Cafe Libri discussion

The Paris Wife
This topic is about The Paris Wife
2012 Book of the Month Reads > April: "The Paris Wife" by Paula McLain

Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)    post a comment »
dateDown_arrow    newest »

message 1: by Adrianna, Owner of Cafe Libri (last edited Mar 21, 2012 03:03PM) (new)

Adrianna (Adriannas) | 484 comments Mod
For discussions concerning The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (314 pages).

Amanda (polishsweetheart0911) | 61 comments I just got my book yesterday and cant wait to start it today. first i plan to finish the last book in the hunger games series.

Amanda (polishsweetheart0911) | 61 comments It is a slow start for me with this just hasnt grabbed my attention yet...hope it gets better

message 4: by Adrianna, Owner of Cafe Libri (new)

Adrianna (Adriannas) | 484 comments Mod
Amanda wrote: "It is a slow start for me with this just hasnt grabbed my attention yet...hope it gets better"

Sorry you are having a slow start with the book, Amanda. Jeffrey posted some comments in Yahoo Cafe Libri. I will cross post them here, so you can read his thoughts. I believe he is enjoying it immensely.

message 5: by Adrianna, Owner of Cafe Libri (new)

Adrianna (Adriannas) | 484 comments Mod
Let me know if you want me to cross-post anything for you, Amanda!

Jeffrey Taylor posted in Yahoo Cafe Libri the following posts:

Post #1

I tired of waiting for the one and only copy of A Paris Wife to be returned to
my local library. During a visit to my local bookstore a copy found its way
into my hands and I found it therefore necessary to purchase it.

I have been carried away by Paula McLain's writing style; she has captured the
legend of the Lost Generation with imagination and intensity. She brings the
romance of Paris and the excitement of intellectual life in a big city and
merges it into the reader's consciousness.

It is surprising to think that this post war generation lived and created
something that cam be important for us today almost a hundred years ago. She
reminds us, in that day and time, with the imagined threat of another war before
them, Hemingway, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, could walk those streets
and show up in a café for conversation. Today we are likely to experience a
grumbled, "Check you facebook page."

The war years and experience of death and destruction was the explination for
their behavior. "Why we couldn't stop drinking or talking or kissing the wrong
people no matter what it ruined. Some of us had looked into the faces of the
dead and tried not to remember anything in particular. Ernest was one of
these. He often said he'd died in the war, just for a moment; that his soul had
left his body like a silk handkerchief, slipping out and levitating over his
chest. It had returned without being called back, and I often wondered if
writing for him was a way of knowing his soul was there after all, back in its

That's it.

Post #2

Our story begins not in the legendary city of lights but in the windy city of
Chicago. The breeze seems rather anal for Hadley Richardson as we join her in
meeting Hemingway. She lives in Grand Central with her married sister and
boarders after the recent death of her mother, feeling empty and trying to
pretend at happiness. See meets Hemingway, writer, boxer, ladies man, brown
eyes. What was his relationship to her fearless friend Kate, was he interested
in Hadley? They were all interested and familiar with the spirits of the gods,
prohibition be damned.

Hemingstein moves in, declares Hemingway to be his favorite writer. They shared
dinner together, they shared essential thoughts and feelings. By the time
Hadley returnes to St Louis the relationship has developed a certain warmth.

"My life was my life, I would have to stare it down, somehow, and make it work
for me."

It's interesting reading their lives from Hadley's perspective. The story
lives, it has breath and movement and a pulse.

Post #3

The story is fascinating. After two week long meetings, Nesto proposes by
mail. This is, incredibly, a traditional courtship of a sort. There has been
no physical closeness, no hand on breast, no hip on hip, no exchange of body
fluids except a few kisses perhaps. Yet they have both penetrated each other's

We have our ideas about the roaring twenties and as a writer and heavy drinker
we expect Hemingway to have gotten into a few skirts. But these two people
have created their own relationship. Neither of them seems to care much about
other peoples expectation of how they should behave, even other Bohemians.
Different though they were in superficial appearances, they were well suited for
each other. How many people could have proposed by mail and how many would take
such a proposal as something serious?

