Early in the summer of 1926, Ernest Hemingway's first wife, Hadley, was quarantined in France with their son, who had contracted whooping cough. On May 21, she wrote to her husband—who was in Spain—to inform him that she had invited a rather surprising house guest: Hemingway’s mistress, Pauline Pfeiffer.

What followed, as told by Lesley M. M. Blume for Town & Country, were several strange weeks of isolated cohabitation featuring Hemingway, Hadley, Pfeiffer, the ailing toddler, and his nurse, with special guest appearances by F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

Hadley, Ernest, and Jack "Bumby" Hemingway photographed in spring 1926.John F. Kennedy Library, Ernest Hemingway Collection, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

By 1926, the Hemingways had been living in Paris for a few years already, and Hadley had recently discovered that her husband was carrying on an affair with Pfeiffer, a Vogue editor who was just as spirited and stylish as Hadley was meek and matronly. Though Hadley was not happy about the infidelity, she ultimately accepted that her husband planned to continue both relationships.

While Hemingway set off to watch bullfights in Madrid, Hadley and their 3-year-old son, Jack (nicknamed “Bumby”), moved into a lavish villa in Antibes, France, which was owned and occupied by fellow expatriates Gerald and Sara Murphy. Soon, however, Bumby was diagnosed with whooping cough, and doctors advised Hadley to self-isolate with him. They, along with Bumby’s nurse, relocated to a smaller estate in Antibes, which was rented to them by yet another pair of American expats: the Fitzgeralds.

When Hadley told her husband that she had asked Pfeiffer to join them, she wrote that it would be a "swell joke on tout le monde if you and Fife and I spent the summer [together]." Pfeiffer soon appeared in Antibes, and so, too, did Hemingway himself. Astonishingly, the celebrated author found the cramped two-bedroom house to be “a splendid place to write,” and the motley crew spent most evenings having cocktail parties in the front yard with the Fitzgeralds and Murphys, who kept their distance by staying on the opposite side of the fence.

Seated around the table, from left to right, are Gerald and Sara Murphy, Pauline Pfeiffer, and Ernest and Hadley Hemingway, photographed in Spain during 1926.John F. Kennedy Library, Ernest Hemingway Collection, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Fortunately, Bumby recovered within a few weeks, and the party migrated to a hotel. Pfeiffer didn’t detach herself in the slightest; by Hadley’s account, she often crawled into bed with the Hemingways for breakfast. But what had started out as a “swell joke” eventually proved to be too much for Hadley’s strained relationship with her husband, and the couple divorced in January 1927. Hemingway married Pfeiffer later that year (which lasted until he met another whip-smart American writer: Martha Gellhorn).

For more fascinating and occasionally scandalous details about Hemingway’s early career, check out Blume’s book Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises.

[h/t Town & Country]

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.