Ernest Hemingway and Jane – Critical Essay

Martin Gardner

Chris Coover, writing on “A Hemingway Discovery” in Christie’s magazine (May/June 2000), reported on a recent find of Hemingway manuscripts, letters, and book galleys in a trunk stored by Jane Kendall Mason, an American socialite who had been one of the many women with whom Hemingway had romantic romps. After Hemingway lost interest in Jane, he used her as a model for the character of Margot in one of his most famous stories, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”

The trunk contained twenty-three letters from “Papa” to Jane, and a handwritten first draft of the short story in which Jane appears. In an act of cruelty, Hemingway had sent the draft to Jane before its final version appeared in the September 1936 issue of Cosmopolitan. She would, of course, have at once recognized herself as Margot, the adulterous wife who shoots her husband on a safari in Africa. The trunk also contained an unfinished short story by Jane, with Hemingway’s revisions, titled “A High Windless Night in Jamaica.”

My second excuse for writing about Jane is the little-known fact (which only recently came to light), that in her elderly years she became convinced she was possessed by demons, and actually underwent an exorcism by Eileen Garrett, a well-known New York City medium. Jane had become a Spiritualist and medium, producing thousands of pages of automatic writing by a hand she believed was being guided by discarnates. I will tell the wild story of her failed exorcism, but first an account of her flamboyant, frustrated life. For its details I rely mostly on “To Love and Love Not,” a remarkable article that ran in the July 1999 issue of Vanity Fair by Jane’s granddaughter Alane Salierno Mason, a book editor at W.W. Norton. [1]

Jane and Hemingway first met on an ocean liner in 1931. He was thirty-two and married to Pauline, his second wife. Jane was twenty-two and married to Grant Mason, a wealthy American who worked in Cuba as an executive for Pan American Airways. They lived near Havana in a large villa where Jane, an aspiring sculptor, had a third-floor studio.

An adopted daughter of Maryland multimillionaire Lyman Kendall, Jane was often in the news as a prominent society woman of extraordinary beauty. An ad for Pond’s Cream described her as “clean cut as a cameo in her Boticelli beauty of pale gold hair and wide set eyes like purple pansies.” Tall and athletic, Jane rode horses, fished, hunted in Africa, played the piano and harp, ran a shop in Havana to sell Cuban art, spoke three languages, and gave fabulous parties featuring pigeons dyed different colors and fresh flowers sewed to tablecloths. Among her many famous friends of later years were Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Archibald MacLeish, and Clare Boothe Luce.

In 1932 Hemingway, leaving Pauline at their home in Key West, spent two months in Havana where he and Jane fished for marlin and became better acquainted. He once boasted that Jane had climbed through his hotel bedroom transom to get in bed with him.

A car accident injured Jane’s back. While she was recuperating from an operation in a Manhattan hospital, her husband sent her gifts from Havana which, much to the hospital staff’s annoyance, included a tiny green monkey and two white mice named Samson and Delilah.

Jane further damaged her spine in a suicide effort by jumping from a low balcony. Hemingway, whose ego was immense, said to friends that she had tried to kill herself over unrequited love for him. He told John Dos Passos that Jane had literally “fallen” for him! In one of his letters he referred to her husband as a “twirp.”

Jane had numerous love affairs, one with a big game hunter named Dick Cooper. On an African safari with Cooper she managed to kill several lions and tigers and the foal of a rare (and endangered) white zebra. The zebra’s skin was sent to England to become a rocking horse for her two adopted sons. Jane later wrote a play, never produced, called Safari. It was about a woman named April who wanted to marry a South African army captain but hesitated because it might damage her social standing back home.

In Manhattan Jane was psychoanalyzed by Dr. Lawrence Kubie, a prominent Freudian. He said she was the only patient he ever had who he couldn’t help. Dr. Kubie wrote an article about Jane and Hemingway which he sent to the Saturday Review. MacLeish persuaded the magazine not to print it because it libeled Hemingway by intimating what everybody who knew him surmised: that “Hem” (as friends called him) suffered from deep doubts about his manhood–doubts that explained his mania for such macho interests as boxing, bull fighting, hunting, fishing, boozing, warring, and womanizing.

