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The Paris Wife

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Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway and her life changes forever. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group—the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy. Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and their circle of friends into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises. Hadley, meanwhile, strives to hold on to her sense of self as the demands of life with Ernest grow costly and her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Despite their extraordinary bond, they eventually find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.

A heartbreaking portrayal of love and torn loyalty, The Paris Wife is all the more poignant because we know that, in the end, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.

314 pages, Hardcover

First published February 27, 2011

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About the author

Paula McLain is the author of the New York Times and internationally bestselling novels, The Paris Wife, Circling the Sun and Love and Ruin. Now she introduces When the Stars Go Dark (April 13, 2021), an atmospheric novel of intertwined destinies and heart-wrenching suspense. She received an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan in 1996, and is also the author of two collections of poetry, the memoir Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses, and the debut novel, A Ticket to Ride. Her work has has appeared in The New York Times, Real Simple, Town & Country, The Guardian, Huffington Post, Good Housekeeping, and elsewhere. She lives with her family in Cleveland, Ohio.

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Profile Image for Petra on hiatus, really unwell.
2,457 reviews34.4k followers
May 6, 2015
Several lessons to be learned from Ernest Hemingway's first wife on how he got his second one:

1) If you can't be sweet and submissive at least be lively and rich.
2) If you still have post-pregnancy weight from a baby your husband didn't really want and have to stay in to look after it, then don't let the lively and rich (and better-dressed) woman come on holiday with you. Regularly.
3) If you wake up to find that you and your husband have been joined by a naked female on his side of the bed - what are you waiting for? You should be gone before they wake up.

Stupid woman.

If you are the woman who hopes to be the second wife and you did a lot of shit trying to get your man away from his wife, realise that there are a lot of women out there at least as rich, lively and worshipping as you, and what's more they have (as you had) the advantage of novelty. But she didn't.

Stupid woman.

He went through two more wives after that and then shot himself.

I knew Margaux Hemingway, one of his grand-daughters, and she used to talk of shooting herself. Said that suicide ran in her family. But she didn't. She took an overdose.

St.... .....
Profile Image for Lena.
Author 7 books242 followers
May 11, 2016
The Paris Wife made me remember why I love historical fiction so much. McLain not only captures the atmosphere, but she does it with striking prose. I was not surprised to learn she'd published a book of poetry prior to this.
I just finished this book and I'm a little overwhelmed by it, but I'll do my best to form coherent thoughts. First of all, I cannot stress enough what an amazing job the author did of capturing the atmosphere of post-war Paris. Not that I was there to experience it, but after reading this book, I feel like I was. Like I walked the streets, participated in the extravagance, the decadence, the debauchery, the fashions and fads of the time, the whiskey and wine, the cigarettes and smoke, the poverty and claustrophobia. The atmosphere of the book itself is enough to make me love it. And the fact that it's about a writer only made me adore it more. It made me want to be there, to throw myself into their world, to smoke and drink and ski and go fishing and fall in love and write a novel. The only thing it did not make me want to do was go to a bullfight, but that's only because I did not enjoy that experience myself. If I'd never been to one, I certainly would want to after reading McLain's novel.
Aside from the atmosphere, McLain also captures the personalities of her characters so well. I felt like I was Hadley while I read it. Her parts were so alive, so aching and beautiful. Hemingway's few sections were also wonderful, confused and tortured and with a quite distinct voice from his wife's. Even though I knew what was coming, I still held on with Hadley and ached for her, cried for her a few times, loved with her. Because who hasn't loved that man who is so wrong for you, but so swooningly right?
There were a few parts where it went so far I just cringed, too horrified to look but unable to stop. Also, the part where Hadley loses Ernest's manuscripts. Being a writer myself, it just knocked the breath out of me. That must be every writer's worst nightmare. I was literally gasping to breathe at how terrible it would be, and McLain does a wonderful job showing that, even through the eyes of the wife instead of the writer himself.
Hemingway is captured well, too. I understood his artist mentality very well. McLain takes an age old story (the struggling artist, a nobody, falls in love with another nobody, they get married, she stays in love while he gets famous and becomes somebody, and suddenly, his nobody wife isn't enough for him) and makes it stand out in all its tragedy and romance. This isn't a romance novel, but possibly the most romantic book I've ever read--not only in Hadley and Ernest's love, but in Paris, and the sweeping scope of the novel, the lavishness, the beauty of language and description and location, of each event, each chapter of their love affair. Even their demise is poignant and heartbreaking and messy, but rings with absolute truth.
In the epilogue, when it goes into the history of Ernest's family, I got a bit of a shock. Of course I knew of Hemingway's death, but I didn't know about the rest of his family. It was so morbid, and tragic, and sad. I'm glad that Hadley lived a long and full life, despite the wild years of drinking and smoking and cavorting around Paris with her artist husband. And glad to learn that she went on to happiness, even if she couldn't help Ernest. Like so many tragic figures, you find that the ones who need help are the ones who refuse it the most vehemently. Warning: This novel does paint Hemingway in a very sympathetic light, despite his flaws and shortcomings.

Recommended for: anyone who's ever been in love, been betrayed, or been to Paris.
Profile Image for Brad.
Author 2 books1,713 followers
May 26, 2011
I've never been a fan of fictionalized works of authors' lives, and the fact that The Paris Wife recounts my favourite author's life during the writing of my favourite book of all time, The Sun Also Rises, antagonized the hell out of me. It didn't bode well.

But I promised my sister I'd give it a go; she wanted me to read it because we'd just read A Moveable Feast together, and she sent me the hardcover that she'd read for a recent book club. I couldn't say no.

Then, straight away, Paula McLain pissed me off with some of her early writing in the book. They pulled me out of the immersion I prefer to give myself over to when I read; I would just start to lose myself in Hadley's Chicago, or Hemingway's Michigan cabin, and she'd do something inauthentic to break the spell. Things were getting worse.

Later on, my own personal feelings, connected to a long dead relationship of my own, a relationship I always thought of in terms of Hadley and Ernest, yanked me out of my immersion -- not once or twice but many times -- and I would be forced to take a break and try to immerse myself all over again. But I blamed myself and tried not to let my attitude spill onto McLain.

Around the same time, some clever moments marrying Papa's fictional writing with his "real" world were appearing, which had to be McLain's fault, and I asked myself: "Why do we even need books like this? If a book is just retelling the stories another author already told so well, fictional or autobiographical, surely a fiction that retells these already told tales is superfluous?"

The answer, I must admit, took me by surprise and changed my relationship with The Paris Wife. We need books like this because sometimes the finest stories are the ones we already know told from another direction by someone who loves the original stories and people just as much as we do. It seems obvious to me now, as I write it, but it wasn't at all obvious to me while I was reading.

It is beautiful the way McLain loves her subjects. She is fair to them all. She understands them in her own way, a way new and compelling to me, and she overcame all my prejudices, eventually suspending me in my immersion despite herself and her source material and me.

I wanted to hate this book. I set out to destroy it and tear it apart. I wanted to come on here and thrash it and Paula McLain. But I can't. I think this book is something special. And it will take its place on the right hand side of my Hemingway shelf, just this side of the biographies, and the Michael Palin Hemingway books. McLain's earned it.