Do you gather me, Begonia?

message 6: by Adrianna, Owner of Cafe Libri (new)

Adrianna (Adriannas) | 484 comments Mod
1. In many ways, Hadley's girlhood in St. Louis was a difficult and repressive
experience. How do her early years prepare her to meet and fall in love with
Ernest? What does life with Ernest offer her that she hasn't encountered before?
What are the risks?

2. Hadley and Ernest don't get a lot of encouragement from their friends and
family when they decided to marry. What seems to draw the two together? What are
some of the strengths of their initial attraction and partnership? The

3. The Ernest Hemingway we meet in The Paris Wife --- through Hadley's eyes ---
is in many ways different from the ways we imagine him when faced with the
largeness of his later persona. What do you see as his character strengths? Can
you see what Hadley saw in him?

4. The Hemingways spontaneously opt for Paris over Rome when the get key advice
from Sherwood Anderson. What was life like for them when they first arrived? How
did Hadley's initial feelings about Paris differ from Ernest's and why?

5. Throughout The Paris Wife Hadley refers to herself as "Victorian" as opposed
to "modern." What are some of the ways she doesn't feel like she fits into life
in bohemian Paris? How does this impact her relationship with Ernest? Her
self-esteem? What are some of the ways Hadley's "old-fashioned" quality can be
seen as a strength and not a weakness?

6. Hadley and Ernest's marriage survived for many years in Jazz-Age Paris, an
environment that had very little patience for monogamy and other traditional
values. What in their relationship seems to sustain them? How does their
marriage differ from those around them? Pound's and Shakespeare's? Scott and

7. Most of The Paris Wife is written in Hadley's voice, but a few select
passages come to us from Ernest's point of view. What impact does getting
Ernest's perspective have on our understanding of their marriage? How does it
affect your ability to understand him and his motivations in general?

8. What was the role of literary spouses in 1920's Paris? How is Hadley
challenged and restricted by her gender? Would those restrictions have changed
if she had been an artist and not merely a "wife"?

9. At one point, Ezra Pound warns Hadley that it would be a dire mistake to let
parenthood change Ernest. Is there a nugget of truth behind his concern? What
are some of the ways Ernest is changed by Bumby's birth? What about Hadley? What
does motherhood bring to her life, for better or worse?

10. One of the most wrenching scenes in the book is when Hadley loses a valise
containing all of Ernest's work to date. What kind of turning point does this
mark for the Hemingway's marriage? Do you think Ernest ever forgives her?

11. When the couple moves to Toronto to have Bumby, Ernest tries his best to
stick it out with a regular "nine-to-five" reporter's job, and yet he ultimately
finds this impossible. Why is life in Toronto so difficult for Ernest? Why does
Hadley agree to go back to Paris earlier than they planned, even though she
doesn't know how they'll make it financially? How does she benefit from
supporting his decision to make a go at writing only fiction?

12. Hadley and Ernest had similar upbringings in many ways. What are the
parallels, and how do these affect the choices Hadley makes as a wife and

13. In The Paris Wife, when Ernest receives his contract for In Our Time, Hadley
says, "He would never again be unknown. We would never again be this happy." How
did fame affect Ernest and his relationship with Hadley?

14. The Sun Also Rises is drawn from the Hemingways' real-life experiences with
bullfighting in Spain. Ernest and his friends are clearly present in the book,
but Hadley is not. Why? In what ways do you think Hadley is instrumental to the
book regardless, and to Ernest's career in general?

15. How does the time and place --- Paris in the 20's --- affect Ernest and
Hadley's marriage? What impact does the war, for instance, have on the choices
and behavior of the expatriate artists surrounding the Hemingways? Do you see
Ernest changing in response to the world around him? How, and how does Hadley
feel about those changes?

16. What was the nature of the relationship between Hadley and Pauline Pfeiffer?
Were they legitimately friends? How do you see Pauline taking advantage of her
intimate position in the Hemingway's life? Do you think Hadley is naïve for not
suspecting Pauline of having designs on Ernest earlier? Why or why not?

