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The Paris Wife


It is no great secret that I have what you might call a "literary crush" on Ernest Hemingway. I am completely vested in the romantic notion of Hemingway in Interwar Paris as the ruggedly handsome struggling young writer of the Lost Generation. After all, what is not to love about a man who writes, "If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast"? 
This summer, I finally had the time to read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain - the story of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley. I was a bit apprehensive as I cracked open the book. My mother warned me in a shocked and horrified tone that her friend from book club had read The Paris Wife and now hates Hemingway because he was such a cad. I had to remind myself that not everyone is as obsessed about Paris during the Jazz Age as I am. I knew the history, so I was not going in blindly. But after my mom's friend's boycott on all things Hemingway after reading the book, my concern was, "Has McLain destroyed the literary integrity of one of the greatest authors of the 20th Century?" 
The story, historical fiction written from Hadley's perspective, could have easily been skewed to make Hem's philandering one dimensional and shallow. But McLain gives the reader insight into the complexity of Hadley's internal struggle and in some ways, Hem's struggle, as well. 
Perhaps the aspect I liked most is that Hadley was no victim. When Hem's infidelity comes to light, she makes conscious choices to stay and fight for the love of her life, and father of her child. While I would not have put up with half of the nonsense Hadley did, I do recognize that this love affair took place pre-women's lib. And I think that my mom's friend's disgust with Hemingway is a direct result from her failure to recognize the same. The 1920s and 1930s mindset regarding marriage was, to quote a former neighbor of that generation, "You made your bed, now you must lie in it." End of story. I saw this in my own grandparent's marriage...never warm and fuzzy and my Grandpa could be pretty rotten to my sweetheart of a Grandma. But divorce was simply not an option. As readers, we must remember to keep things in their historical context.
Hadley and Ernest Hemingway in Chamby, Switzerland, 1922.
Photograph: Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection,
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston
The funny thing is that even though I knew going into the book how it was going to end, I still found myself hoping it would be different. Having the benefit of hindsight, I knew Hem would eventually regret what he was doing. And I wondered...if he had not strayed; if he had stayed with Hadley, could he have avoided his tragic demise? 
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Comments

I read this a couple of months ago and thoroughly enjoyed it! Like you, I'm Hemingway obsessed and knew before reading it his true caddish nature. Reading it did not make me boycott anything Hemingway. However, I feel Hadley is often regarded with such a fleeting glance since she was after all wife number 1 and yet I found her character to be fascinating. I was just glad that long after she parted ways with Hemingway she went on to have a happy and long marriage.
I haven't read it yet, but it's been on my list since it came out. I will now get my copy and dig in. Thanks for the post! Wonderful as always!

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