Well that was awkward

That time Ernest Hemingway was quarantined with both his wife and his mistress (who was also his future wife). Plus 7 other things worth your time.

A fake letter made the rounds recently. (I’m trying not to say things “went viral” now.)

It was purportedly written by F. Scott Fitzgerald while in quarantine with Zelda Fitzgerald during a pandemic in 1920, supposedly nearby Ernest Hemingway.

I think this line might have been a tipoff. A bit too on the nose:

At this time, it seems very poignant to avoid all public spaces. Even the bars, as I told Hemingway, but to that he punched me in the stomach, to which I asked if he had washed his hands. He hadn’t.

He is much the denier, that one. Why, he considers the virus to be just influenza. I’m curious of his sources.

If that didn’t make it clear, maybe the disclaimer at the top of the post on the website McSweeney’s, that reads: “NOTE: This is a work of parody and is not an actual letter written by Fitzgerald.”

Maybe that was added later. (Nick Farriella wrote the parody.)

Anyway, the fake letter was funny and timely. It’s also grounded at least partially in truth, in that Hemingway did apparently spend part of the summer of 1926 — so a few years post-1918, obviously — quarantined.

Quarantined with him? “His wife and sick toddler, but also his mistress,” as Lesley M.M. Blume points out in Town & Country.


I’m going to recommend the whole article, but in short Hemingway and his first wife Hadley Hemingway, and their three-year-old son Jack (but whom they called Bumby) were in France.

Bumby got whooping cough; Ernest and Jack got quarantined. And as we said above, Ernest had got himself a mistress, Pauline Pfeiffer.

Pfeiffer, who was later Hemingway’s second wife, had been through whooping cough as a child, so she was now immune. She helpfully showed up, supposedly to help take care of Bumby.


I don’t think that beautiful photo of the French cottage is where they actually stayed. But, here’s Hadley, Jack and Ernest — same year, but apparently in Austria.

As it happened, the Fitzgeralds and fellow American ex-pats Sara and Gerald Murphy were in fact staying right up the road, and in the evenings they, and the Hemingways and Pfeiffer would gather to “have a drink by the fence lining the small front yard.”

Social distancing, 1926-style.

Well, I take three things away from this vignette.

The first is that all of this craziness we’re living through has happened before. We know this objectively but it’s hard sometimes to imagine.

Maybe you’re not quarantined with your spouse and child and paramour (or your spouse’s paramour). But humanity has suffered and recovered.

The second is that when I close my eyes, I imagine just how many authors and screenwriters and songwriters are working on pandemic-related books and movies and songs right now.

And finally, if you’re quarantined at home and things are getting awkward—well, it could be worse. It could almost always be worse.

7 other things worth your time

  • Nearly one-third of renters did not pay their April rent on time. Not a surprise given unemployment numbers and government programs, but worth noting. (Wall Street Journal, $)

  • The Kansas legislature blocked the state’s governor from limiting religious gatherings to no more than 10 people, in advance of Easter. (Kansas.com)

  • Hackers ‘without conscience’ demand ransom from dozens of hospitals and labs working on coronavirus. (Fortune)

  • As China's Wuhan ends its long quarantine, residents feel a mix of joy and fear. (NPR)

  • Google banned Zoom from its employees’ computers. (BuzzFeed News)

  • It’s settled: Biden vs. Trump, as Bernie Sanders suspended his presidential campaign. (Yahoo News)

  • I loved this article about a late-90-something year old man’s reminisces of hiding from the Nazis in World War II, and in the process meeting his future wife, for whom he’s now the primary caregiver 75 years later. (The Cut)

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