Hemingway frequently turned against former friends and sadistically bashed them in books and letters. His volume of Paris memoirs, A Moveable Feast, contains cruel recollections of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ford Madox Ford, and others. This also happened to Jane. In a letter to MacLeish, Hemingway calls her a “bitch,” adding that he would like to give her a burst of gunfire. He told one of his biographers that Jane was the “worst bitch” he had known at the time, and that her sole virtue was an eagerness to get laid.

After divorcing Grant, Jane married John Hamilton, a Republican bigwig. The marriage didn’t last long. Following a torrid affair with Paul Palmer, a Reader’s Digest editor, she married George Abell, European bureau chief for Time-Life, and a popular columnist. Divorced again, she married her fourth and final husband, Arnold Gingrich, founder and editor of Esquire and Coronet. Hemingway was flabbergasted when he learned of this marriage. “I can’t get over it,” he said. “I can’t believe she married that little “t—.”

In three of his works Hemingway based an unpleasant character on Jane. She is Helene Bradley in To Have and To Have Not. Gingrich, then a Scribner’s editor, recognized Jane as the model for Helene, and believed many passages were libelous. Hemingway was furious when Gingrich insisted he remove the passages. Jane is also Dorothy, a stupid, spoiled, over-sexed young woman in Hemingway’s play The Fifth Column. And she is Margot in Hemingway’s familiar story “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber.”

In that story Margot is unhappily married to Francis, a wealthy but wimpy American whom she dominates. They hate each other. On an African safari, Macomber flees in terror from a wounded lion, making him a coward in his wife’s eyes. Later, however, he suddenly loses all fear when he shoots at a buffalo charging toward him. Margot takes aim at the same beast but instead shoots her husband in the head. The story has a trick ending, like Frank Stockton’s “Lady or the Tiger?” It is not clear whether Margot, sensing how her husband has changed, did or did not intend to kill him.

Here is what Hemingway said about the story in a letter:

I wrote “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” about a woman I was mixed up with one time who had a husband who was a coward. I knew he was a coward by direct observation and by local knowledge. But I invented the story in Africa instead of where it happened.

Though cleverly written, I consider this one of Hemingway’s worst stories. Macomber’s instant change from a coward to a brave man is much too improbable. I see the tale as just another one of Hemingway’s not-so-subtle efforts to imply that he, The Great White Hunter, was a man without fear.

Hemingway died in 1961 at age sixty-two. He had become physically ill, severely depressed, and paranoid. Shock therapy was administered at the Mayo Clinic. I was walking east one afternoon along 42nd Street in Manhattan, alongside the public library, when I passed Hemingway walking slowly the other way. He was staring straight ahead with a look of fear in his eyes. Soon after that, as everyone knows, his loudly trumpeted bravery deserted him. He put a double-barreled shotgun in his mouth and blew out his brains.

Jane’s belief that she was possessed by spirits had its origin in a session with a Ouija board when it began to glide under her fingers and spell out messages from the Great Beyond. When she began talking as if her mind and tongue were taken over by a demon, her husband Gingrich sought the help of Robert Laidlaw, M.D., who headed the Psychiatric Department of Roosevelt Hospital. He in turn contacted his friend Eileen Garrett, who often assisted him in treating persons who fancied themselves possessed. Garrett was a famous Irish-born trance medium living in Manhattan. She had founded the Parapsychological Foundation in New York City, and Tomorrow, a magazine about the paranormal that she edited with the help of Martin Ebon, her managing editor, and who wrote all her editorials.

Jane’s exorcism was witnessed and audiotaped by Ebon, then administrative secretary of the Parapsychological Foundation of which Garrett was president. A refugee at age twenty-one from Hitler’s Germany, Ebon became a prolific writer of more than forty entertaining books about paranormal topics, world communism and the Soviets, and numerous biographies of Soviet leaders. We have become good friends in spite of our opposing views about psi phenomena.

Ebon describes Jane’s exorcism in “Ghost Against Ghost,” the first chapter of his 1974 book The Devils’ Bride: Exorcism, Past and Present. However, names and details were altered, and it was not until 1999 that Ebon, speaking at the Parapsychological Foundation, disclosed that the person possessed was none other than Hemingway’s former companion, Jane.

