Book Review: The Paris Wife

Rating: 5 out of 5

I received The Paris Wife as a graduation gift from a friend, and I must say that it was a great gift indeed! This 2011 novel by Paula McLain narrates the relationship between Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson. Even if you don’t know or like Hemingway all that much, you’ll enjoy McLain’s wonderfully written and researched novel.

The book starts off with Hadley, eight years Hemingway’s senior, falling in love with the writer despite warnings from their friend Kate Smith. The couple married in 1921, and the rest of the novel follows their travels across America and Europe during their five-year marriage.

I loved feeling like a fly on the wall watching the most famous artists and authors of the 1920s, including Sherwood Anderson, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s noble how hard these people had to work to make a living with their words, but for some of them, it’s also tragic how all their fame and fortune masked deep, dark pain.

I empathized with Hadley, who never felt like she truly belonged to this group of literary giants. She called herself a hen among peacocks. And although she was a gifted pianist, she sacrificed her passions for Ernest’s career. I can understand Hemingway’s fierce devotion to his craft, but his selfishness and narcissism destroyed his marriage and most of his friendships.

I read The Paris Wife, knowing the basics behind Hemingway and his work, but McLain really brings the details to life, illuminating the atmospheres of France, Spain, and Germany. I felt that it was an accurate portrayal of the historical events and characters, but it was also so much more than that.

The emotion in this story was so honest and beautiful. It broke my heart witnessing Hadley and Hem suffer from depression, alcoholism, and extramarital affairs. Hadley gave everything to her husband, content with raising their son rather than share the spotlight, but their relationship collapsed due to Hem’s refusal to compromise and remain faithful.

Hadley could be criticized for allowing herself to be treated like a doormat, but she knew that she was a romantic in a modern world of promiscuity and partying. She may have wanted a simple life, but at least she remained true to herself. While Hem first resisted and then dove into the good life of the literary elites, Hadley was never impressed by the lifestyle. Instead of following other wives and entering into a perverse three-way with her husband’s mistress, she walked away. Lesser women would’ve accepted such behavior to be Mrs. Hemingway, so I admire her courage to start over.

Hadley stated that she may be just “the Paris wife,” but she got the best of Hem. In the end, she found true love with journalist Paul Mowrer, married from 1933 to her natural death in 1979. Hemingway, on the other hand, skyrocketed as an author but spiraled down into three more unsuccessful marriages and suicide by shooting.

I don’t think I’m spoiling much, since Hemingway’s downfall is just as famous as his writing. A man traumatized by his experiences as a soldier during World War I and his own father’s suicide, he paid the ultimate price for being one of the greatest American writers of all time.

Trust me, you might think you know this story, but you will still be amazed by The Paris Wife. Highly recommended!

Masterpiece Monday: The Sun Also Rises

Ernest Hemingway seated in 1925 with the perso...

Ernest Hemingway seated in 1925 with the persons depicted in the novel “The Sun Also Rises.” The individuals depicted include Hemingway, Harold Loeb, Lady Duff Twysden; and Hadley Richardson, Ogden Stewart and Pat Guthrie. Original caption is “Ernest Hemingway with Lady Duff Twysden, Hadley Hemingway, and three unidentified people at a cafe in Pamplona, Spain, during the Fiesta of San Fermin in July 1925.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rating: 3 out of 5

Wow! I was so busy today that I didn’t have time to post, but I came home to over 100 views! I keep getting a ton of hits because of Fifty Shades of Grey, which is wonderful because I hope people are reading my rant on the series to know how crappy it is!

But back to real literature. I’m currently reading The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, which is about Hadley Richardson, the first wife of Ernest Hemingway. Thus, I decided to review a novel of his for Masterpiece Monday, called The Sun Also Rises.

The book was published in 1926, and it’s a highly autobiographical tale of expatriates who travel from Paris to Spain to watch the bullfights. Hemingway based the story on his own experiences and friends, and its realism is what makes it one of his best works.

Hemingway can be seen in the protagonist Jake Barnes, who falls in love with the recently divorced Lady Brett Ashley, based on the also recently divorced Lady Duff Twysden. Although Hemingway was married to Hadley during this time, his wandering eye resulted in their divorce. It remains unclear whether Hemingway had an affair with Duff, but I wouldn’t be surprised. I am surprised, however, that The Sun Also Rises was still dedicated to Hadley and their son, due to their crumbling marriage come publication.

I wouldn’t call myself a Hemingway fan, but I did enjoy some of his short stories, namely “Indian Camp” and “Hills Like White Elephants.” However, I did not care much for The Sun Also Rises, because I felt that it was too autobiographical to be that interesting. Very character-driven, not a lot of action.

It has elements of soap opera in it, given that every male character fights for Lady Brett’s attention. However, most of the story consists of them dining, drinking, and watching bulls being gored. I abhor bullfighting, finding it cruel and barbaric, so obviously a novel surrounding the “sport” was not going to appeal to me.

I can put aside my biases enough, though, to appreciate what this book represents: the epitome of life in the Roaring Twenties. By writing life as he lived it, Hemingway immortalized the “Lost Generation” of American writers and artists in Europe. I don’t love Hemingway’s sparse, stripped-down style, but I love the history that he captured on paper.

I’m having fun reading The Paris Wife, because I’m learning so much about Hemingway and his relationship with Hadley. It would be interesting to re-read The Sun Also Rises to see if my opinion has changed. Maybe Hemingway can be an author I can learn to like professionally, even if I can’t stand his selfish, womanizing ways personally.

Favorite Quote: “Going to another country doesn’t make any difference. I’ve tried all that. You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another. There’s nothing to that.'” (Ch.2)