Denise Mina’s ‘Ernest Hemingway’s Third Wife’

For my first contribution to the 21 Revs blog I have decided to discuss Denise Mina’s ‘Ernest Hemingway’s Third Wife’, a work from 21 Revolutions: New writing and prints inspired by the collection at Glasgow Women’s Library which I found particularly interesting.

You can listen to a podcast of Denise reading the text here.

The focus of ‘Ernest Hemingway’s Third Wife’ is the representation of women, particularly in relation to their careers, and aims to address the neglected contributions of significant women. Two writers, both female, sit together lacking the confidence to promote their work at a French book fair. While the protagonist remains wary of the boastful man on the next stall, a self-proclaimed philosopher and painter, he continuously sells many copies of his book. I was immediately drawn to the piece as the setting captured my own ambivalence toward commercial aspects of the literary and art worlds. Sales give us little idea of the quality of creative production on offer; and the profound encounter which subsequently occurs between the two women happens through their ‘everyday’ conversation, in spite of his extravagant sales pitch in the backdrop.

Although appearance should have no bearing on your capabilities as an individual, the early discussion between the two women displays their rightly-felt anxieties. This might be dismissed as an erroneous concern, however women are often subjected to contradictory judgements in relation to their physical attributes or clothing choices. Unrelated to their competence or proficiency in their chosen career path, this impedes the appraisal of work by obscuring our judgement, putting women on an uneven playing field.

When the American woman describes Martha Gellhorn, the daring war correspondant and writer, as “Ernest Hemingway’s third wife”, she displays an implicit sexism that is oft part of our collective cultural response: it is evident that women are often defined through their relationships, rather than for their own successes and hard work. Although the media plays a significant role in this, it is critical to address how we ourselves can tacitly perpetuate this situation. The importance of projecting our own voices and values to positively affect change is shown through the protagonist’s reaction. The valuable contributions of women such as Gellhorn have often been marginalised throughout history: reclaiming and celebrating the achievements of women is crucial for building an equal society. This is one of the core values of Glasgow Women’s Library, and one of the reasons the artists and writers were commissioned to make work for 21 Revolutions.

For anyone interested in discovering about Martha Gellhorn’s life and achievements, her biography ‘Martha Gellhorn: A Life’ by Caroline Moorehead is available to borrow from Glasgow Women’s Library.

‘21 Revolutions: New writing and prints inspired by the collection at Glasgow Women’s Library’ is available to purchase here on our website or at the library.

– Abbé Webster

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