Through a little close-analysis of the Hemingway canon and a lot of dreary, slavishly chronological biography-detail, Kert...

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THE HEMINGWAY WOMEN

Through a little close-analysis of the Hemingway canon and a lot of dreary, slavishly chronological biography-detail, Kert reaches the most predictable of conclusions: ""Ernest liked and admired many women, but could not make the necessary adjustments in close relationships. . . . Ernest was interested in women for their sexuality, their companionship, and their tenderness, their capacity to serve his best interests. But he was made uncomfortable, was even angered, when they did not play out the traditional role assigned to them by society."" Hated mother Grace comes first, of course--as Kerr argues that Hemingway's image of Grace (admittedly a depressive, hyperbolic type) was largely distortion: ""From being a creative woman bent on enriching her children's lives. . . she became, in the eyes of Hemingway the writer, a selfish wife who destroyed her husband. . . . Since he could barely tolerate criticism of any kind, least of all from her, he interpreted her disapproval as vengeful hatred."" The real first-love--Agnes von Kurowsky--is contrasted with her idealized alter ego in Farewell to Arms. First wife Hadley is spotted in a number of fictional forms; she exemplified ""loyalty and good spirits and a remarkable selflessness, qualities that [Ernest] came to demand"" of wives. But, after ""a web of unfaithfulness,"" EH moved on to wealthy Pauline Pfeiffer (""to assume that Ernest married her for her money. . . is to undervalue greatly Pauline's originality and depth""), cheating on her extensively with married Jane Mason, the model for Margot Macomber. (The subsequent collapse of marriage #2 is ""all there"" in To Have and Have Not.) Next: strong-minded journalist Martha Gellhorn, who ""was not one to cater to his illusions""--and was thus in for rough times: the increasingly boozy EH bitterly resented her career, was an ardent but lousy lover (""totally insensitive to Martha's feelings""), and turned character-assassin, with ""ludicrous"" disparagements of Martha's war-coverage. And finally: Mary slid readily ""into the role of submissive wife"" (perhaps because of a father-fixation), became the ""keeper"" of the aging wreck, and had to suffer his fling with a young Italian woman, whom he blatantly idealized in Across the River. Kert has talked with all the available survivors, quotes from previously-unpublished letters, and occasionally shows a glimmer of psychological or literary insight. But her prose is drab, sometimes pulpy (""So this is Hemingway, thought Adriana, the one all of Venice is talking about""); the domestic biography seems pointlessly detailed; and the valid (if ever-unsurprising) arguments here could easily be compressed into a 50-page essay.

Pub Date: June 27, 1983

ISBN: 0393318354

Page Count: -

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1983