Historical Fiction: The Paris Wife, by Paula McClain

The Paris WifeHadley and Hem

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When Hadley Richardson met and dated Ernest Hemingway in the 1920’s, she was stunned when he fell in love with her. After all, Hadley was quiet and unfashionable, and his elder by 7 years. Hem was charismatic and handsome, had earned a medal in the big war, and was intensely ambitious, having already decided he’d soon become a great novelist. Not quite a match made in heaven. Nevertheless, they marry and settle in Paris, where all the up and comers, writers and artists, hang out. Hem writes, she cooks, and the gradually become friends with the literati, such luminaries as Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, John Dos Passos, and Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. They travel a lot with their new friends, spending months at a time in Switzerland and Spain, where Hem collects material for his books. And drinks. A lot. Hadley keeps up with him, but is decidedly uncomfortable being merely “the wife” among these people, but the first chink in the marriage comes about after a suitcase is stolen on her train, its contents nothing less than Hem’s life’s work so far. She’s devastated, he’s devastated, but he does his best to forgive her. From this point forward, we glimpse their destruction as a couple. When Hadley (inadvertently ?) becomes pregnant, Hem is dismayed. After all, it’s impossible to live the bohemian life with an infant in tow. But he does his best to try. It was probably inevitable that poor, dull, but very strong Hadley would be left behind, it’s awfully hard for the reader to forgive the narcissistic man who always had to have it his way, no matter what “it” was. Hemingway would live to marry three other women. In the epilogue, Hadley, who’s moved on with her life, described him as an “enigma – fine and strong and weak and cruel. An incomparable friend and a SOB [my abbreviation]”.

Paula McClain’s fictionalized memoir is addictive and compelling, told by Hadley herself. She relied heavily upon Hemingway’s posthumous memoir of his life in Paris, A Moveable Feast, a book I read long ago. The Paris Wife has inspired me to read his version of what happened so long ago in Paris.

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