Always read with a mind willing to open itself (even when you find it difficult to open your mind from the start). You never know what joys you'll find.
Profile Image for J.L.   Sutton.
666 reviews926 followers
August 5, 2022
“It gave me a sharp kind of sadness to think that no matter how much I loved him and tried to put him back together again, he might stay broken forever.”

Ernest Hemingway - Tablet Magazine

In The Paris Wife, Paula McLain evokes a fascinating history of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, much of it during their time in Paris when Hemingway was struggling to find the voice which would catapult him to literary success. As interested as I was, I alternated between fascination and flinching. While I’ve spent many hours reading novels by Ernest Hemingway, did I really want to be in the bedroom with Hemingway and Hadley? Or, as his first marriage fell apart, did I want to be in the bedroom with Hemingway and Pauline? Showing Hadley trying to get inside Hemingway’s head (especially his depression) wasn’t something which worked for me either.

On the other hand, McLain incorporates Hemingway scholarship and recreates the times in ways which recommend this book. It was also interesting to learn more about Hadley. However, the more personal details made me feel a little squeamish about the endeavor.
Profile Image for Sheila .
1,936 reviews
April 28, 2013
Dear Hadley Richardson,

I will admit that having just finished this historical novel about your marriage to Ernest Hemingway, I have now googled you and read a wikipedia article about your life. I am happy to read that you apparently lived happily ever after with your second husband out of the limelight, and died an old woman at the age of 87.

But I just have to say, Hadley, when you were asleep naked in bed with your husband Ernest, and Pauline crawled into his side of the bed with him, why in the hell did you pretend to be asleep?!? What is the hell were you thinking, Hadley! You cooked your own goose with your reaction at that moment. Your marriage was done, right then and there.

As I said though, I am happy you escaped and found happiness away from all the madness that was Ernest Hemingway. May your final years have been peaceful, with your years in Paris just crazy memories. I hope the royalties from The Sun Also Rises were beneficial to you.

Best Regards, and may you rest in peace.

Profile Image for Jaline.
444 reviews1,648 followers
October 2, 2017
I was in Grade 8 at school when I read “The Sun Also Rises” by Ernest Hemingway. I also read the other few of his books that were on the shelf. We didn’t have a library in our school – the bookshelves lined the back wall of the classroom, and when I close my eyes I can see the shelf where his books lined up. The writing was amazing and I was completely captivated by the stories. I also remember seeing photographs of the grizzly author with his white hair and beard, wearing glasses and a very serious expression on his face, and I remember feeling so sad because his genius was so short-lived.

Reading “The Paris Wife” resurrected many of my feelings from so long ago and these were overlaid by the sadness in reading about the first early marriage between Ernest Hemingway and (Elizabeth) Hadley Richardson that was derailed so soon. A marriage where both people complemented each other and brought out the best in each other and yet human frailty broke down that strong bond. This book describes and walks us through the fragility of this relationship from its first days through to its last.

We also discover that Hemingway regretted not staying with Hadley, a fact that he wrote in his Memoir. So many regrets, so much sadness – and yet during the Paris years, there was a great deal of happiness as well. It was a time of wild creativity, where writers and artists were breaking free of all structures and generating new ways of seeing and saying. With the aid of absinthe (illegal, even in Paris), opium, cocaine, and always, always alcohol there was a mad rush to reach deeper and deeper into the abyss without falling in completely. Not everyone partook in all substances, but there was definitely an element of self-immolation present in the creative world of the day that helped to generate mayhem in the majority of relationships.

Hemingway, young as he was at the time, was influenced by all of it. He and Hadley were friends with, and/or part of the same crowd as such notables as Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas, James Joyce, and Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Ezra Pound was an influence and interestingly, his wife’s last name was Shakespear. According to family lore they were related to the Bard, even without the 'e' at the end of their name. There were poets, literary writers, journalists and painters. They met Ford Madox Ford and John Dos Passos – and everyone seemed intent on outdoing each other with changing partners, having mistresses, and wreaking emotional havoc in their lives. Perhaps it was all part of the same drive to explore the bottom of the well, but it was very hard on the few people like Hadley who longed for more stability in their emotional life.

This is a very well-written and extensively researched fictional depiction of the Hemingway/Richardson years in Paris. The author was able to tap into the thoughts and feelings of both people and present us with believable, real people. So real that at times I forgot completely that these events all happened so long ago. At one point I was so immersed in the story that in my head I was strongly cautioning Hemingway (well, yelling at him in my head, really) – “Do not do that – don’t go there or you will be sorry!”

This book was beautifully and conveniently annotated with 156 pages of extras that also grabbed my interest. It also stirred in me the desire to re-read the Hemingway books I read when I was young and to fill in the gaps with those I missed. “Paris Wife” is writing of the finest caliber – the kind that creates the atmosphere and thoughts and feelings of the characters in such a tangible way that when the book is finished, part of you is still there – in Paris – with Hemingway and Hadley and their crowd – excitedly discussing books and writing and art.
Profile Image for Rose.
193 reviews
February 17, 2018
3 stars only because I didn't know much about them, so I learned some things.

To me, this book felt flat.

Like a travel diary with lots of name dropping.
We went _____, we met _____.

I didn't really feel for Hadley.
I didn't really feel for young Ernest.

She lost him to another woman.
She was better off anyway.

In the epilogue, Hadley, who's moved on with her life, described him as an "enigma - fine and strong and weak and cruel. An incomparable friend and a Sonofabitch".
Profile Image for JoAnne Pulcino.
663 reviews60 followers
January 27, 2015
The PARIS WIFE is a mesmerizing novel about Paris in the 1920’s featuring the bohemian “Lost Generation”. It is the touching and heartbreaking story of the love affair and marriage of literature’s original “bad boy” Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson Hemingway.

Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding , the deeply in love couple sail to Paris where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

The Hemingway’s are ill prepared for the hard drinking, fast living life of Jazz Age Paris. They are surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos. Written in Hadley’s voice that is so well drawn and lyrical it manages to captures the spectacle of the man becoming the legend. She draws the twenty year old Hemingway as a handsome, magnetic, passionate, sensitive man full of dreams.

This portrayal of their marriage is so tender, so poignant that is an utterly absorbing novel.
Profile Image for Lauren.
251 reviews32 followers
November 11, 2011
This one just wasn't really my cup of tea. The beginning was alright, but after Hadley and Ernest get married I lost interest. I really had an issue with Hadley's character and I wasn't sympathetic towards her at all. She was such a whiny pushover. Now that I think about it I don't know if she was just a product of the times- old fashioned and hell bent on staying married even though your husband is a complete prick- or just really that pathetic? Ernest was sort of a self absorbed, vain, asshole who was a terrible husband too, so I didn't get a warm fuzzy feeling about either of the protagonists for that matter. I kept waiting for Hadley to find her voice and start sticking up for herself or at least loose her temper and yell! Particularly when she finds out her best friend is sleeping with her husband and this so called "friend" acts as if nothing is wrong. I knew that Hadley and Ernest eventually get a divorce and of his suicide so the ending was of no shock to me. Certainly not a very happy ending. I don't think you have to be a Hemingway fan to read this one, however I do feel I would have gotten more from the story had I read The Sun Also Rises (mentioned several times in the book) or A Moveable Feast (supposedly roughly based on Hemingway's first marriage.) All in all I felt as though The Paris Wife was a boring (but very well written) novel.
Profile Image for Madeline.
781 reviews47.2k followers
June 14, 2015
"It was sometimes painful for me to think that to those who followed his life with interest, I was just the early wife, the Paris wife. But that was probably vanity, wanting to stand out in a long line of women. In truth, it didn't matter what others saw. We knew what we had and what it meant, and though so much had happened since for both of us, there was nothing like those years in Paris, after the war. Life was painfully pure and simple and good, and I believe Ernest was his best self then. I got the very best of him. We got the best of each other."

