The Paris Wife
By Paula McLain
Completed December 18, 2011
So many books and movies focus on the lives of authors that we often forget the muses in their lives. That’s why I was eager to read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain – a story that features Hadley Richardson, the first wife of Ernest Hemingway, and their life together in 1920’s Paris.
We meet Hadley as a 29-year-old, unmarried woman who is visiting friends in Chicago after a long stint providing care to her now-deceased mother. While in Chicago, Hadley is swept off her feet by a young Ernest Hemingway (a man almost 10 years her junior). Ernest is a fledging writer, fresh out of World War I, and ready to move to Europe to begin his writing career. He eventually proposes to Hadley, and together, they move to Paris.
The Paris years are marked with highs and lows. Ernest’s career, while promising, takes a while to kick into high gear. The couple is poor but manage to stay afloat, thanks to Hadley’s inheritance. They are in love, though, and surrounded by friends who feed their appetites and souls. However, Ernest’s depression, wandering eye and eventual affair with another woman put an irreversible dent in their marriage, and Hadley decides to leave him and her life in Paris.
McLain does a commendable job capturing the artistic fever of 1920’s Paris. The Paris Wife is a veritable who’s who of the writing and art scene. What I can’t determine is McLain’s motive for her characters because, for me, not one of them was likeable. Hadley was spineless and too accommodating. Ernest was self-centered and chauvinistic. Even the minor characters were less than likeable. It made liking The Paris Wife a hard task.
If a lesson can be learned from the story it’s this: If you marry a man with a lot of baggage, you’ll end up packing yours in the end. I think Hadley would certainly agree. ( )