I know we’re all having a hard time in lockdown, but are we having an in-quarantine-with-your- wife-mistress-young son-and-nanny hard time? Probably not. If you’re thinking ‘who would ever subject themselves to that?’ Then you’re in for a surprise, because famed American writer Ernest Hemingway voluntarily did.
The year was 1926, and the Spanish Influenza had just ravaged the globe at an unprecedented (bet you haven’t heard that word recently) scale. In this post-influenza world Ernest Hemingway, his wife Hadley, and their son Jack (aka Bumby) were living in Paris. At this time, Ernest was a rising star in the literary world regularly attending Gertrude Stein’s salons and rubbing shoulders with ‘Lost Generation’ legends such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and painters Pablo Picasso and Juan Gris. He was climbing the ladder of success and collecting a few lifestyle upgrades along the way, including a bougie new mistress. The new woman in his life was none other than Pauline Pfeiffer, a fashionable heiress who was an editor at Vogue and had a personality lively enough to match her profession. During this summer the nightmare that plagues every cheater’s nights came true for Ernest–his wife had discovered the affair. Like any scorned woman, she confronted her cheating husband only to have him turn the situation on her and claim his infidelity was actually her fault (gaslighting much?). Instead of leaving her marriage and the glamorous life she was leading behind, Hadley decided to stay and adjust to her new normal.
Hadley decided to take Bumby on vacation to Cap d’Antibes to stay at Villa America with fellow high society couple Sara and Gerald Murphy. Somewhere between frolicking on the beach and lounging around the French Riviera, Bumby’s cough worsened to the point that a doctor was called in to inspect the young boy. Was he diagnosed with coronavirus? No, unfortunately he was diagnosed with whooping cough. Today, in our post-vaccine world whooping cough is not too much of an issue in the developed world. However, this was 1926 and the vaccine for it did not roll out until the 1940s. Fearing that others would contract the highly infectious respiratory disease from Bumby, Hadley and her son were ordered into quarantine. They were ‘exiled’ to a cottage in Antibes that was generously offered to them by F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda. You know, the F. Scott Fitzgerald that wrote The Great Gatsby, The Beautiful and Damned, and This Side of Paradise. Yeah, casual right? During this time, Gerald Murphy wrote a letter to Ernest Hemingway who was in Madrid soaking up the warm Spanish sun and catching a bull fight or two. While Gerald Murphy was assuring Hemingway that there was nothing to worry about, Bumby’s nanny was hustling down from Paris to enter lockdown with Bumby and Hadley. While everyone on the outside seemed to be putting on a happy face and acting like everything was under control, Hadley was immensely unhappy and under mountains of loneliness and stress. She found solace in walks into town and bottles of whiskey.
However, her loneliness would soon be addressed– and not in a way that anyone would expect. On May 21, Hadley wrote to her husband informing him that she had invited his mistress “to stop off here if she wants, [it would be a] swell joke on tout le monde if you and Fife and I spent the summer [together on the Riviera]”. Conveniently, Pauline Pfeiffer was immune to whooping cough after having it as a child. Soon enough, Pfeiffer moved into the cottage. Following closely behind was Hemingway, thus cementing one of the craziest situations to happen in the history of lockdowns. Picture this: you’re in quarantine in a cramped cottage with your small, ill child, estranged wife, ever-present nanny……..and sultry mistress. What to you and I may sound like complete and utter chaos, Hemingway called “a splendid place to write”.
Have you been seeing any of the memes (example above) where neighbors are enjoying an alcoholic beverage while still maintaining the strict 6 foot social distancing rule? Well, the legends of the Lost Generation were doing that before it was cool. During cocktail hour (we need to bring this back), the Murphys and the Fitzgeralds would park their cars on the road in front of the quarantined cottage and share a drink with the eclectic Hemingway group who toasted them from their porch.
Soon, Bumby recovered and the clan was able to break free from their isolation and move to a hotel. There, they continued their unusual arrangement with Hadley later remembering that “everything was done a trois”. Pauline, Hadley, and Ernest sharing breakfast all together in bed even became a common occurrence. However, the throuple’s arrangement did not last, and Hadley and Ernest’s marriage fell apart before the summer was over. Ernest later went on to marry Pauline and *spoiler alert* their marriage didn’t work out either.
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