In The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein (writing as her partner Alice) describes how when artists would visit them, Gertrude would talk with the men while Alice sat with the wives. That was Alice's job: Gertrude would have intellectual discussions with the various men of genius while Alice sat in another room and talked about hats or whatever with Mrs. Picasso, Mrs. Matisse, and, of course, Mrs. Hemingway. This illustrates what I found so frustrating about The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and, by extension, The Paris Wife: while it's certainly interesting to read about the people who shaped and affected artists' lives, the fact is that these people who were forgotten or ignored by history can never escape the shadow of their famous loved ones. Sometimes these ignored bystanders are untapped wells of unacknowledged genius and influence. And sometimes they're Hadley Hemingway.

Look, I'm sure Hadley was a lovely person. If nothing else, she deserves a medal for putting up with Ernest Hemingway's shit for so many years, and for going on to live a long and happy life after she left him. But the unfortunate truth, a truth that Paula McLain's book cannot escape, is that Hadley Hemingway's life did not need its own novel.

The book started out strong, when we're seeing Hadley and Ernest meeting in Chicago when they're in their twenties. It's the best part of the book, because their chemistry is obvious and you can totally understand why these two got married and moved halfway across the world together. But once the Hemingways move to Paris and Ernest's career starts taking off, that chemistry and that connection disappears, and we're left with a book about a woman who stood on the sidewalk and waved as a parade of famous people walked through her life.

The biggest problem was Hadley herself. I didn't understand her any better at the end of the book than I did at the beginning, and throughout the story I could never predict how she was going to react to a given situation, because I never got a sense of who she was as a person. Her motivations and reactions were constantly baffling to me - sometimes Ernest would do something boneheaded and Hadley would get angry at him; other times she would just shrug and think, "oh well, that's just how he is." And she's so, so irritatingly passive. Hadley is a talented piano player but has never pursued it professionally, but about halfway through the novel she decides (after much prompting from her friends, because Hadley never really makes any decisions independently) to put on a concert. As I read descriptions of Hadley practicing for the performance, I thought, Yes! Your life has a purpose! You have identified a goal and are working towards it! You are finally behaving like a protagonist! Go, Hadley, go!

And then Ernest cheats on her and she cancels the concert. Cue sad trombone. After Ernest comes clean about the affair, Hadley once again decides to start acting like a dynamic character and gives Ernest an ultimatum: Ernest will not contact the other woman for one hundred days, and if, at the end of that period, he still wants to go through with the divorce, Hadley will agree to it. Guess who caves and agrees to the divorce before the hundred days are up?

Possibly the biggest misstep in the novel is McLain's decision to insert random chapters, mostly flashbacks, from Ernest's perspective, and it only serves to prove that Hadley cannot sustain an entire novel on her own. And I have to say - for a book that takes place in the roaring twenties in an artists' community in Paris, it's fucking boring. Even the Fitzgeralds were dull, which I didn't think was possible.

An ordinary story about an ordinary woman who happened to know some famous people once. It's sort of like listening to your friend tell a boring story about how she was once in an elevator with a celebrity.

Not everyone needs a biography.

Profile Image for E.C. Pollick Byrnes.
34 reviews6 followers
June 1, 2012
After watching Midnight in Paris, I found myself on a nostalgia kick. I rummaged through my bookshelves and pulled out everything I owned by T.S. Eliot, Fitzgerald and Hemingway. When I saw “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain on the New York Times Bestseller’s List, I knew I had to read it while Hemingway’s material was still fresh in my mind.

Told through Hadley Hemingway’s perspective (Ernest’s first wife), the story starts with the couple’s meeting and continues to their eventual divorce six years later. The book chronicles the Hemingways’ bohemian lifestyle in Paris as Hadley is exposed to fast life of the Jazz Age.

With supporting characters of great American expatriates like Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and other literary greats, it’s hard for a classic book lover not to feel attached and excited as the story progresses.

What I loved most about the story was that it felt less of a Hemingway biography and more of authentic story telling by Hadley. I felt a deep sadness as Hadley conveyed her inner thoughts to the reader as she realized certain truths about Hemingway that she could never change: his angry temperament, his infidelity and how damaged the first World War had left him.

I’ve always been in love with Hemingway, but this book surprised me and made deeply attached to Hadley. The lovely way she spoke to the reader about the challenges as Hemingway’s wife utterly captivated me. I sympathized with her, cried with her, and rooted for her all along.

McLain says she got the idea to write in Hadley’s voice when she read Hemingway’s memoir, A Moveable Feast. In the final pages, he writes of Hadley, “I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.” It prompted her to research Hadley’s life and the Hemingways’ first, brief marriage.

McLain does a remarkable job of interpreting the couple’s personal life and brings Hadley alive by giving her a genuine voice. “The Paris Wife” is a must read for nostalgia lovers, people who appreciate quality character development, and those who’ve read “The Old Man and the Sea” more times than they can remember.
Profile Image for Terrie  Robinson.
445 reviews718 followers
July 20, 2020
Reading, "The Paris Wife" by Paula McLain was a joy!

I love the first person narrative through the voice and perspective of Hadley Richardson Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway's first wife. I knew of their story together and this book gave it the depth, detail and life I knew I was missing.

Their marriage was a story of six short years together, overflowing with love and passion for one another. Hadley seemed to be Ernest's one constant during this time and knowing this gave Hadley the strength to endure the neglect and challenges she faced in their Paris lifestyle. She was able to give him the push of confidence he needed to find his voice to write, while supporting his physical & emotional needs unconditionally.

Eventually a betrayal too great for Hadley to overcome pushed their marriage to an end. Hadley, a stronger person by the end of their marriage, was able to walk away not willing to accept the direction she saw their relationship was headed.

It is clear to me Ernest and Hadley did have "something" special together that this book captures so beautifully. I will continue to love devouring everything I can about or by Ernest Hemingway in the future because of reading this well written book!
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews609 followers
August 13, 2013
A page turning novel!

I dare a reader 'not' to go to the internet and look up more information on Hemingway. (other characters in the book). How could you not?

This history is fascinating! (and Hemingway was not 'the most' likeable human being on the planet)>>>> talented, yes.... "Giving & Caring" for others??? hm??? ........not so much!

Awwwwwww, and don't we all know at least one talented person in our lives with this type of 'character-flaw'?/! lol

Profile Image for Gail.
1,072 reviews356 followers
April 22, 2011
I've written a review of Hemingway's "Farewell to Arms" somewhere in this Goodreads stack of mine. And if you're someone who's ever read it, then you know that I'm not the No. 1 fan of Hemingway's prose. Too short. Too terse. Too chauvinistic. Too...you get the idea.

