"Mr. and Mrs. Elliot", published in 1925 as part of the short story collection In Our Time, describes a crumbling relationship as do so many of Ernest Hemingway's works. The central characters, Hubert and Cornelia Elliot, are American expatriates in Europe during the years immediately after the First World War. Hubert Elliot, a postgraduate Harvard law student and the writer of "very long poems," is twenty-five when he marries Cornelia, a girl from the American South fifteen years his senior. Both Mr. and Mrs. Elliot are virgins when they marry; there is little romance in their decision to wed—Hubert "could never remember just when it was decided"—and their wedding night is "disappoint(ing)."
Two days after their wedding, Mr. and Mrs. Elliot sail for Europe. They go to Paris and then to Dijon, but are soon "tired" of that city and travel on to Touraine. Hubert continues to write poetry, and Cornelia becomes his typist. They want a baby "more than anything else in the world," but though they keep trying, they never conceive. Mr. Elliot has a number of friends with whom he associates frequently, and a girlfriend of Mrs. Elliot comes over from Boston to join them as well. Mr. and Mrs. Elliot continue to try to have a baby as Mr. Elliot's friends begin to "drift" back to Paris. The girlfriend soon takes on the task of typing Mr. Elliot's manuscripts.
Mr. Elliot begins to drink wine and "live(s) apart in his own room," writing poetry. Mrs. Elliot and the girlfriend sleep in the big room and have "many a good cry." In the evenings, the three dine together, and "they (are) all quite happy."
"Mr. and Mrs. Elliot" is a story about sterility. The main characters' fruitless attempts to have a baby mirror the barrenness of their lives as well as those of their compatriots. Talented and educated, the American expatriates wander Europe aimlessly. Representative of Hemingway's frequently addressed "Lost Generation," they search for an undefined sense of fulfillment, but never find it.
The characters of Mr. and Mrs. Elliot were reputedly originally based on two of Hemingway's Parisian acquaintances, the Smiths, but there has been much speculation by critics that, in retitling the story, the author might have had his artistic contemporary, T. S. Eliot, in mind. The empty world depicted in the narrative has much in common with Eliots' "very long poem" The Waste Land, which was published just three years earlier, and many details of the relationship between the couple in Hemingway's story resemble those of Mr. and Mrs. T. S. Eliot themselves. In this sense, Hemingway's work seems mean-spirited, but critics note the "put-down" masks a deep-seated appreciation on Hemingway's part for a fellow writer by whom he was obviously much influenced.