17. It seems as if Ernest tries to make his marriage work even after Pauline
arrives on the scene. What would Hadley it have cost Hadley to stick it out with
Ernest no matter what? Is there a way she could have fought harder for her

18. In many ways, Hadley is a very different person at the end of the novel than
the girl who encounters Ernest by chance at a party. How do you understand her
trajectory and transformation? Are there any ways she essentially doesn't

19. When Hemingway's biographer Carlos Baker interviewed Hadley Richardson near
the end of her life, he expected her to be bitter, and yet she persisted in
describing Ernest as a "prince." How can she have continued to love and admire
him after the way he hurt her?

20. Ernest Hemingway spent the last months of his life tenderly reliving his
first marriage in the pages his memoir, A Moveable Feast. In fact, it was the
last thing he wrote before his death. Do you think he realized what he'd truly
lost with Hadley?

message 7: by Adrianna, Owner of Cafe Libri (new)

Adrianna (Adriannas) | 484 comments Mod
Adrianna wrote: "1. In many ways, Hadley's girlhood in St. Louis was a difficult and repressive
experience. How do her early years prepare her to meet and fall in love with
Ernest? What does life with Ernest offer ..."

Cross post from Sheri in Shelfari Cafe Libri:

Wow! A Cafe Libri pick that I have actually read. I rarely see that. :) Unfortunately, I read and reviewed it back before it was published, so it is no longer fresh in my mind.

Re #5: Granted, it's been a long while since I read the book, but I don't recall feeling that Hadley ever really fit in with the Boho lifestyle. I saw her as being more structured/in control, more governed by societal rules, caring more about niceties (behavioral/social). As someone who was a lot like that as a young woman, I can certainly understand the allure of Hemingway and the Boho life. Sometimes we are "buttoned-up" because of how we were raised and dont' really WANT to be as much that way as we we choose a bad boy or a bit of a wild child to try to counter that uptight persona. I have definitely done so myself. :)

Re #8: I recall being annoyed that the artists' spouses, especially Hemingway's, were important to them when it came to being supportive, stroking the artist's ego and reading their work...but when it came time for the artists to get together to talk about writing, the spouses were tossed aside and not considered worthy of being in on the discussion. That would have really chapped me had I been one of the spouses! Which is why I always say I am so happy to not have been born in those times. :)

message 8: by Adrianna, Owner of Cafe Libri (new)

Adrianna (Adriannas) | 484 comments Mod
Cross posts from Jeffrey in Yahoo Cafe Libri:

POST #1:

Earnest and Hadley began life together in Paris in rather difficult
circumstances. There were financial problems. Hemingway was receiving nothing
but rejection letters from would be publishers. Hadley was basically homebound,
no friends in Paris, limited knowledge of the language and no passion to match
Hemingway's devotion to writing.

McLain describes Hemingway's mental condition as something that sounds like post
traumatic stress. We know Nesto was wounded in World War I, severely enough to
send him home. The idea that he suffered mental injuries as well may derive
from Nick Adams in the short story "A Big Two Hearted River." It seems that one
of main features of Hemingway's writing is Ernest Hemingway. He did say
that Hemingway was his favorite writer. Seems like that was a true statement
even if said in jest at the time.

"I want to write one true sentence."

POST #2:

In Chicago Hemingway's only literary contact that we see is Sherwood Anderson.
When the Hemingway's reach Paris they quickly meet Ezra Pound and Gertrude
Stein. They tell him to pare down his writing style. According to McLain they
tell him to write using simple declarative sentences. Lose description. "Go in
fear of abstractions." Don't tell the reader what to think, let action speak
for itself.

If we parse the opening of his first published story, 1924, will we see this
advice accepted? From "Indian Camp" published so long ago.

At the lake shore there was another rowboat drawn up. The two Indians stood

Nick and his father got in the stern of the boat and the
Indians shoved it off and one of them got in to row. Uncle George sat in the
stern of the camp rowboat. The young Indian shoved the camp boat off and got in
to row Uncle George.