BUT (and it's a big but here, like Sir-Mix-A-Lot big), I am FASCINATED by Hemingway the author. I have to say, "The Paris Wife" only made me that much MORE fascinated. Did I mention I'm also in love with Paris? And that, if I were one to believe in past lives (which I'm not), then I think I spent one of mine as a member of the Lost Generation, sneaking into the same cafes as Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein just so I could eavesdrop on their conversations?

Bits of self-revelation that explain why I really, really loved this book. In it, Paula McLain does an excellent job of taking her readers back to 1920s Paris, to the days of Hemingway's early career, through the eyes of his first (and some might say favorite) wife (he had 4!), Hadley Richardson. The novel spans the courtship days of their relationship (who doesn't find the notion of corresponding by letter with a beau the ideal old-fashioned romance?) through the events that cause them to separate. While some authors have a hard time capturing the essence of their characters in these kinds of fact-as-fiction accounts, McLain really hits the mark with her representation of Richardson. And it's a testament to her writing and narrative skills that readers do not hate Hemingway by the end of it. That, instead, we join Hadley in feeling a bit sorry for him as he seems to be, despite all his fame and later future, a "lost" soul.

Fair warning — this is one of those books you might find yourself spending an hour on the Internet after reading, trolling sites for more nuggets about Papa Hemingway and the broken branches of his family tree. I have a theory that artists who are truly great can really only love one thing in their life and love it well and that's their art. Hemingway (along with other legends, like Picasso) is one such artist and "The Paris Wife" does little to disprove the idea.

****PS — I DO really want to read some more Hemingway now, in particular "A Moveable Feast". Having insight into an author's life, and how it influences his work, is a powerful draw in that sense.

Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.5k followers
February 22, 2020
I began The Paris Wife in 2011 when it came out and decided it wasn’t for me, in spite of the fact that I live in Hemingway’s Oak Park, where the annual Hemingway Festival had everyone aflutter reading it. Hemingstein! Hadley! Bumby! I knew the story, and was a little intrigued, as with the myths of other famous and supposedly misogynist Oak Park men, such as Frank Lloyd Wright—to hear of that time in Paris finally from the (fictional) perspective of the woman who was his first wife, his Paris wife, his starter wife, the one who “got the best of him,” when things were still relatively pure and when love, for a time, was strong and uncomplicated.

I finally finished this work of historical fiction because I had reread The Sun Also Rises and a book self-described by the author as “the true” story of how that novel had been lived and written, Everybody Behaving Badly by Leslie Blume. Hadley is notoriously left out of Sun, though she lived through it; Hemingway explained to her that as he had seen it, she lived “above” those events, in a way, separate from all of the people he admitted were indeed behaving badly. The central figure in Hemingway’s account of the Pamplona fiesta is Lady Duff Twysden, a kind of femme fatale party girl in Hem’s conception whom Hem may never have actually slept with but most people thought wanted to. In Sun Hem has his noble hero Jake Barnes as one of the only men who never slept with her, since he is given the excuse of a war injury instead of the excuse of rejection, or the excuse that he was--as Hem was at the time--actually married to Hadley--which would have been a less acceptable version of emasculation for Mr. Macho. Interestingly complicated, yes?

The Paris Wife has a few challenges; first and foremost is that it is written from the perspective of the non-writer in the Hemingway family, a (once) 29 year-old virgin and genuinely nice and traditionally supportive wife who is rather in-over-her-head when the two midwesterners land in Paris. McLain depicts her as a hen among peacocks, a Henry James reader and good and faithful monogamist in a time of experimental explosion and LOTS of people behaving badly: Many famous husbands (such as Ford Maddox Ford) openly have girlfriends in addition to wives. There’s lots of booze and drugs, though the Hems are just drinkers. Mores are changing, it’s the summer of free love in the Paris twenties, forty years before San Francisco's hippie love fest. So how does a nice non-writer outsider wife tell a first person, interesting story of a famous philandering writer? And how does a historical fiction writer like MacLain write of Hemingway, one of the key prose stylists of the twentieth century?

I would say this has a lot of romantic clichés in it, and the dialogue is largely unremarkable:

“Did you ever think it could be like this?” “I can do anything if I have you with me.”

but is overall solidly written, a “good read” version of a story pretty well known to Hemingway fans, a conventionally written historical fiction “biography” that only a fraction of folks would read if it weren’t a woman’s view of a famous macho writer. And it’s a not surprisingly a persuasively sympathetic view of Hadley, a kind of victim who manages to recover, but who was nevertheless permanently damaged as so many were by Ernest.

As MacLain has it, Hadley is a product of another time and place, who is swept off her feet by the dashing gorgeous ambitious man eight years her junior, who REALLY loves and supports him, and who has her husband of five years stolen from her by a rich heiress, Pauline Pfeiffer (herself dumped by Hem six years later), who barged into their lives, attempted a threesome arrangement with them the likes of which other famous couples seemed to tolerate at the time, but something Hadley couldn’t handle. Hadley represents most readers, I think, who couldn’t have gone to Paris and accepted this arrangement and wanted out just as soon as Hem revealed his mean streak against most of his friends, and his over-drinking, and his woman-chasing. But she had Bumby, and she still loved him, so she hung on longer than most of us would have, maybe.

MacLain actually attempts to create a pretty balanced approach to Hem, whom she admits is both dashing and self-absorbed, talented and a jerk; truly in love with Hadley AND sleeping with the usurper Pauline--she of the endless money and sleek clothes and (gulp) chipmunk fur coat (!). As with other biographies of Hemingway, including Hotchner’s Hemingway in Love, Pauline is seen as stealing Hemingway from Hadley. Hem supposedly at one point confesses to Hadley that he “ruined everything,” but it is generally seen as Pauline’s “fault” in Blume, and in Hotchner’s biographies, where Hem and Hotch discuss her as single-mindedly focused on possessing Hem.

MacLain is also pretty soft on Hem vs. Pauline, because she thinks the almost never angry Hadley would have ultimately been softer on him, over time. She also acknowledges Hem's--even then--suicidal tendencies (both Hadley's and Ernest's fathers committed suicide with shotguns; they both had domineering mothers), making way for recent views about Hemingway's possibly being bipolar. It would help explain his manic writing and partying, and his fits of anger and depression. Hadley in this book rides this rollercoaster of Hem's emotions more than most might, especially today, but that was 100 years ago, too. But it's an old question: Do we excuse people with mental issues for being jerks?

I say it took three for that Tango. Hem, who also would dump Pauline after 6 years, behaved badly and made bad choices, clearly. And Hadley made bad choices, too, not to act more strongly on her own behalf (though MacLain suggests he would have done what he would do, anyway, and she is probably right). MacLain sides with Hadley against Hem and Pauline in this one and not surprisingly, she is persuasive and probably no one disagrees. Hem is arrogant, drinks too much, destroys the support of most of his friends (Sherwood Anderson, Gertrude Stein, Harold Loeb and SO many others), spends too much time falling for the beautiful women who flutter around him constantly to the detriment of his relationship to his wife (such an old-fashioned concept, in Paris twenties, to be a wife! And horrors, to have a child [Pound wouldn't allow Bumby in his apartment, he so hated kids!]).

