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  • Writer's pictureLee Weaver


“Beautiful Exiles” is a novel, a book of fiction, by Margaret Waite Clayton. It is an intimate look at the professional and marital relationships of Ernest Hemingway and his third wife, Martha Gellhorn; “a riveting novel based on one of the most volatile and intoxicating real-life love affairs of the twentieth century.”  

Martha Ellis Gellhorn was born November 8, 1908. She became Hemingway’s third wife in 1940, divorced in 1945, and she died February 15, 1998.  I don’t think Gellhorn was trying to compete with Hemingway in number of liaisons, but she was somewhat free-spirited.

In this writer’s opinion, in this book Ms. Clayton gives Hemingway a disproportionate amount of ink; yet this is understandable when one compares Hemingway’s and Gellhorn’s long-term reputations as writers. I illustrate this with my own experience – I was reading Hemingway 75 years ago; bu, only came to know Gellhorn within the past year.  

 Martha Ellis Gellhorn was one of the great war correspondents of the 20th century. Reported on virtually every world conflict that took place during her 60-year career (Wikipedia).  As well as her worldwide work in covering the news and in writing stories and columns for Colliers, Gellhorn published eighteen books.  

Ernest Miller Hemingway born 7/21/1899 Oak Park, Ill; died 2/2/61 Ketchum Idaho.      Four wives: 1. Hadley Richardson 1921-1927; 2. Pauline (’Fife’) Pfeiffer 1927-1940; 3. Martha Gellhorn 1940-1945; 4. Mary Welsh 1946-1961.   Number of “lovers”????

There is no way one can compile a list of the most influential American writers and not include Ernest Hemingway. John Steinbeck gave us great insights on the poor farm workers migrating from the Dust Bowl to California, in “Grapes of Wrath” and other books; Scott Fitzgerald illuminated the lives of the East Coast elites with “The Great Gadsby.”  These three top my list; one could easily add James Michener; Herman Melville; Mark Twain; William Faulkner; Tennessee Williams; John Updike; Flannery O’Connor; and in verse: Emily Dickinson and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. But, in this writer’s

Hemingway is in a class of his own, closely followed by Fitzgerald and Steinbeck.

Aside from Hemingway’s extraordinary journalist career, and the classics his books have become, he lived his life on the edge: big game hunting in Africa, hunting German submarines from a fishing boat in WWII, running with the bulls in Spain, as an ambulance driver in the Spanish civil war, always exhibiting (or trying to prove?) his manhood.  Whether this is a result of a strained childhood and youth could be the subject of deeper study.  Nevertheless, his marital relations were invariably tense.

“Beautiful Exiles” is an extraordinary look at a ten-year segment of the life of Hemingway, from December 1936 when Hemingway and Gellhorn first met, in a bar in Key West; to 1945 when they divorced. After a fourth marriage (to Mary Welsh in 1946), on July 2, 1961, Hemingway took his own life.  Though Clayton poses the book as fiction, in the “Author’s Note” she quotes from a plethora of sources including (without limitation) letters between Martha and others; Martha’s books; articles in Collier’s written by Gellhorn; Martha’s interactions with Eleanor Roosevelt; books and articles by other authors about Gellhorn and Hemingway, etc., etc.

I found a couple of interesting quotes on Google (Wikipedia?):    Why did Martha Gellhorn leave Hemingway?

“It was a sad end to a troubled relationship.”  Later, Hemingway’s youngest son Gregory would say she had been driven away by his father’s bullish behavior and egotism.

Gellhorn wrote to her mother that, “A man must be a very great genius to make up for being such a loathsome human being.” 

©Lee Weaver January 2024

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