mrs. Hemingway, please tell the court how you met the defendant.”

“In 1925 I was working for Vogue magazine, in the Paris office, and one day my sister Jinny and I were visiting Kitty Cannell when Harold Loeb brought Ernest and Hadley home for a drink. Harold had been living with Kitty for several years. He was all excited because he and Ernest were both going to be published by Boni and Liveright, in the same publishing season.”

“And were you and the defendant immediately interested in each other?”

“Not at all. But I did like Hadley. In fact, that’s mainly why Jinny and I paid them a visit, so I could talk to Hadley. When we did, there was Ernest, unshaven, lazing around in the bedroom. I never dreamed I would eventually marry such an uncouth-looking man. But as time went on, I began to see more attractive sides of his character.”

“You came to Paris looking for a husband, and you began to see that I was going to be a big success, and you decided to cut yourself in on it.”

“That is most unfair, and so typical of you to put it all on me! Ask Hadley if it was all my fault that you and I fell in love!”

“Please continue, Mrs. Hemingway.”

“As you can see, Ernest can’t ever bear to be in the wrong. As soon as he knew that he had hurt Hadley, and that he was nonetheless glad to be out of a marriage to a woman who was getting to be middle-aged while he was still young, the burden of guilt became intolerable, so it had to be someone else’s fault.”

“And was I wrong, in this particular instance?”

“You were wrong to put it all on me! Certainly I had my share of the blame. I had the larger share, probably – and I paid for it. But you weren’t an innocent victim, and your need to see it that way caused us a lot of trouble.”

“Mrs. Hemingway, was the defendant abusive to you?”

“Yes, he was.”


“Not at the beginning, but yes, frequently.”

“How would you characterize the defendant’s reaction to you? We are attempting to get an accurate picture of his relationships.”

“I think that during our entire relationship, Ernest had two emotional streams flowing inside him, and sometimes he would be carried away by one and sometimes by the other. He did love me, I know that, and he did show it, in many ways. He did see my good qualities, and he valued them and profited from them. But I think another major current was a sort of a suppressed rage, and the longer we went on, the harder a job it was for him to suppress it.”

“And why would that be, do you suppose?”

And suddenly that old rage was flowing and overflowing within him. His whole life!

“Your honor, I take it that the situation is enabling the defendant to recreate the emotional condition he experienced so often in life. May I pursue the subject with him directly, leaving Mrs. Hemingway on the stand, so to speak?”

“Any objection? Very well, you may proceed.”

“Mr. Hemingway, please describe for the court what you experienced just now. As a writer, you must know that the way to get a better handle on a thing is to express it as exactly as you can.”

A pause. “I was beside myself, watching as the feelings took over. I had no control over them at all.”

“Familiar state of affairs, Mr. Hemingway?”


“And can you see how it is different here?”

“I didn’t really lose control, I don’t know why.”

“The `why’ is because when you were in the body, your brain could only hold so much in consciousness at any given time. Here, that limitation doesn’t apply. Here, there’s always room for more awareness. You understand, these are crude analogies.”

The prosecutor shifted gears. “All right, so you have observed what used to happen. The rage overflowed and, had you been in the body, would have led to consequences of some kind. We recognize that you were obliged to fight to control this rage in many areas of your life, but in the case of Pauline Pfeiffer Hemingway, what was the rage all about?”

He was surrounded by the rage, and the reasons for the rage, and the results of the rage – but it was curious: He was not in a body, yet his reactions registered as if he were, yet it felt like he had taken a deep breath and he moved from agitation to calmness. Mental habits, presumably, since it couldn’t have anything to do with adrenaline levels. “Okay,” he said. “Everybody here knows all this, but you want me to say it. Okay.”

He looked over at Pauline.

“Our little affair broke my life in two, Pauline. Smashed it. There I was, I wasn’t even thirty, and it was gone.”

“Oh, come on, Ernest. You stayed married to me twice as long as you did to Hadley, and we had two children, not just one. You did some of your best work while you were married to me. Broke your life!”

He shook his head stubbornly. “No. You did. We did, I suppose, but it was you set it in motion.”

“Mr. Hemingway, perhaps you would explain to the court just what you mean.”

“The thing with Agnes hurt, but at least she broke with me. It wasn’t my fault. Finding Hadley was the true happy ending. We were damn happy together. And then came the snake in the garden.”

