Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife by Paula Mclain

The Paris wife is how people sometimes referred to the first wife of Ernest Hemingway. Hadley Richardson was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri. She was 29 when she met Ernest Hemingway. This book is the story of how they met, their courtship and the years of their marriage. All but a couple of chapters are told in Hadley's voice.

Mclain did a great deal of research of the life and writings of Hemingway as well as correspondence between Hemingway and Hadley and others. She tried to stay true to fact with regards to where they were and when and with whom. She filled in the conversations and feelings when her research left holes.

I had a hard time reading this book at first because I had preconceived ideas about Ernest Hemingway as a person. I kept seeing "red flags" and wanting Hadley to run away from Ernest as fast as she could. In the end, I let go of my issues and just went with it.

This book gives a great perspective of life for 20 and even 30 somethings just after World War I. The energy and freedom to do whatever and say whatever and feel whatever was marvelous. The energy of Paris and the legendary people that they socialized with was so much fun to read about.

I really liked Hadley as a character (I know she was a real person) although at times she drove me crazy. Before she got pregnant when Ernest left town for the bull fights in Spain, she wandered Paris and was at loose ends. I kept wishing she would get a job or start teaching neighbor children how to play piano or something, anything. It was a different time, though, and she had been raised in a social and financial situation where she would not have thought about getting a job. Once she got pregnant, her free time was spent preparing for the baby and afterwards, her occupation was that of mother.

The "character" of Ernest was much as I had expected. He seemed self-centered and, at times, manic and then depressive. He was in constant need of adulation and did not deal well with criticism however constructive. He seemed like he like to live life on the edge. Not so much an adrenaline junkie but he regularly needed to remind himself of his own mortality and put himself into harms way. He was a brilliant writer and I have enjoyed all of his works that I have read but there are two books that I want to re-read that I will have a different perspective this time around. The first is The Sun Also Rises which he wrote at the end of his relationship with Hadley. It was, according to this book, a fairly true account of a trip they took to Pamplona with friends and the awkward and difficult relationship strains that were going on at the time. The second is A Moveable Feast which Hemingway was finishing up the edits just before his suicide. This book is about his life in Paris with Hadley. I can't remember if I've actually read this one or just heard about it. I'll make sure to read it soon though.

I recommend The Paris Wife as a good read but especially if you are interested in Hemingway or life in post WWI Paris. Enjoy!

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