Ernest Hemingway Met His Match in Mary Welsh - Dundurn
Jun 06, 2022

Ernest Hemingway Met His Match in Mary Welsh

Mary Welsh was a Camel smoking, gin-drinking journalist in wartime London. She was a first-class reporter who swore like a sailor and, between assignments, had affairs with generals, journalists, and novelists.

Paula McLain wrote a splendid fictional account of Ernest’s sweet and tender first wife, Hadley Richardson. Everyone who read The Paris Wife will be fascinated by Mary’s story. While Hadley was married to Ernest for five years at the beginning of his writing career, Mary was Ernest’s wife for his last fifteen years. She traveled from the backwoods of Minnesota to become a journalist in Chicago and then to London to report on the war. After meeting Ernest, she covered the liberation of Paris. When the war ended, Mary joined Ernest at his estate in Cuba and married him. We follow the couple on their travels to Paris, Venice, Cortina D’Ampezzo, Torcello, Pamplona, Madrid, New York, and Sun Valley. We watch them on safari in Kenya and move with them from Cuba to Ketchum, Idaho. Mary shared Ernest’s success when he won the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes, and she watched his decline and tried to save him from alcohol, depression, and suicide. Mary survived Ernest for twenty-five years and shaped his literary legacy. Hemingway’s Widow is a true story based on careful research, yet reviewers say the book reads like a novel.

Mary’s memoir, How it Was, captured me with its sparkling account of her life before and after meeting the world-famous novelist Ernest Hemingway. However, many dismissed Mary for writing a self-serving, superficial memoir, showing her living on the surface of life. They criticized her for failing to understand or analyze Ernest’s work. Others scorned her as the “lowest born” of Ernest’s four wives. One biographer dismissed Mary as a mere “caretaker wife,” and Ernest’s third wife, Martha Gellhorn, called her a “maggot of history.”

As I learned more about Mary, I reacted against these inaccurate and even cruel claims. I found Mary was from a good family and that she was brave, disciplined, intelligent, and an excellent writer. Mary understood Ernest as well as anyone possibly could. She emerged through my research as a deeper, more profound person than they said. Mary was an admirable woman who succeeded as a journalist in a man’s world in wartime. Moreover, she played a crucial role in Ernest’s creative life.

After reading Mary’s correspondence, journals, and diaries and interviewing people who knew her, I decided I must write her story. Hemingway’s Widow seeks to correct the record and allow readers to truly meet and make up their minds about this strong woman. Of course, we also glimpse Ernest Hemingway through Mary’s eyes, and he has never been so exposed.

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Timothy Christian graduated as a Commonwealth Scholar from King’s College, Cambridge. He served as a law professor and dean at the Faculty of Law at the University of Alberta and a visiting professor in Japan and Taiwan. Christian read A Moveable Feast in the cafés of Aix-en-Provence when he was a young man studying French. Realizing that no one had written deeply about Mary Welsh Hemingway, Christian began researching her story and discovered a woman vital to Hemingway’s art. Christian is married to lawyer and abstract artist Kathryn Dykstra, and they live on Vancouver Island’s beautiful Saanich Inlet.