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Saturday, May 7, 2011

The Paris Wife

The Paris Wife
Paula McLain
Ballantine, 2011

Meeting through mutual friends in Chicago, Hadley is intrigued by Ernest Hemingway, and after a brief courtship and small wedding, they take off for Paris, where Hadley makes a convincing transformation from an overprotected child to a brave young woman who puts up with impoverished living conditions and shattering loneliness to prop up her husband's career.

I’ve never read any biographies of Hemingway, but I’ve always imagined that he was a “man’s man,” and as such not inclined to be romantic or sensitive. This fictionalized account of Hadley’s and Ernest’s relationship, however, portrays him as very much in love with Hadley and quite romantic during their courtship. After marrying quite quickly and moving to Paris, Ernest is still quite sweet and attentive to his wife, confiding his hopes and dreams for a writing career to an eager helpmate. He and Hadley are poor, but very much in love, and she fully supports his decisions.

After their son is born, however, Hadley and Ernest experience more stress and financial hardship. Hadley begins to notice that Ernest prefers spending a great deal of time with one of her own friends, Pauline, and even though she tries to be open-minded and accepting of their friendship, it soon becomes apparent that they are having an affair. In fact, the “lost generation” of writers and artists who have made up their circle of friends all seem to know what is going on before she does, and finally Hadley cannot pretend that things will ever be the same as they were the first few years in Paris. She asks for a divorce and from then on, is known as the “Paris Wife.”

This bittersweet romantic novel is full of atmosphere and feeling. The characters are based on actual people; I found myself hoping that this story of their courtship and marriage had at least some basis in reality because I like to think that Ernest and Hadley were truly this much in love with each other. Their funny nicknames along with their mutual respect and admiration for each other was so touching that I felt genuine sadness when their marriage ended. There have been many accounts of Hemingway’s life which attempt to explain why he behaved the way he did – but in this story we only have Hadley’s sad and poignant account of a great love that had no choice but to die in fiction the way it did in real life.


Other novels by this author:
Ticket to Ride (2008)

Other titles you may enjoy:

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan (2007)
Fact and fiction blend in a historical novel that chronicles the relationship between seminal architect Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Cheney, from their meeting, when they were each married to another, to the clandestine affair that shocked Chicago society.

The Emancipator’s Wife by Barbara Hambly (2005)
In 1865, in the wake of her husband's assassination, Mary Todd Lincoln struggles to cope amid the animosity and confusion that surrounds her, in a historical novel that captures the saga of one of the most misunderstood women in American history.

Harriet and Isabella by Patricia O’Brien (2008)
A novelization based on a nineteenth-century sex scandal traces how the downfall of Henry Ward Beecher divided the nation and severed the loving relationship between his sisters, author Harriet Beecher Stowe and suffragist Isabella Beecher Hooker.

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