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Ernest Hemingway FAQ: Love

Question Please settle this debate. We all know that Ernest Hemingway hated his mother. Did he love his mother?

Answer Most of Hemingway's biographies do show the author's distaste for his mother. He also didn't attend her funeral when she died in June of 1951. Hate may have been a motivating factor in his decision not to go. However, we must not forget that Grace Hemingway was a good mother in the traditional sense, showering her son with warmth and affection early on in his life.

Hemingway did harbor a great deal of hatred for his mother. He seems to have held her partly responsible for his father's 1928 suicide. We must remember, though, that the accounts we receive (through biographies, letters, etc.) of Hemingway's hatred for his mother are mostly his own confessions to friends. By making such remarks about his mother, he might have been trying to create some particular image of himself in their eyes.

As far as Hemingway loving his mother, that's more complicated. Hate was an emotion displayed much more regularly and openly in his lifetime than love. It's the public Hemingway we remember brawling with fellow writers, hunting in Africa, enjoying the bullfights in Spain. Such images seem to communicate more anger and aggression in this man than love and compassion (though he loved to do all of the things listed above).

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Question Did Ernest Hemingway and Agnes von Kurowsky have an affair? Or was Agnes just an exceptional flirt?

Answer Agnes Von Kurowsky was Hemingway's first real love interest. Before meeting her, he had been only faintly aware that the opposite sex existed. Agnes's beauty coupled with the kindness and gentleness she exhibited in her duties as a Red Cross nurse was too much for any red-blooded American boy to ignore. Whether or not Agnes was just stringing Ernest along will vary from biographer to biographer. She always attested that there was never anything sexual between herself and Ernest, though her letters to him reveal a very clear love and affection. Most biographers will agree that when Agnes broke off whatever relationship she had had with her former patient, the lovesick Hemingway was truly crushed. It was his first major rejection, one he would never forget. In A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway fictionalizes the so-called love affair. The thought of Agnes also prompted Hemingway's short story, "A Very Short Story," which is a fitting title to sum up the relationship between the two.

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Question How do we explain Ernest Hemingway's many marriages?

Answer A few of Ernest Hemingway's contemporaries had theories as to why the great author was so prone to walking down the aisle. F. Scott Fitzgerald felt that Hemingway needed a new woman for every big book and William Faulkner perceptively noted: "Hemingway's mistake was that he thought he had to marry all of them." Hemingway married four times and divorced three times. According to A. E. Hotchner, Hemingway supposedly was considering a fourth divorce. In a new preface to Papa Hemingway, Hotchner reports that Hemingway once told him: "I wish I could leave her, I really do, but I'm too old now to afford a fourth divorce and the hell Mary would put me through."

By most accounts, Hemingway was not the easiest man to keep house with. He also had a tendency of falling out of love once married or acting in a manner, which left his spouse with no other choice but to fall out of love with him. Towards the end of his life, what Hemingway needed more than a live-in wife was a live-in nurse, and unfortunately for Mary, she had to fill this roll. Hemingway biographer Jeffrey Meyers has noted that Mary "could take an infinite amount of abuse." She was determined to be the final Mrs. Hemingway. Mary got her wish, but at what a price.

Out of his four wives, I think Hadley (his first wife) was the one he cared for most. Hemingway never forgave himself for how he had betrayed her. For a further discussion of Hemingway's relationship with his wives, see Bernice Kert's The Hemingway Women.

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