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The Paris Wife: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 22, 2011
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The idea to write in Hadley’s voice came to me as I was reading Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast, about his early years in Paris. In the final pages, he writes of Hadley, “I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.” That line, and his portrayal of their marriage -- so tender and poignant and steeped in regret -- inspired me to search out biographies of Hadley, and then to research their brief and intense courtship and letters -- they wrote hundreds and hundreds of pages of delicious pages to another!
I couldn’t help but fall in love with Hadley, and through her eyes, with the young Ernest Hemingway. He was just twenty when they met, handsome and magnetic, passionate and sensitive and full of dreams. I was surprised at how much I liked and admired him -- and before I knew it, I was entirely swept away by their gripping love story.
I hope you will be as captivated by this remarkable couple as I am -- and by the fascinating world of Paris in the 20’s, the fast-living, ardent and tremendously driven Lost Generation.
A Look Inside The Paris Wife
Ernest and Hadley Hemingway, Chamby, Switzerland, winter 1922
Ernest and Hadley Hemingway on their wedding day, 1921
Ernest, Hadley, and Bumby, Schruns, Austria, 1925
The Hemingways and friends at a cafe in Pamplona, Spain
Paula McLain has taken on the task of writing a story most of us probably think we already know--that of a doomed starter wife. To make life more difficult, McLain proposes to tell us about Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, who is a twenty-eight-year-old Midwestern spinster when she marries the twenty-one-year-old unpublished, (but already cocksure) writer and runs off to Paris with him. The talent and joy of this novel is that McLain does a startling job of making us understand this as a great love story and seducing us into caring deeply, about both Ernest and Hadley, as their marriage eventually comes apart.
This novel moves beyond the dry bones of biography or skewed personal vision of memoir, and takes a leap into the emotional lives of these characters. It is a leap of faith for those readers who think they know Hemingway, but McLain’s voice sticks close enough to historical material, and to the words and tone of Hemingway’s own writing, to be convincing. She had me at the description of young Hadley’s father committing suicide.
“The carpets had been cleaned but not changed out for new, the revolver had been emptied and polished and placed back in his desk.”
Hadley is also crippled by a childhood fall and trapped into spinsterhood by her mother’s declining health and eventual death. By the time she meets Hemingway, we are rooting for her to make a break for foreign shores--even as we understand the danger of marrying a tempestuous man. Hemingway is all nervous purpose, ambition and charisma as he meets Hadley and is drawn to her quiet strength and ordinary American sweetness. In his youth and uncertainty, she is his rock and yet we already suspect that as he grows in artistic power, she will become an unwanted anchor. Through Hadley’s eyes and plain-speaking voice, we see all of twenties Paris and the larger-than-life artists who gather in the cafes. We drink tea with Gertrude Stein and champagne with Fitzgerald and Zelda. We run with the bulls in Pamplona and spend winters in alpine chalets. And we see, through her love for him, the young writer becoming the Hemingway of legend. Perhaps it is the nature of all great artists to be completely selfish and obnoxious, but Hadley’s voice is always one of compassion. Even as Hemingway leaves her completely out of The Sun also Rises, even as Hemingway publicly flirts with other women, she continues to explain and defend him. It is a testament to Paula McLain that the reader is slow to dislike Hemingway, even as he slowly and inexorably betrays Hadley’s trust.
I loved this novel for its depiction of two passionate, yet humanly-flawed people struggling against impossible odds--poverty, artistic fervor, destructive friendships--to cling on to each other. I raise a toast to Paula McLain’s sure talent.
Top Customer Reviews
Paula McLain researched their biographies, letters, and Hemingway's novels, culling the material to imagine a story of their charmed and battered marriage in Paris, from 1921-1926. The tortured life and tragically foreshadowed suicide of Ernest Hemingway is public knowledge, as was his legendary womanizing. McLain's novel dodges the palaver, blending the facts that are known together with credible inference, creating a plausible, informed depiction of Hemingway and Hadley's marriage--the quotidian, the famed, the halcyon, the harsh.
The author writes from Hadley's point of view, inviting the reader inside their most tender and demolishing moments. A few choice sections belong to Hemingway's perspective, urgent and telling. The narrative deftly folds in their histories--the years before they met--artfully revealing early and private woes, which ripple and sometimes hiss beneath the ardor. We get the back stories without muddled exposition; by the time it arrives at the failure of their union, readers have acquired a fluency of Hadley's nature and Hemingway's core.
Hadley sustained several painful childhood experiences that eerily parallel Hemingway's, and was a recluse and "spinster" at twenty-eight, when she met and was courted by the twenty-one-year-old Hemingway.Read more ›
Paula McLain has clearly read lots of Hemingway. The writing style is Hemingwayesque. It feels right for this story and for Hadley's voice because she was so much more reserved than the others in their circle. In the end, McLain quite neatly analyzes Ernest and the marriage, and the book is so readable. Although it is fiction, I don't doubt that it really could have happened this way. The book is obviously thoroughly researched. Historic fiction is so tricky, and I think it fails more often than it succeeds. This is by far the best historic novel I have ever read. I don't want to spoil the delights in these pages, but I will share a highlight for me. When Hemingway and Fitzgerald were editing The Sum Also Rises at the kitchen table, Hadley compared them to surgeons. At that point I think she realized that Ernest's greatness as a writer would surmount his failings as a husband and a human being. I thought it was a fabulous moment.
I really think this book is a triumph. The subject matter definitely piqued my interest, the writing was flawless, and I wish there could be a sequel.
I adored the book, "Loving Frank" by Nancy Horner all about Frank Lloyd Wright and his mistress; it as well as "The Paris Wife," demonstrate the incredible sacrifices a companion must make to cajole an artist's tender ego. Not surprisingly I see Nancy Horan endorsed this book and rightfully she should. The writing is so beautifully strong as it exposes lifestyles of creative geniuses. Paula MClain does an amazing job of keeping the reader glued to the perils of this complex couple.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I made myself finish this although I found it rather boring. I assume it was a novel, although it felt like an autobiography written by Hemingway's first wife. What was the point?Published 2 days ago by RPerry
Interesting read. Did not know much about Hemingway before reading this. Good perspective, written by his first wife. Depression or mental illness is hard on everyone.Published 4 days ago by Bonnie J.Kester
I found this couple difficult to put away after I finished the book. Heartfelt and beautifully written.Published 6 days ago by Shazam
An interesting well written book about a complex self-centered man.
I didnt know much about Hemingway other than press releases and was disappointed to learn how he constantly... Read more
I found Hadley to be a boring character. She seems to do nothing but introspect. Hemingway is portrayed only as slightly flawed and his many, many illnesses and injuries are... Read morePublished 7 days ago by Lyn Richards
This author description of life and nature is outstanding. The story is rivetingPublished 7 days ago by BASIN GIRL