Put the word “Paris” in front of just about any word and you’ve got my attention. This is how I came to pick up The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain. It’s the story of the marriage of Ernest Hemingway and Hadley Richardson. The book is written from Hadley’s point of view, based upon exhaustive research in letters and memoirs from the pair. It was an unlikely union between an impetuous 20 year-old aspiring writer and a rather prosaic woman eight years his senior. Yet, she was the great love of Hemingway’s life, of whom he said, “I wish I’d died before I’d loved anyone but her.”
They shared mid-western roots and a firm conviction that Hemingway was a genius. They moved to Paris, not for any great love of the city, but because it was the center of the artistic universe. In fact, Hadley was not very happy cut off from family and friends with a workaholic husband. These are the years that Hemingway writes about in A Moveable Feast. The French title is slightly different Paris est une fête (pair-ee et oon fet), which means “Paris is a feast.”
McLain portrays Hadley as living totally in Hemingway’s shadow, her own gifts as a pianist totally eclipsed by his overwhelming presence and virtually ignored by such luminaries as Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound. Still, they were very much in love despite relatively straightened means (they did have enough money to hire domestic help, rent a piano for Hadley and a separate writing space for Hemingway, travel extensively throughout Europe, eat out constantly in restaurants, and drink apparently endless quantities of alcohol, so I’m not too sure how truly impoverished they were!).
Then, it all came apart. Hadley lost a suitcase containing four years of Hemingway’s work. I groaned aloud when I got to that part – Hadley’s distress was so well conveyed. Hadley became pregnant, which Hemingway resented. Finally, Hemingway started an affair with a glamorous American journalist who befriended the couple and pretended to be Hadley’s pal. Eventually Hemingway married “the other woman” – his second of four marriages. Hadley remarried and led a contented life far from the comet that was Hemingway – yet a deep affection for the man she referred to as “Tatie” remained.
Although I’m generally no fan of Hemingway, I agree with him wholeheartedly when he said, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
- Feed Your Need To Read: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (brendorkia.wordpress.com)
- Before the Sun Rose (nytimes.com)
- Le bilan (onequalitythefinest.com)