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The Paris Wife: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 22, 2011
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Author Paula McLain on The Paris Wife
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wife, Hadley Richardson, who is a twenty-eight-year-old Midwestern spinster when she marries the twenty-one-year-old unpublished, (but already cocksure) writer and runs off to Paris with him.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.
History is sadly neglectful of the supporting players in the lives of great artists. Fortunately, fiction provides ample opportunity to bring these often fascinating personalities out into the limelight. Gaynor Arnold successfully resurrected the much-maligned Mrs. Charles Dickens in Girl in a Blue Dress (2009), now Paula McLain brings Hadley Richardson Hemingway out from the formidable shadow cast by her famous husband. Though doomed, the Hemingway marriage had its giddy high points, including a whirlwind courtship and a few fast and furious years of the expatriate lifestyle in 1920s Paris. Hadley and Ernest traveled in heady company during this gin-soaked and jazz-infused time, and readers are treated to intimate glimpses of many of the literary giants of the era, including Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. But the real star of the story is Hadley, as this time around, Ernest is firmly relegated to the background as he almost never was during their years together. Though eventually a woman scorned, Hadley is able to acknowledge without rancor or bitterness that "Hem had helped me to see what I really was and what I could do." Much more than a woman-behind-the-man homage, this beautifully crafted tale is an unsentimental tribute to a woman who acted with grace and strength as her marriage crumbled. --Margaret Flanagan
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Top customer reviews
historical in nature and closely parallels real events.
This fascinating story is one of love and betrayal. Written primarily from the point of view of Hadley, the text is also interspersed with brief sections that are meant to reveal Hemingway’s perspective.
The couple was married only six years, 1921-1926, and Hemingway went on to marry three others in succession. Yet, Hemingway held Hadley as the dearest and was said to have wished that he had remained with her always. The Sun Also Rises is dedicated to Hadley and their son.
At age twenty, Hemingway married Hadley Richardson who was eight years his senior. Hadley, painfully shy, had been living a rather secluded life at the home of her sister and her sister's husband. When Ernest and Hadley married, they moved promptly to Paris and Hadley’s life changed dramatically. Many artists and writers were living in Paris and the couple mingled among them. They met Picasso, James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald and others. Liquor flowed freely. Marital affairs were common.
Hemingway had started out as a newspaper reporter and struggled to find a niche with his novels and short stories. With fame, he thought nothing of stepping on those who had helped him get recognition. He began to covet other women who were attracted to the handsome, exciting new writer.
Hemingway is considered one of the greatest American writers. He is often said to be the twentieth century’s most influential writer. Hemingway’s brilliance was tarnished by his selfishness and his lack of feeling for those he trampled. Paula McLain writes adeptly about his character as well as Hadley’s love for Hemingway and her deep hurt. I found this book so very well written and poignant. Hadley’s predicament was movingly portrayed. I found myself intimately pulled into her psyche.
Hadley loved Ernest and was loyal to him until she could not longer feel her own self-worth. It was good to read that after she left Hemingway she found a long lasting love with the journalist Paul Mower.
I highly recommend this book.
Even knowing the ultimate outcome, the story captivated me. Hadley's descriptions and reactions brought me into their lives, made bohemian Paris sizzle, evoked the bravery and cruelty of Pamplona corridas, brought the sordid and splendid friendships and affairs into keen relief. At times Hadley's passivity frustrated me, yet she held values of an earlier generation, aspiring only to be a good wife and sometimes muse. Ernest's mercurial personality was exposed, his hubris and awesome creativity. Eventually his passion for women, and the inevitable wounds of marriage, pushed him to the affair that ended it, and Hadley caved. Sad, joyful, poignant, truthful, furious, reflective—the story is well written and meaningful to those who have read Hemingway's works, especially The Sun Also Rises.
The Hemingways were money-strapped, ex-pats in 1920s Jazz Age Paris, along with their friends Gertrude Stein (godmother to their son, John), Alice B. Toklas and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. It was a heady time as the so-called "Lost Generation" (a term coined by Gertrude Stein) tried to find their way amidst the post-traumatic stress the men felt after fighting in World War I. Lots of drinking. Lots of sex with lots of people. Lots of angst.
Hemingway captures this perfectly in "The Sun Also Rises," while he lives it in "The Paris Wife." Author Paula McClain conducted in-depth research to write a novel based on as much on fact as possible, which was greatly assisted by the hundreds of pages of letters Hadley and Ernest wrote to one another.
"The Paris Wife" tells a true love story gone sour when Ernest has an affair with Hadley's closest friend. This is a fascinating book, and I highly recommend it!