And MacLain acknowledges Hem was a genius writer, who put himself and his writing above all else, even the woman who loved him most. You either accept that if you like his writing, and keep reading him, or you turn away from him altogether. I choose to continue to read him, without excusing his bad behavior. And I came to really like Hadley, my fellow Midwesterner, who got married to Hem in Petoskey, Michigan (where there's a great Historical Museum that has a lot of Hemingway artifacts in it as he summered there as he grew up). In the end, they were a long way from that simple, idyllic place.

Hem was gracious in the break-up: Hadley is “everything good and straight and fine and true,” and he's right.

Of Hem, she says he is “fine and strong and weak and cruel. An incomparable friend and a son of a bitch” and she's right. So if we already knew this going in, why read it? Maybe it's because Hemingway lives on as literary great and she is gone; can we rescue her, a nice person, one of us, and give her some approximation of a voice?

"It was sometimes painful for me to think that to those who followed his life with interest, I was just the early wife, the Paris wife. But that was probably vanity, wanting to stand out in a long line of women. In truth, it didn't matter what others saw. We knew what we had and what it meant, and though so much had happened since for both of us, there was nothing like those years in Paris, after the war. Life was painfully pure and simple and good, and I believe Ernest was his best self then. I got the very best of him. We got the best of each other."
Profile Image for Mandy.
320 reviews333 followers
January 21, 2016
Right in the feels... The end of this book tore my heart to pieces. I hated Hemingway one minute and loved him the next. I love Hadley, she is such a magnificent woman who was an absolute gem in her time and reminds me of so many women who gave up the best for their husbands during their worst times and then only for their man to leave. It's no secret Hem was a lover of many, but I think truly he loved Hadley the most. Their love was pure and real.

This book was beautifully written if not a bit slow at the beginning. I'm so happy I read their story. It reminded me of Johnny and June and Marc Anthony and Cleopatra... Great lovers.

Ah what a book! Right in the feels!
Profile Image for B the BookAddict.
300 reviews667 followers
April 24, 2019
This novel is written in the first person narrative of Hadley Richardson, the first wife of Ernest Hemingway. I don't know why or even how but Hadley sat in my lounge room with me and told me her story. I actually heard her voice while I read this novel: sorry, I mean, she told me their story.

At 28, Hadley is a shy girl feeling defeated by life when she meets a young Ernest Hemingway. Just beginning his life as a writer, 21yr old Ernest is fresh back from the war, self possessed and vibrant but, as he will later reveal to Hadley, now carrying a few battle scars around in his head. Although an unlikely couple, a romance begins, first in letters and then a few weeks spent together here and there throughout the year. After marrying, they move to Paris to where all the real writers are; James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, Scott Fitzgerald and here, Hemingway's life as a writer begins.

Honestly, Hemingway was pretty selfish, he swans off each day to write leaving Hadley alone in a dingy apartment with little money but she supports him through it all. If I'd have heard him say how he was going to write a novel that was "good and pure and honest" (one of his favorite phrases) once more, I'd have had to whack him around the head and said "well, write the damn thing instead of talking about it". But Hadley's a rock; she's there for him and each evening they go off to drink, eat, talk and afterwards, Hem always to keep drinking with his literary friends. Interestingly, it is actually Hadley's money from a small inheritance which basically supports them in these early years.

Their time in Paris is punctuated with impulsive trips to Spain and the Swiss Alps; times that, I think, are the best times in their marriage. As Hem has wanted, he does write sentences that are “simple and true” and his career begins to take off. They are in with a fast crowd and alcohol, absinthe, cocaine and opium are to be had everywhere. The blurb alludes to Hadley being jealous of Hem but I didn't get that feeling at all. I felt her to be the stalwart in the marriage and felt glad that she does get her way with the birth of their son, Bumby; something Hem didn't want so early in his literary life. But love doesn't protect you from other people's desires and six years later, they meet a woman who will alter their lives.

Hemingway's brilliant literary career and four failed marriages are well documented in history. It is interesting to note, however, that Hadley had a wonderful 40yr plus marriage after Hemingway. She lived to a ripe old age of 87 whereas Hem married four times and seemed to battle himself and life until finally committing suicide at 62 in 1961.

McLain acknowledges many sources in the writing of this book. Hemingway details his marriage to Hadley in A Moveable Feast which I have read. But it is The Paris Wife which has made me want to eager to read more about Hadley Richardson. I now want to read Hadley,: The First Mrs. Hemingway by Alice Sokoloff and Paris Without End: The True Story of Hemingway's First Wife by Gioia Diliberto; two books McLain mentions.

McLain is excellent in that she doesn't bury the reader with the pronoun 'I' as often happens in first person narrative stories. Instead, I didn't read the book; I was able to hear Hadley tell me the story – which was simply marvellous. Hadley is “brave and true and honest”; and that's what I really liked about The Paris Wife. 4★
Profile Image for Cynthia Hamilton.
Author 19 books200 followers
May 26, 2018
I fell in love with The Paris Wife right from the start. There was something so authentic about Hadley's voice, the way she described the circumstances of meeting Ernest Hemingway, of being drawn to him—and vice versa—never knowing how their lives would entwine and separate again.

I was so impressed with the author’s observations; Hadley is portrayed as a woman who never sought the limelight, but who recognized talent and worth when she saw it. As Hadley and Ernest travel to Europe, yearning to find contemporaries who were turning the world of art and literature on its head, then to Canada for an unfulfilling desk job that threatened to crush Ernest's soul, Hadley never thought of herself as an individual, only as one half of the whole they had become.

I read "The Sun Also Rises" when I was 19 and it had a profound effect on me. It's easy for me to understand the effect Hemingway had on Hadley, a woman several years his senior. He was bigger than life, always. He wrote about what he lived. Hadley was his life, but he did not put her in that book, though the rest of the gang who traveled to Spain had their lives immortalized, for better or for worse. He dismissed her slightly wounded feelings in a careless, indifferent manner that gave Hadley her first hint that she might be losing him.

I got the feeling throughout the book that the author immersed herself in everything she could find about the Hemingways. I learned at the end of the book just how much research she’d done and how many private documents were made available to her. It feels as if she breathed in the essence of Hadley and Ernest and let it flow out through her fingertips as she created an indelible, moving portrait of love, talent, disenchantment and heartache. I loved every minute of this book and look forward to reading it again. As soon as I was finished, I downloaded "A Moveable Feast" so I could extend the journey and compare Hemingway's take on his first marriage with Paula McLain's loving portrait.
Profile Image for Rachel Thomas.
47 reviews10 followers
July 5, 2012
I didn't get this book read before my book club discussion, and I was surprised to find that everyone loved the book. I figured I'd keep reading because it must get better, and I spent time in Cuba and toured Hemingway's home and favorite bars and now somehow feel closer to him. I have been sadly disappointed in the book, however, and committed to finishing the book to figure out what I don't like about it.

While I enjoy the story of Ernest Hemingway and the socio-historic context, I don't feel connected to him or Hadley. As I read I try to figure out why. The narration, while from Hadley's perspective, is oddly objective-- there are no emotions, there is no warmth in the writing and therefore in the relationship there is no feeling involved. The tone is almost nonexistent. She witnesses a man almost gored by a bull, she describes the attentions of her husband's admirers, tells the reader of her near breakdown as her husband leaves town, or mentions her impending piano concert without any expression of anticipation or apprehension. She describes her son with total objectivity, and easily leaves him with a nanny for days and days as she goes on vacation, mentioning only as she returns home that she "missed him tremendously." She learns her husband is having an affair with her best friend; she confronts him, and then there is no mention of any expression of emotion after he blames her and then leaves.

