August 08, 1983 12:00 PM

by Bernice Kert

“The better you treat a man and the more you show him you love him, the quicker he gets tired of you.” Three of Ernest Hemingway’s four wives could certainly appreciate that statement from his novel To Have and Have Not. In this 555-page book, Kert examines the author’s life from the perspective of the women who loved him and argues that he was a handsome, very selfish man-child who demanded obsequious adoration from his women, then dumped them with the accusation that they had become doormats. Only his third wife, the talented journalist and novelist Martha Gellhorn, refused to buckle under. She eventually left him, thus earning both his respect and lifelong animosity. Kert carefully outlines how Hemingway often used real women in his life as prototypes for his fictional heroines. Catherine Barkley in A Farewell to Arms was modeled on an American nurse he loved in Italy; The Sun Also Rises’ Brett Ashley sprang from a dissolute English noblewoman he knew in Paris. Throughout his life the author damned his mother as an emasculating, self-centered harpy who was responsible for his physician father’s suicide. Hemingway’s mother, Grace Hall, was also a gifted musician and painter. Proud as Ernest was of his own will, talent and achievement, Kert suggests, he seemed to find those same qualities in his mother threatening and unnatural. Kert, a sometime novelist, interviewed three of the former wives, Martha Gellhorn, Mary Welsh and Hadley Richardson Mowrer, who has since died. (Pauline Pfeiffer died in 1951.) Kert’s contribution is her focus on Hemingway’s misogyny, which doesn’t hurt his reputation as a writer, though it won’t do much to help his image as a human being. (Norton, $20)

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