Monday, August 12, 2013
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
So. The Paris Wife. Ever since reading Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, I've been curious about his then wife, Hadley Richardson. He speaks about her so lovingly in that book and then inexplicably takes up with Hadley's friend Pauline Pfeiffer. It's heartbreaking and infuriating to know that he carried on with Pauline right under Hadley's nose wondering why Hadley couldn't come around to seeing how difficult this was for him, like he didn't have any control or choice in the matter, the cad. There's more to the story than that, of course. The five years they were together were filled with interesting people and excursions to the Alps of Switzerland and the bullfights of Spain. They had one son, John/Bumby, who doesn't make many appearances in the book as he was often in the care of a nanny, which seemed to be the norm for families in their circle at the time. Children were to be only occasionally seen, and certainly never heard.
Having read A Moveable Feast a few years ago, and now more recently Therese Anne Fowler's Z, The Story of Zelda Fitzgerald, I was so pleased to recognize many of the same people and situations. All three books can certainly be read separately, but if one can manage them back to back it makes for a really fascinating reading experience about one of the most transformative times in modern history and literature.
4 out of 5 stars.
In 1920 Chicago, Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness - until she meets the youthful returning war hero Ernest Hemingway, and is captivated by his good looks, intensity, and passionate desire to write. After a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris. Soon they are the golden couple at the heart of lively and volatile group of expatriates that include Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. But hard-drinking, fast-living Jazz Age Paris is at odds with traditional notions of family and monogamy.
The two move to Toronto to have their son, Bumby, and it is there that Ernest galvanizes his creative ambitions. The Hemingways return to Paris on a wave of optimism, but new challenges begin to chip away at their happiness. As Hadley struggles with jealousy and self-doubt and Ernest wrestles with his writing career, the pair must confront a deception that could prove the undoing of one of the great romances in literary history.
A heart-rending tale of love and torn loyalty, The Paris Wife is all the more poignant for knowing that at the end of his life, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.