Wife # 3: Martha Gellhorn

Only one marriage I regret. I remember after I got that marriage license I went across from the license bureau to a bar for a drink. The bartender said, ‘What will you have, sir?’ And I said, ‘A glass of hemlock.’ Ernest HemingwayThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is images-76.jpeg

One afternoon in late December as he prepared to leave the cool sawdust interior of Sloppy Joe’s, a trio of tourists walked in.  One was a young woman with beautiful hair—tawny gold, loosely brushing her shoulders. She wore a plain black cotton sundress whose simplicity called attention in a well-bred way to her long, shapely legs. Bernice Kurt, The Hemingway women. Page 28.



Martha was lovely, smart, and determined. Born on November 8, 1908, her parents were well educated, a physician and a worker for social causes. Just as Pauline was determined to get Hem from Hadley, Martha knew she needed Hem as her mate. Martha was from St. Louis, just as Hadley and Pauline were.  Coincidence but an interesting one. Martha attended Bryn Mawr but left at the end of her junior year. She wanted to be a foreign correspondent and did work in Europe for several years. She returned to the US, became a life-long friend of Eleanor Roosevelt’s. Money was tight but Martha persevered. She wrote a well-received book called the Trouble I’ve Seen, about four age groups who were caught in the cycle of unemploymentThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is f4ad5707b68ba5ff072bc3e299eb2e28-1.jpg

Hem was nine years older than Martha but seemed older. He was a world acclaimed novelist. Compared to Pauline, she was flashy and accomplished. As for her early impressions of Hem, she wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt, “an odd bird, very lovable and full of fire and a marvelous story teller. So I sit about and have just read the mss of his new book and been very smart about it.” Kurt, page 291.

Martha And Hem

The relationship progressed as they bonded over the Spanish Revolution. Hem was on the fence as to allegiance, in true newsman fashion.  Martha was for the Rebels.  Both cared deeply about the cause and about Spain. Martha was brave and despite bombings of buildings regularly, both continued their work without complaint. Per Martha, “I think it was the only time in his life when he was not the most important thing there was. He really cared about the Republic and he cared about that war. I believe I never would’ve gotten hooked otherwise.”

As Martha secured her position in Hem’s life, Pauline suffered the loss. With several health issues afflicting her, it became clear that Hem was leaving and there was nothing she could do about it. Hem wrote a letter to Pauline’s mother in 1939 trying to explain the estrangement.  Her family had been generous and accepting and it was painful. It also was painful for the boys. “When you were with my father, it was the Crusades. He was Richard the Lion-hearted, and my mother was the woman you left behind in the castle with the chastity belt.” One benefit though was that Patrick and Gigi (Gregory) started to spend summers and vacations with hem which created memories that were irreplaceable. Their half-brother Jack (John/Bumby) had been enjoying those times with his father since the Hadley divorce.

Hem, Martha, boys

Martha developed a good relationship with the boys. She was loving to all three and they enjoyed her. She had a friendly relationship with Hadley as well.

Hem wrote much of For Whom the Bell Tolls while with Martha. He dedicated it to her. It was selling well and there were bids for the movie rights. He did pay Pauline alimony which he resented as she “didn’t need it.”


Martha found that her husband drank too much, didn’t bathe enough, and embellished his stories. Still she made an effort to be a good hostess, partner, mother, and appreciator of his cats.

As time passed and Martha pursued assignments in China and Europe, Hem felt rejected and their love declined. Hem began to rant and rail against Martha and to heap abuse on her. When they finally divorced, Martha was sad but relieved. No alimony for Martha. She went on to write and establish a successful career in her own right. She married in 1954 and divorced in 1963, living the balance of her life in London. She committed suicide at age 89 with a drug overdose after suffering from cancer and blind.

In a couple weeks, I’ll be giving away three copies of the Hemingway cookbook.  It is actually pretty great.  There are not only recipes of Hemingway meals but stories and anecdotes related to the novels, stories, and Hem’s life. I really like the cook book. (Details to follow on how to win).

Also, I’d love to have guest posters. If you are the third to guest post, you get one of the cook books. You laugh, but it’s really great. You can write about anything. Review Gellhorn and Hemingway. Talk about his impact on you. Tell us what you hate. did you like Midnight in Paris? Please share!

Girl with long legs
Portrait of Martha Gellhorn

8 thoughts on “Wife # 3: Martha Gellhorn”

  1. Hello
    I read Love and Ruin
    By Paula McLain. .same author of
    The Paris Wife.. Hadley’s story.
    Martha was a strong minded woman who did not completely give up her life for Ernest as did Hadley and Pauline. Even though they did they could not keep him !!!!
    Of course there is one more…..
    Thanks for the post.

    1. Thanks, Pamela! and yes hadley, Pauline and even Mary catered to him more or less willingly. Martha, no! Thanks so much for your comment! Best and happy thanksgiving. Christine

    1. HI Doug: yes, there was some opportunism at work there. Thanks for reading and commenting. I really appreciate it! Best, Christine

  2. Hemingway had a quaint home in Cuba, not nearly as colorful as his Florida house. I’ve had the opportunity to visit both. When touring his Havana home, I could picture Hem sitting at the typewriter on his desk or playing in the garden with his beloved cats. Each cat is now buried in the garden with individual headstones.

    1. Good afternoon, Linda!! Thanks for reading and commenting. The Key West house was quite lovely! And Cuba was a bit more rugged. Best to Dr. Doug! Happy Thanksgiving. Christine

  3. Martha Gellhorn’s _Travels with Myself and Another_ is an excellent reading of her motivations, and also illuminates her relationship with Hemingway. Much more than a “travel” book; vignettes of 20th century history, geography, and cultures.

    I recently read _Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises_ by Lesley Blume. Very readable and well researched. Excellent insights and details of Hadley. Inexpensive on Amazon for Kindle®.

    Thanks for your great blog, C.W. !

    1. Thank you Timothy! I love meeting other obsessed Hemingway fans, or just people interested. I round Everyone Behaves Badly to be very interesting and an inside look at the real background of The Sun Also Rises. Thank so much for writing–and reading this blog. Best to you and yours for the holiday season! Christine

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