The Paris Wife | Paula McLain

I confess that I knew next to nothing about Ernest Hemingway before reading The Paris Wife.

I knew he was regarded as a literary hero by many Americans, that he lived in Paris during the 1920’s and hung out with the Scott Fitzgerald’s, Gertrude Stein, Ford Maddox Ford & Stella etc. I knew he was a heavy drinker and not very well liked on a personal level.

The Paris Wife is based on Hemingway’s first marriage to Hadley Richardson and their time together in Paris at the beginning of his career.

McLain’s acknowledgment states her intention “to push deeper into the emotional lives of the characters and bring new insight into historical events, while staying faithful to the facts.

I don’t know if she added any new insights to the Hemmingway mythology, but I enjoyed learning about her version of events. I felt a genuine empathy and sympathy for Hadley, but found it harder to like Hemmingway. He came across as selfish, self-centred and thoughtlessly cruel.

McLain’s writing was a delight. She evoked the period and Paris life beautifully. Hadley’s time with Hemingway was obviously life changing for her. Although this book was not life changing for me, I suspect it will be enough to start me on another Francophile phase of reading obsession!

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. 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 Fitzgerald.

Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill prepared for the hard-drinking, fast-living, and free-loving life of Jazz Age Paris. As Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history and pours himself into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises, Hadley strives to hold on to her sense of self as her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Eventually they 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.

4 thoughts on “The Paris Wife | Paula McLain

  1. Francophile phases are all good I think. I've read a smattering of Hemmingway, and am interested to read more. I suspect that he was selfish, self-centred and thoughtlessly cruel though. I've heard of this book and would love to read it someday.


  2. I've been longing to read this one. Yes, from what I gathered, Hem was not quite an interesting man, but I think nearly all great authors must have their selfishness in a certain degree.


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