There is something about the life of Ernest Hemingway that never fails to intrigue an audience. He was always bigger than life. Paula McLain has written a bestseller about Hemingway’s life in Paris in the 1920’s. McLain’s novel, “The Paris Wife”, is the story of this time through the eyes of Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife.
Hadley and Ernest meet in Chicago in October of 1920. She was a twenty eight year old “spinster” living with her sister and her husband in St. Louis. He was a twenty one year old dashing, war hero who wanted to write a great novel.
He proposed, they married. After one wonderful evening with Sherwood Anderson (the author of “Winesburg, Ohio) Ernest is convinced that everyone and everything interesting in the world of writing is in Paris. And so begins the story of Ernest and Hadley in Paris, where Hadley attempts to be the perfect wife to the talented, moody, complex Ernest.
This novel falls into the category of historical fiction as the author will admit that she mined Hemingway’s posthumously published memoir, “A Moveable Feast”, about his life in Paris. But in “The Paris Wife” the narrator is Hadley. The story tells of the intricate relationships that Ernest had with John Dos Passos, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Gerald and Sara Murphy, and other people who made Paris in the 1920’s the exciting, hard drinking, self indulgent haven for American expatriates. The group made wild trips to Pamplona, Spain to see violent bullfights, where Ernest set his famous novel, “The Sun Also Rises”. Their life was a maze of drinking, traveling around Europe and finding the right setting for Ernest to write.
I found Hadley to be a strong, interesting character who tries to remain dignified when her world begins to fall apart. Perhaps she took on more than she could handle but she, most likely, had no choice once she became part of Hemingway’s world. “The Paris Wife” is a great story about a special time in the history of American literature through the eyes of a woman who tried to hold her own as she was carried away by a strong, uncontrollable force-----Ernest Hemingway.