“Still none of it your responsibility, Ernest. You were just the innocent victim of feminine wiles.”

“Dammit, Pauline, you know what you were doing, and you knew why. You set out to detach me from Hadley, and you succeeded, and then I’d lost my wife, and my son, and my whole life model. I never set out to be a divorced man, let alone a remarried one.”

“But you didn’t mind having sex with another woman.”

He groaned. “No, I didn’t. Of course I didn’t. But that was just me wanting to have my cake and eat it too.”

“You didn’t think life would present a bill.”

“The thinking part of me did, but I wasn’t listening. But you knew, damn you, and you wanted it to happen!”

“Mr. Hemingway, if I understand you, you had an image of what your life was going to be, and suddenly that image was shattered, and you couldn’t go back.”

Quietly, almost mumbling: “That’s right.”

“Your honor, I should like to recall Mrs. Mowrer as well for a moment.” When Hadley appeared, he said, “Mrs. Mowrer, you are aware of the defendant’s testimony. Do you think his break with you did shatter his image of what his life was going to be?”

“I hadn’t thought of it in those terms, but yes, maybe so. I remember him in the streets of Paris, just after we broke apart, wheeling a handcart, carrying some of our household goods to me, crying as he walked along, pushing the cart. I thought then it was remorse and regret and maybe self-pity. But I can see it was what he just said, he was losing an image of himself”

“When I married you, I never intended to be the man who betrayed you and lost you. You know I was always sorry.”

“I did know, Tatie. I do know. But I don’t think I ever realized the bitterness it brought to your life.”

“As Pauline said, life presented the bill.”

The prosecutor said, “Thank you, Mrs. Mowrer,” and she was gone again. “So, Mr. Hemingway, would it be fair to say that when life presented the bill, you blamed Pauline Pfeiffer for running it up?”

His mind was too clear to allow him his former habits. “Yeah, I did. I blamed myself for being stupid, but I blamed her for wanting it to happen. And that way of seeing it wasn’t wrong! She did want it to happen. I was stupid. Our affair did break something that couldn’t ever be fixed up again.”

“Hence the rage.”

“Hence the rage. That wasn’t the only thing I felt, but sure, it was always there somewhere.”

To Pauline: “Mrs. Hemingway? Does this ring true to you?”

“I understand that reaction, but I don’t agree with it. I do think it explains a lot. But that is just the way Ernest dealt with guilt: `This happened, then I naturally responded, so it isn’t really my fault.’”

“Mr. Hemingway? Your judgment now?”

“About what? About lusting after Pauline and falling in love with her and realizing that I had bitched the cleanest, straightest, most dependable part of my life?”

“Your judgment about your part in it. Not Pauline’s part, not Hadley’s. Yours.”

He sighed. “This sure is fun. You know what my judgment is. Hadley was looking a little matronly, and was maybe going to have a hard time keeping up with me in physical activity. I had a sort of half-idea that maybe I had married someone too old for me, but then on the other hand we were so well suited to each other, I didn’t want to lose her. I wanted Hadley and Bumby and the life we were living, and then I started to want Pauline, too, on the side, and I didn’t let myself think about what that was going to do to my life. I was greedy, and I was stupid, and I paid for it. Paid for the rest of my life, because I cut myself off from the path I probably should have stayed on.”

“And – to bring this back to our starting place, you took it out on your second wife?”

Another sigh. “I suppose you could put it like that.”

“Cross examination?”

“No questions, your honor.”

A movement of the prosecutor’s hand, or so it seemed, and Pauline was gone, in the way that cleaner, simpler life he had expected to lead was gone.


2 thoughts on “Chapter 12: Changing Wives

  1. Hard to read this book chapter by chapter. If I had a copy of the whole thing, I think I would have read it in a day–it’s that good, and I didn’t expect it to be. (I love his writing, but his public persona is part of what made macho so popular.) I like this chapter particularly because Hemingway’s feelings come alive to him in a way that he can see them without being caught in and blinded by them. And I like the idea that he lost–and was grieving–the socially approved model of life he had with Hadley. Hadley kept the idea of getting old in his head, embodying the loss of everything that was important to him–appearance, agility, etc.
    Wouldn’t this book make for an interesting book club session!

    1. Thanks. There’s something to be said for reading it a bit at a time, as it blends better into your life, rather than being like a lump in the mashed potatoes. However, I’ll send you the whole file if you wish to binge.

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