Once again I picked up the challenge to read a chick lit book for the reading challenge set by Samantha at Chicklitplus. This month’s book was a bit more work as I went for historical fiction that focused on the relationship between Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley. It is the second novel by Paula McLain called The Paris Wife.
Here is the description from Better World Books:
In Chicago in 1920, Hadley Richardson, a quiet 28-year-old, meets Ernest Hemingway. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris and become the golden couple in a lively group of expats, including Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and Gerald and Sara Murphy. But the hard-drinking and fast-living cafe life doesn’t celebrate traditional notions of family and monogamy. As Hadley struggles with self-doubt and jealousy and Ernest wrestles with his burgeoning writing career, they must confront a deception that could prove the undoing of one of the greatest romances in history.
So we get to see inside the life of Hemingway and his first wife who had a few inheritances that provided for their life overseas. This allowed Hemingway to work without having to earn a living most of the time. He did work for a few publications but his temperament was not made for working in an office and playing politics.
What we see is Hadley’s viewpoint as a woman who believed that her love had real talent that needed to be worked at and tempered. As they move to Paris and begin to meet other writers, Ernest shares some of his conversation with Hadley about literature. That part is fascinating for me to see how Gertrude Stein influenced him.
What is heart-breaking is to see how Hemingway did not value Hadley as the story moves on. I could not tell if he actually felt guilt for the affairs, the crushes, the heartbreak he would cause Hadley. Then again, I am not sure he thought about much else than his own needs and wants.
Hadley describes how the man changes over the years that they are in Paris, how he goes from being neat and clean-shaven to a man proud to be in his shabby jacket and long hair. Perhaps by this time he felt like a real ex-patriot and therefore had to dress/look the part. she is not comfortable with these changes but realizes that he is exploring a new persona as he develops his talent and grows in success.
This book is supposed to be about Hadley, her thoughts and feelings during her time as ‘the Paris wife.’ But what I found it to be was more about what Hadley thought about Ernest, how he did everything, how he saw things, how he was the center of her world. And that includes life after Bumbly was born.
But I have to keep reminding myself in what era this book was written. Women were not expected to have a ‘life’ outside of marriage. Considering the years Hadley spent being depressed after the death of a favorite sister and the suicide of her father followed by taking care of a sick mother, I am surprised she had any will left at all.
Strangely enough, once she meets Ernest and they fall in love, Hadley has the will the drive to live differently than what would have been expected of her by her family.
Paula McLain has written a book that captures the time period, the players, the emotions of the time. We can hear the music, taste the alcohol, and see the running of the bulls. In the beginning, we see how these two crazy kids fall for each other as they have both come from families with difficult histories.
While slow at times, I found the book to be very interesting as I entered a world I had studied but never quite understood while I was in school. The wildness of the era, the constant drinking, the need to be ‘bohemian,’ the talent that constantly flowed like a springtime mountain stream.
To be honest, I would read this book again. That is the highest compliment I can give it.
Some books I don’t care if I ever see again after the initial reading. This one makes me want to explore it again while listening to music from that era. Afterwards, I will find Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris just so I can look for the references I missed the first time.
Who wants to join me for a trip back to 1920s Paris?
Editor’s Note: While researching more about Hemingway and Hadley, I also read boards on “Hemingway and Gellhorn” which is a movie about his third marriage to the legendary war correspondent. One poster stated that all of Hemingway’s wives latched onto to him for his fame and money. However, in the case of Hadley, it was Hemingway who latched on to her. She had some money and an emotional stability to help settle him while he was beginning his craft. She believed in his talent before he was published as a novelist or knew Stein, Ezra Pound or even Sherwood Anderson.
I realize that Hemingway is a hero to many but he was a pill to live with – as we see in this novel and other biographical anecdotes. Maybe the later wives ‘latched on’ to him but it did not take much persuading either.