The two boats started off in the dark. Nick
heard the oarlocks of the other boat quite a way ahead of them in the mist. The
Indians rowed with quick choppy strokes. Nick lay back with his father's arm
around him. It was cold on the water. The Indian who was rowing them was working
very hard, but the other boat moved further ahead in the mist all the

"Where are we going, Dad?" Nick asked.

"Over to the
Indian camp. There is an Indian lady very sick."

"Oh," said Nick.

Fifteen sentences. One hundred fifty seven words by my count. I think there
are only six intransitive verbs. Most of the sentences are describing action.
Looks like only three compound sentences. We get no interior dialog. We only
are told they are on a lake, it is dark, cold, there is mist on the water. The
two Indians are rowing hard. One is younger than the other. There are two
rowboats. One belongs to the camp by the lake, the other apparently to the
Indians. One boat moves ahead of the other. They are going to an Indian camp.
There is a boy very sick. Statements of fact mostly. From the mist we can
infer that it must have been a calm night. From the rowing very hard and
sickness we can infer a sense of urgency. Since Nick is not a typical Indian
name we may suppose that he and his father are not Indians themselves. Perhaps
Nick's father is a doctor. We are told none of these things.

It would seem that Nesto had followed the suggestions. We are told Hadley's
favorite author is Henry James. Could there be more of a contrast in writing

"The sky is the sky and that's all."

message 9: by Adrianna, Owner of Cafe Libri (new)

Adrianna (Adriannas) | 484 comments Mod
Cross post from Jeffrey at Yahoo Cafe Libri:

Hadley feels like she is being dominated by Hemingway. Larger than life,
Hemingway sucks her in like a black whole pulling in everything which surrounds
it. When Ernest goes off to cover an economic conference in Genoa for the
Toronto Star, Kat feels his absence in a dramatic, physical way. She was
playing her music and meeting people outside the apartment but she felt empty
when Hemingway was gone. When she and Nesto visied Gertrude Stein, she accepted
Hemingway in her salon as an artist but Hadley and Alice were drawn off to the
wives corner. Hemingway would describe music as Hadley's work to others but
Hadley did not feel that it defined her. In their love life Hadley wanted to be
stuffed and pounded, to feel Ernest's weight upon her but she also wanted to
have her own weight and position that defined her place in Hemingway's life.
Physical love with Hemingway was important to Hadley yet Ernest describes sex
and leaving him
empty. When Hadley tries to discuss it with him he tells her it is of no use.
After all the sky is just the sky.

For Hadley it was all sky. She was never able to find her own place in
it. This lack of definition led to the huge argument that neither would give
into when Hemingway defied her and went off to cover the Greek - Turkish war.
Paula McLain has found a way to make the fracture zones that existed in their
marriage tangible and palpable.


Kat and Nesto seem prone to making mistakes from lack of planning. They were
not prepared and informed when they moved to Paris. They did not have the money
to support themselves. When Chink and they cross the Pass into Italy, they
again were not prepared and didn't know what they were getting into. They
ascended the mountains in early spring before the pass had even been open and
had to slog through deep snow to get through. And Hadley suffered from
inadequate shoes. It was Chink that actually got them through. Hadley and
Ernest followed their impulses without preparing for what those impulses would
get them into.


Nesto's writing style was strongly influenced by Stein and Pound. Hemingway had
read Stein's writing and adopted her selective repetition of words. We see that
in the brief selection from his short story we parsed. Pound had given him
reading assignments and Hadley tells us of the books open in the apartment.
Have you ever read a fully annotated version of one of Pounds poems? The
annotations can be longer than the Poem, a mind breaker.

It begins to appear that Hemingway had a way of making his life grow larger than
life in his writings. His Nick Adams stories derive from a week he spent alone
in the forest in upper Michigan. A Farewell to Arms derives from his experience
as an ambulance driver on the Italian front in World War I. When Chink
Dorman-Smith arrives and they take Hadley on tour of their wartime grounds in
Italy, Chink appears to be a long lost, intimate friend. Yet Hemingway's active
service turns out to have been approximately one month before he was wounded by
a mortar round.