Ebon calls her Victoria Camden. Her husband, Arnold Gingrich, is called Walter Camden. They are said to be living in a lavish town house on Manhattan’s upper east side. Present during the exorcism, aside from Jane, Garrett, and Ebon, were Gingrich and Dr. Laidlaw. Ebon was there to observe and audiotape.

For several years Jane had believed that her mind and body were repeatedly taken over by a variety of different spirits. One in particular claimed to be a Salem witch who had escaped detection and hanging. Ebon calls her Ruth, though actually she was nameless. She would fling Jane’s body across a room and onto the floor. On one occasion, Jane said, the witch almost drowned her in the bathtub.

Garrett went into her usual trance, and was first taken over by her major control Uvani, a soldier who lived centuries ago in India. Uvani was then replaced by Abdul Lotif, a twelfth-century Arab physician, another of Garrett’s controls. While in trance, Eileen’s voice always changed markedly to the accents of the discarnate being speaking through her.

As Ebon describes the scene, Jane began writhing with convulsions as she felt herself invaded by the witch. She fell to the floor, sobbing, then crawled over the rug to rest her head on Garrett’s knees. Gingrich and Dr. Laidlaw watched in stunned silence.

And then an incredible dialog took place. For the first time in the history of channeling, Ebon believes, a ghost argued with another ghost. Abdul did his best to persuade the witch to leave Jane alone. The witch refused.

At the end of the session Abdul lifted Garrett’s hand until it rested on Jane’s head. “And now, you,” Abdul said, must go and let this child reside in his own world. She must be restored to herself, and to herself alone.”

Garrett groaned and shuddered as she came out of her trance. “What’s happened?” she asked. Trance mediums almost never recall, or pretend not to recall, what they say while under a control. Jane slowly became herself. “I guess we all need a stiff drink,” Eileen said.

While the group was having drinks and sandwiches, they discussed a male poltergeist that Jane thought had been making tapping sounds in the house.

Garrett assured Jane that the poltergeist was “a friendly spirit who likes the house, he likes you, but I’ve asked him to go away; to please go away in the name of God and leave everybody at peace until they are strong. I see him as brash, cheerful, nonchalant, good-natured but rough.”

“Not too good-natured,” said Jane. Asked how she felt about her possession by the witch, Ebon quotes Jane as saying:

I’ve suffered terribly with this, but I’ve never been afraid. Now that is the peculiar part. I don’t understand it. You ride a horse that’s thrown you and you may say to yourself, “I’m not afraid of this horse,” but deep down in your soul, you are afraid but I was not afraid of this. I had some misgiving about coming back here tonight. I admit that. But still and all, when [Ruth] takes hold of me, as she did before, I’m still not really afraid of her, though I know she can hurt me.

The exorcism was only partially successful. Ebon tells me that for several months after the exorcism Jane was less persecuted by the witch. Dr. Laidlaw told him that Jane’s later trances seemed less genuine, more like theatrical performances to gain attention. Her case was complicated by severe alcoholism that distorted and colored her thinking.

I tried to obtain Ebon’s audiotape of the exorcism, but it seems to have been lost in the archives of the Parapsychological Foundation.

Jane always fancied herself a talented poet and novelist. Gingrich published some of her poems in Esquire under the pseudonym of Proctor Farwell and James Matheson. After dying of cancer in 1980–her husband died of cancer four years earlier–she left several unpublished manuscripts including a memoir of her childhood, a novel titled Dear Meg and notes for a book about her experiences with demon possession. “Jane probably never really wanted to marry Ernest Hemingway,” Mason writes. “She wanted to be Ernest Hemingway.”

On Jane’s tombstone, alongside Gingrich’s, are words she herself wrote: “Talents too many, not enough of any.” Mason closes the article about her grandmother by writing: “In the end she would not be remembered for her own talents, but for Hemingway’s.”

Martin Gardner’s latest book, Martin Gardner’s Favorite Poetic Parodies, was published in October by Prometheus Books. The most recent collection of his SKEPTICAL INQUIRER columns (and other material) is Did Adam and Eve Have Navels? (W.W. Norton, 2000).


(1.) Alane Mason is the adopted daughter of one of Jane’s two adopted sons. It was she who discovered the trunk mentioned in my opening paragraph. The draft of “The Short Happy Life …” was sold by Christie’s to a private collector, his name not disclosed, for the highest price ever paid for the manuscript of a short story by an American author.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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