Ultimately, I find that I cannot relate to either character-- we share no character traits, I find no common emotions in our experiences, and I cannot relate to her reactions and actions within the story. I feel no empathy. What I was looking for was a book that evokes kindness, sympathy for the protagonist, and reveals some sort of connection between characters within a love story. I leave this book with no attraction toward Hemingway's books, no further affection, and no sorrow for the wronged ex-wife.
Profile Image for Candi.
623 reviews4,716 followers
August 12, 2015
“We called Paris the great good place, then, and it was. We invented it after all. We made it with our longing and cigarettes and Rhum St. James; we made it with smoke and smart and savage conversation and we dared anyone to say it wasn’t ours. Together we made everything and then we busted it apart again.”

Paula McLain has created a very entertaining, atmospheric novel depicting the lives of a young, up-and-coming writer, Ernest Hemingway, and his first wife and perhaps love of his life, Hadley Richardson. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about this celebrated but somehow ill-fated couple and how they met, fell in love, and made a life for themselves in the post-war world of 1920’s Paris. Hadley, having come from a difficult childhood with an overbearing mother and a depressed father, has now lost both parents and feels destined to never find love. Her father’s violent death weighs heavy on her mind, and at her mother’s deathbed Hadley reflects “I knew that I too could die in this room. This was one way my life’s wheel could turn… She’d always seemed to take pleasure in the quietness of my life, as if I’d become what she thought I would, which was not much of anything at all. This tugging was very old and powerful, and I knew I could easily give in to it, in to nothingness. Or I could push with everything I had the other way.” This is exactly what she determines to do once she meets the young, handsome, and vibrant Ernest Hemingway. I could certainly understand how Hadley fell for him and why she felt she needed this spirited man in her life.

After marrying, Ernest and Hadley certainly lived the fast life in Paris with an abundance of drinking, socializing with an exclusive crowd, and fabulous excursions to such places as Spain and the Swiss Alps. I can’t even imagine such excess! Hadley was dedicated to him and supportive financially and emotionally. I worried for her and eventually became a bit irked when I saw how much she depended on him. I realize, however, how easy it is for me to think this way as I sit here, a modern woman with a diversity of choices in the year 2015. I really became quite vexed by Ernest’s behavior and selfishness. He wanted it all – the writing, the fame, the wife, and the mistress. In one of the brief snippets told from the third person point of view, we read this “Sometimes, after hours lying awake, it came to him clearly that he only had to change his life to match his circumstances… A new girl got you talking, and telling her everything made it fresh again. She called you out of your head and stopped the feeling that the best part of you was being shaved away, inch by inch.” The betrayal that Hadley suffered at the hands of her husband and her close friend was really quite sad. Pauline, in my opinion, was one of the lowest, most degenerate kind of “friend” one could ever have the misfortune to endure.

The birth of her son, fondly called Bumby, was really a turning point for Hadley, and I was happy for her. She now had a purpose and someone to devote herself to other than Ernest. I think she finally found a sense of peace and well-being in her love for Bumby. “It wasn’t just purpose that had come along to fill me. My days were richer and made more sense.”

After reading this rich and well-researched novel, I believe that Ernest Hemingway was never truly able to escape the nightmares of war and was not able to ever truly be content with the gifts which were given to him. He seemed to always be seeking for more and never understood that he may have had enough right there at the beginning. I am convinced that Hadley really was “above it somehow, better and finer than the rest of us.” For this she was rewarded with a long and successful second marriage and a happy life.
Profile Image for Sally Howes.
72 reviews56 followers
August 28, 2015
From the opening lines of Paula McLain's THE PARIS WIFE, it is obvious that this author really knows how to turn a phrase. The prose is nimble and witty even when it is also full of pathos. The tone of the narrative is a conversational first-person one with a smattering of American epithets that makes it easy to hear this woman's voice. The narrative voice is very nineteen-twenties, using the vernacular to create a palpable "lost generation" atmosphere. This adds to the authentic, almost autobiographical feel of the book. The quality of the writing is at its very best at the beginning and end of the book, with the middle being a little more plain-spoken. But when it's good, it's very, very good. It certainly had me from the very first line: "Though I often looked for one, I finally had to admit that there could be no cure for Paris."

It feels slightly surreal to be reading a book about a woman called Hadley and a man called Ernest - never quite being able to forget that "Ernest" is Ernest Hemingway, one of my favorite authors. It takes some getting used to, kid. Hadley's first-person voice is so authoritative and convincing that it is often difficult to remember that this is historical fiction, not autobiography. Which also begs the question, how much is fact and how much is fiction? I've read a lot of historical fiction but seldom asked this question so constantly throughout a book. This, from Ernest, certainly rings true: "'I want to write one true sentence,' he said. 'If I can write one sentence, simple and true every day, I'll be satisfied.'"

Hadley is a very realistic character, full of anxieties and dark moods as well as the eagerness and excitement of the newlywed. She is strong and fragile, tough and vulnerable all at once - in short, as full of contradictions as is any human being. However, while she is a very sympathetic character, something bothered me about her and it took me some time to figure out what it was: She is very "domesticated," which I suppose was typical of the times, but she also lacks, to a large degree, her own identity apart from Ernest.

Thus, I found Ernest to be the more interesting character - volatile, but not excessively so for a great writer; enigmatic but also often practical and straightforward; tenacious and determined; sometimes abrasive and always passionate. Hadley certainly does see and understand the real Ernest: "Ernest Hemingway ... seemed to do happiness all the way up and through. There wasn't any fear in him that I could see, just intensity and aliveness. His eyes sparked all over everything ..." As their relationship develops, she sees deeper and deeper into him: "... 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 place. Of saying to himself, if not to anyone else, that he had seen what he'd seen and felt those terrible things and lived anyway. That he had died but wasn't dead any more." Hadley is the one who sees Ernest at his best and worst and everything in between: "He loved and needed praise. He loved and needed to be loved, and even adored ... Ernest did run the show and ran me over more than occasionally, and that wasn't by chance ... He was such an enigma, really - fine and strong and weak and cruel. An incomparable friend and a son of a bitch. In the end, there wasn't one thing about him that was truer than the rest. It was all true."

In contrast, Hadley could often seem tentative and plaintive and overly solicitous of her husband's approval and affection. She is quite aware that she lacks purpose, and embarks on various "projects" to try to find it - from playing the piano to having a baby: "He was inside the creative sphere and I was outside, and I didn't know if anything would ever change that."

A major theme of the book is the legacy of the suffragette movement in the form of the "modern woman." Surrounded by endless examples of these comparatively liberated women in Paris and in Ernest's orbit in general, Hadley spends much of the book trying to find this fierce and fearless quality in herself, almost ashamed to admit that more traditional values and lifestyles appeal to her more. Can an ordinary and unambitious wife hope to hold onto one of the greatest, most innovative and progressive writers of the "lost generation"? Hadley knows well how seemingly impossible this task is: "Marriage could be such deadly terrain. In Paris, you couldn't really turn around without seeing the result of lovers' bad decisions. An artist given to sexual excess was almost a cliche, but no one seemed to mind. As long as you were making something good or interesting or sensational, you could have as many lovers as you wanted and ruin them all. What was really unacceptable were bourgeois values, wanting something small and staid and predictable, like one true love, or a child."