Possibly his ability to take small events and cast them into mythic proportion
is an essential charastic of a good story teller.

message 10: by Adrianna, Owner of Cafe Libri (new)

Adrianna (Adriannas) | 484 comments Mod
Cross post from Jeffrey in Yahoo Cafe Libri:

Hemingway is a complex person with his own built in contradictions. On the one
hand he is presented as a person who will throw a cheap shot out of nowhere just
because he likes to feel a man's jaw break especially when the trophy is the bar
girl who will take him home for a free fuck. But then, when Hadley packs all
his writings, drafts and all, and has them stolen from under her seat, Hemingway
swallows the jolt and gets over it. He had spent untold hours on his stories,
writing and re-writing. When he learns of the loss he returns to Paris to
verify for himself that everything is gone. We can only imagine what that loss
meant to him. He returns two days later and says, I wrote them before, I can
write them again. Let's continue with our plans for the skying trip with
Chink. Apparently he had decided what was important to him.

Martha Samsell (tmhoira2012) I wish this was a nonfiction book instead of fiction. It would have been more interesting. I found the book okay and would recommend it only for die hard Hemingway fans. The book wasn't that great.

message 12: by Adrianna, Owner of Cafe Libri (new)

Adrianna (Adriannas) | 484 comments Mod
Martha wrote: "I wish this was a nonfiction book instead of fiction. It would have been more interesting. I found the book okay and would recommend it only for die hard Hemingway fans. The book wasn't that great."

Good point, Martha. I wonder if someone has written extensively on this relationship in a Hemingway biography. I might ask around. I'll let you know if I receive any suggested reading materials.

message 13: by Adrianna, Owner of Cafe Libri (last edited May 12, 2012 09:04PM) (new)

Adrianna (Adriannas) | 484 comments Mod
Cross post from Jeffrey in Yahoo Cafe Libri:

Ernest and Hadley's marriage survived many serious fractures and much stress.
They described themselves as each other's favorite animals. There was the loss
of the manuscripts, the birth of a child, impulsive moves to Canada and them
back to Paris, living on a small income, rejection letters, flirtations. Even
the ugliness of Pamplona was survived. Fault lines began to form when Hadley
began to feel left out, relegated to the wives corner, when Ernest was
interacting with his artistic friends. The pressure begins to build after
Pamplona when Ernest shows Hadley his draft that would become The Sun Also
Rises. Duff had become Lady Brett, Hemingway had become Jake Barnes, Harold,
Pat and Kitty were there but Hadley had been written out. Jake didn't even have
a spouse. Jake has become impotent possibly because Ernest had never been
invited into Duff's bed. A strange thing for a writer to do to himself though. But Hadley has been written out of the book, she couldn't even be found in the corner. Hemingway's
explanation was that the book was just the book and Hadley was life and above
fiction. Hadley seems to accept that, possibly because she has to. Hemingway
had devoted himself to his book. But pressure seems to be building along the
marriage fault lines.

message 14: by Adrianna, Owner of Cafe Libri (new)

Adrianna (Adriannas) | 484 comments Mod
Martha wrote: "I wish this was a nonfiction book instead of fiction. It would have been more interesting. I found the book okay and would recommend it only for die hard Hemingway fans. The book wasn't that great."

Hi Martha! A member from Yahoo Cafe Libri recommended two books for you to read. I'll post his responses below:

Possibly: Hemingway, The Paris Years, Michael Reynolds, paperback, 1999

For all things Hemingway with an extensive bibliography, visit:

Jeffrey also posted the following:

I don't know that I would call myself a die hard Hemingway fan. (By way of full disclosure I think The Sun Also Rises is great literature but I don't think this was typical of his novels). The book provides a different angle from which to appraise Hemingway and offers an excellent story. I would highly recommend the book even to readers of his short stories.

back to top

unread topics | mark unread

Books mentioned in this topic

The Paris Wife (other topics)