Paris in the 1920s, and an intimate glimpse into the lives of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley. Okay, so it’s fiction, but Paula has done her research and drawn on correspondence between the couple as well as biographies and other material to write a compelling novel about real life characters.
Jazz age Paris was a far cry from the US midwest where Hadley grew up. In this novel we meet other people such as F Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound who led the pack of literary expats and Bohemians living in Paris at the time, drinking heavily, living loudly.
Hadley and Ernest are a strong couple together; Hadley believes their love can survive all. It survives Hadley losing a suitcase containing the only copies of all of Hemingway’s work. It survives an unplanned baby and the changes that brings to the household. But it doesn’t survive the younger woman. Hadley is several years older than Ernest; she’s a self-proclaimed Victorian in an era and society that was thoroughly, relentlessly modern, and self-doubts about herself creep in gradually throughout the novel as the Hemingways move in higher, more glamourous circles.
It’s a fact that Hemingway left Hadley for the younger, modern, more vivacious Pauline, who became the second of a total of four Mrs Hemingways. And they were just the women he married, not the sum total of all he slept with.
Hadley, however, was his rock when he was trying to make it as a writer. She married him when he was 21, a young man still having nightmares about the War, far more vulnerable than the legendary Hemingway of later years. She is funny, and brave, and likeable as a character. If she is Hemingway’s rock, he is the person who brings her out of herself, encourages her to grow.
Hadley calls herself The Paris Wife, the early wife. She was married to Hemingway for almost five years when the pressure of coping with him sleeping with Pauline became too much for her. Faced with the suggestion of moving back to the USA and living in a menage a trois with Pauline, Hadley, heartbroken, tells Ernest he can have a divorce.
This novel explores a story that has been well-documented before, including by Hemingway himself in A Moveable Feast, but has a vibrant emotional depth to it, told in Hadley’s very believable voice. Paula McLain has captured the era well from Paris through Spain and back to the South of France. Reading this book has spurred me to on get a copy of A Moveable Feast, to read Hemingway on Hadley and their time together in Paris.
If you’d like to read more about this novel and how Paula McLain came to write it, visit the official website.