The denouement of this novel could hardly be more perfect. It is messy and complex and moving, but not melodramatic or overly sentimental or trite. It is utterly authentic, utterly real, utterly true. It is just the way life is, in all its imperfect grace and all its terrible beauty. It is the very thing to reflect and amplify the elegant verisimilitude of THE PARIS WIFE as a whole.

★ This review is also available on my blog at feelthepowerofstory.wordpress.com ★
Profile Image for Michelle.
1,379 reviews139 followers
August 16, 2020
I had no idea what this book was about when i started reading it so was surprised to find out it was about Hemingway's first wife which i found super interesting as i literally knew nothing about Hemingway except he's a author with a serious reputation.

I really enjoyed the book, felt Paris was a pretty cool place to be after the first world war, i felt the vibe radiate from the pages. The book did make me angry towards the end, felt Hadley should have got a bit of back bone against Pauline.

I will read this author's other books as i enjoyed this so much.
Profile Image for Suzanne Stroh.
Author 4 books27 followers
June 26, 2014
I'm willing to admit my expectations were too high. But this was truly awful. As in practically unreadable. And look at the sales figures! Well, good for Paula McLain. Now for my review.

This is a classic case of historical fiction that stays too close to its source material, and then suffers under comparison with it. [I want to thank a reader with comments, below, who helped me clarify my judgment so that I could add that key sentence to this review.]

Having read everything by and about Hemingway, I turned to this fictionalized memoir by his first wife, Hadley, ready for a repeat of Ellis Avery's readable novel about the same period, The Last Nude, which I had enjoyed much more than expected.

Naturally, I was expecting something that could hold its own against A Moveable Feast which I highly recommend.

Ernest and Hadley met in Chicago after WWI, married and moved to Paris, where they lived the famously poor and glamorous life Hemingway recalls in great detail in his most entertaining book, A Moveable Feast. Two or three major events occurred during that time which were to foreshadow their divorce, and this book is the author's attempt to tell that story from Hadley's perspective.

It certainly didn't require much research, since both lives have long been thoroughly mined. But it did require enough talent, along with a literary fiction approach, so that this book would stand up to A Moveable Feast. It doesn't, and the general fiction approach McLain took dumbs it down further. There isn't a complex metaphor or a deft characterization in this book about a time, a place and a world where those things were what the characters lived, breathed, ate and drank, apart from absinthe. The lack of psychological insight, the lack of reflective depth, combined with the wooden writing, deepened my disappointment. Worse, I felt ripped off. By the end I felt like the author stole a best seller from me as a reader. If millions of readers think this was it, well...I guess that's that.

A book that any Hemingway scholar might feel he or she could have written with eyes closed and a few writing classes under the belt...somehow, and sadly, ruined by a kind of brain-dead, clueless, rudderless mindset that informs Hadley's voice, yet seems at odds with anyone's desire to read about her gutsy choice to give it all up for adventures with Ernesto.
Profile Image for Emily.
991 reviews66 followers
February 13, 2012
Fascinating historical novel about Ernest Hemingway and his first wife (of four) Hadley Richardson. I didn't know much about Hemingway, their social circle of artists/writers (including F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein among others) in Paris, and their skewed "modern" views on marriage and life, so this intrigued me. This is partly a love story, but cannot be read for that, or one would walk away disappointed. As with most(?) brilliant creators, Hemingway was egotistical and loved his work above all else. Hadley Richardson was too weak for my liking, but her story comes around in the end (the epilogue brought me needed closure). I thought the book was well researched and left me wanting to know more about their lives and to read a few of his books that reflected this time period (especially "A Sun Also Rises" and "A Moveable Feast"). Besides being a fascinating story, the book touched on so many issues that would make for a prime discussion. When a book effects me so much, good or bad, that I can't stop talking about it, I know it was a success.
Profile Image for Crystal Craig.
250 reviews590 followers
December 14, 2021
Be sure to visit my Favorites Shelf for the books I found most entertaining.

Have you ever done something stupid like writing a review only to delete it by accident? Yep, it's been one of those days. And I'm not so good at this review thing that I wish to begin again, so here's the short version.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Paris Wife. The writing was excellent; I felt like I packed my suitcase and went on an adventure with the characters. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Ellie.
1,494 reviews378 followers
September 4, 2019
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain is a fictional memoir of Ernest Hemingway's first marriage, told from the point of view of his wife, Hadley. It begins with a shy, reclusive mid-western Hadley meeting Hemingway in the U.S.A. and moves quickly into their marriage and their years in Paris (with a few side trips to Canada where she has their son and Spain for the running of the bulls).

McLain creates vivid characters and it is hard to remember at times that this is fiction and not non-fiction. I particularly liked how she handled the famous (or infamous) incident where Hadley loses the suitcase containing all of Hemingway's work up to that time-3 years of work with no copies anywhere.

And that didn't destroy the relationship!

Everything about this book seemed pitch perfect to me, every voice, every character. Hemingway's treatment of his mentors Gertrude Stein and Sherwood Anderson-old news for English majors comes out as fresh and painful as any current relationship.

This book is especially interesting for those of us who love stories of writers in Paris in the 20s and anyone interested in stories of relationships. But I think anyone who enjoys good writing will love this book. I thought it outstanding.
22 reviews6 followers
September 11, 2011
It took me a long time to get into this book and it really wasn't until the 2nd half that I was hooked...or at least understood what a really amazing job the author did in this fictionalized "memoir" of Hemingway's first wife's years with him.

I did find a couple of things to be lacking. First, in the book, Hadley Richardson seems to take their lifestyle for granted. While they live in near poverty, they are able to afford a great deal of travel throughout Europe, employing domestic help, and often maintaining a residence (albeit a modest one) in Paris while staying in hotels and inns elsewhere. It is difficult for the modern reader to reconcile how that lifestyle was possible and not at least a bit surprising to Hadley, who though she grew up comfortably, first got her passport to go to Paris with Hemingway.

Second, while Hadley is a textured and interesting character, she isn't overly introspective. This wouldn't be a bad trait and she does experience some self-reflection, but it is difficult to appreciate her and Hem's attraction to her without some 3rd person account. Perhaps the most interesting bit about her in the book was the young bull fighter who Hem said was in love with her. His reaction made me believe that there might be something more beautiful, more interesting, or more charismatic than the fictional Hadley had described.
Profile Image for Helga.
965 reviews152 followers
September 26, 2022

Make believe you are glad when you’re sorry. Sunshine will follow the rain.

Narrated by Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife, and covering the period from their falling in love and marriage until their separation, the book depicts their life together in Paris, Hemingway’s struggles as a new and unknown author and their forming friendships with people like Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Harold Loeb, John Dos Passos and many others.

Love is love. It makes you do terribly stupid things.

Hemingway may have been a jerk or a broken soul, but he is and will be one of my favorite authors.

No one you love is ever truly lost.
Profile Image for Clif Hostetler.
1,106 reviews748 followers
December 26, 2017
A storybook romance--a match made in heaven--surely it would last a lifetime, but it didn't. This is the story of Ernest Hemingway's first marriage that includes the years of his early writing career. It is told in the first person voice of Hadley, his first wife (first of four). The basic facts, movements and accomplishments of their relationship are well documented by previous biographies and memoirs. This book is written as historical fiction, and is thus able to make the story come alive in personal ways by reconstructing the probable thoughts, feelings and conversations in ways that can't be done in nonfiction writing.

The author has made the story an interesting and compelling romantic tale of his wife as inspirational muse, supporter and enabler, both emotionally and financially. Her income from a trust fund and inheritances enabled them to go to Paris in the first place. While in Europe they rubbed shoulders with the fabled "Lost Generation" that included Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. The experiences of life in Paris and their travels in Europe are so much a part of Hemingway's subsequent writing that it's unlikely that the literary world would have ever discovered Hemingway had they remained in Chicago.

Hemingway's personality as portrayed in this book confirms some of my impressions of him from other sources. He was probably bipolar, and in his manic state he was pretty full of himself. He probably considered himself to be God's gift to women, and there were plenty of women who agreed. It was this sort of arrogance that doomed his first marriage, and probably explains why his life ended up including a total of four wives. In his later years, and in what were probably depressive states of mind, he seems to have reflected on how he was responsible for ending a special and unique relationship when he split with Hadley.

In discussing this book it ultimately leads to the question of why their relationship didn't survive. The book suggests that Hemingway found his second wife to be more modern, interesting, and more astute regarding literary matters than Hadley. She also flattered his ego in an uncritical manner, whereas Hadley provided advice of a more objective nature.

I also couldn't help but notice that the second woman Ernest married was more wealthy than Hadley. This enabled him to comfortably set up shop in the Florida Keys. But the wealth of his second wife also allowed him to be generous to Hadley in the divorce settlement. He dedicated the income from the royalties of his novel, The Sun Also Rises, to Hadley as well as dedicating the book to her and their son.

As described in this book, Hemingway wrote about scenes and experiences he actually experienced. The added fictional veneer was just enough to provide a plot line. This book has given me an incentive to read The Sun Also Rises because he wrote that book while still married to Hadley and incorporated many of the activities they witnessed together. Many of the personalities of their acquaintances from that era can be recognized in the novel. However, Hadley is not one of the characters written into the plot--probably because she was too rational and practical (i.e. uninteresting).

This book, however, brought her to life in an interesting way. She was the steady rock that allowed Ernest to start his career. Once he tasted success, he jilted her. But she recovered, and entered into a second happy marriage that lasted for the rest of her long life. Her success in her second marriage is its own form of revenge.

The following is a short review from PageADay's Book Lover's Calendar for April 27-28, 2013:
For fans of Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank, here is another novel that imagines the life of a woman who had a greater influence than history might have fully acknowledged. In this case it’s Hadley Richardson, who fell madly in love with Ernest Hemingway and married him in short order. Despite their great love, other influences are at work that throw their marriage into crisis. An entertaining novel that offers bonus glimpses at the many famous members of the “Lost Generation.”
THE PARIS WIFE , by Paula McLain (Random House, 2011)

The following is a short review from PageADay's Book Lover's Calendar for December 26, 2013:
Hadley Richardson was living a quiet life in Chicago, and at 28 years old, she had basically tossed all hopes of love out the window. When she meets the dashing Ernest Hemingway, she's suddenly off to Paris and the adventure of a lifetime. A much-admired golden couple, Hadley and Ernest weren't quite ready for the ups and downs of being part of the “Lost Generation.” Divinely detailed, this novel makes you feel like you're a close confidant of one of literature's most famous couples.
THE PARIS WIFE , by Paula McLain (Ballantine, 2011)
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May 8, 2016
Often, timing is everything. At least it was for me when it came to Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife. I probably would have passed it by if I had not, several months after its debut, impulsively picket up a copy of The Old Man and the Sea on Barnes and Noble’s discount table.

When I first heard the review of The Paris Wife on NPR on March 1 2011, Hemingway and his works were distant encounters during my teen years in the 1950s. Although novels as The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls were, for me, reading highlights of those years, I had not read anything of Hemingway’s since. And not only had I not read any of Hemingway since my high school years, but I was also aware that many current readers and critics were not convinced of Hemingway’s talents and skills: among many he was quite out of favor. Given that current criticism, I hadn’t added Hemingway to my reading list. So, although the NPR review was positive in regard to McLain’s novel and her recreation of the lives of Hadley and Hemingway during the 1920s, the idea of spending time with Hemingway’s first wife was, for me, not overly attractive. I had other interests. There were other books on my to-read list.

So in August, on merely a whim, I read The Old Man and the Sea. That novel led me to re-read The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls and to read for the first time Farewell to Arms and A Moveable Feast. All that reading reminded me, contrary to some of Hemingway’s current negative critics, of his remarkable gifts as a writer. Against that background, Hemingway’s Paris years from the perspective of Hadley Richardson became suddenly of greater interest. In September, when I saw a copy of the book in Barnes and Noble’s recent arrival shelf, I was reminded of NPR’s review and now added it to my list of books to read.

My August readings had included The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast. Both focus on the 1920s when Hadley and Hemingway were in Paris as a newly married couple and moving among the members of the “Lost Generation”—people like Gertrude Stein, the Fitzgeralds, Ezra Pound, Gerald and Sara Murphy, John Dos Pasos, Picasso. With Hemingway’s voice newly echoing in my mind, reading The Paris Wife was particularly enjoyable.

Of course, The Paris Wife is a novel and not an authentic biography. Although McLain follows Hadley’s real life in its real dimensions and course and, although the people who move through her pages are real and not fictional, still there is much imagined in regard to conversations, emotions, interrelationships and feelings. McLain herself described the work as a novel “in conversation” with Hemingway in “A Moveable Feast”:

I think the way it occurred to me at the time, and perhaps I was fooling myself, was that I was in conversation with that book [“A Moveable Feast”] and that I was inserting my version of Hadley into that time and talking about their places and their experiences from her point of view. [I was] giving her an opportunity to step into the light for a moment, out of the fringes of literary history.

In The Moveable Feast Hadley is quite tangential, lurking in the shadows without voice. McLain moves her out of the shadows and gives her voice. Hadley, now in center stage, draws us into Hemingway’s Paris years, bringing those years into new life and a new perspective. McLain’s novel is not great literature but it is a skillful [Brenda Wineapple in her New York Times review calls it “stylish”] work that gives us a multi-faceted view of a complex man who did write seminal fiction and of the long-suffering and decent woman who became a permanent part of his heart.

I am not certain you could read The Paris Wife without some previous encounter with Hemingway and without some knowledge of the ambiance of Paris among the émigré community in the wake of World War One. For me the book’s value was its “stylish” (to use Wineapple’s characterization again) re-entry into the world out of which came The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast. It is also a book whose wider, more appreciative audience would probably be female. The novel's pace is slow and reflective. The truth be told, the life of Hadley Richardson would not be of interest were it not for her connection to Ernest Hemingway for better or for worse.

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