by Paula McLain
Paperback (27 Nov 2012), 352 pages.
Publisher: Ballantine Books
A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.
Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happinessuntil 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 groupthe fabled Lost Generationthat 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 marriagea deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything theyve 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.
The very first thing he does is fix me with those wonderfully brown eyes and say, "It's possible I'm too drunk to judge, but you might have something there."
It's October 1920 and jazz is everywhere. I don't know any jazz, so I'm playing Rachmaninoff. I can feel a flush beginning in my cheeks from the hard cider my dear pal Kate Smith has stuffed down me so I'll relax. I'm getting there, second by second. It starts in my fingers, warm and loose, and moves along my nerves, rounding through me. I haven't been drunk in over a year--not since my mother fell seriously ill--and I've missed the way it comes with its own perfect glove of fog, settling snugly and beautifully over my brain. I don't want to think and I don't want to feel, either, unless it's as simple as this beautiful boy's knee inches from mine.
The knee is nearly enough on its own, but there's a whole package of a man attached, tall and lean, with a lot of very dark hair and a dimple in his left cheek you could fall into. His friends call him Hemingstein, Oinbones, Bird, Nesto, Wemedge, anything they can dream up on the spot. He calls Kate Stut or Butstein (not very flattering!), and another fellow Little Fever, and yet another Horney or the Great Horned Article. He seems to know everyone, and everyone seems to know the same jokes and stories. They telegraph punch lines back and forth in code, lightning fast and wisecracking. I can't keep up, but I don't mind really. Being near these happy strangers is like a powerful transfusion of good cheer.
When Kate wanders over from the vicinity of the kitchen, he points his perfect chin at me and says, "What should we name our new friend?"
"Hash," Kate says.
"Hashedad's better," he says. "Hasovitch."
"And you're Bird?" I ask.
"Wem," Kate says.
"I'm the fellow who thinks someone should be dancing." He smiles with everything he's got, and in very short order, Kate's brother Kenley has kicked the living room carpet to one side and is manning the Victrola. We throw ourselves into it, dancing our way through a stack of records. He's not a natural, but his arms and legs are free in their joints, and I can tell that he likes being in his body. He's not the least shy about moving in on me either. In no time at all our hands are damp and clenched, our cheeks close enough that I can feel the very real heat of him. And that's when he finally tells me his name is Ernest.
"I'm thinking of giving it away, though. Ernest is so dull, and Hemingway? Who wants a Hemingway?"
Probably every girl between here and Michigan Avenue, I think, looking at my feet to keep from blushing. When I look up again, he has his brown eyes locked on me.
"Well? What do you think? Should I toss it out?"
"Maybe not just yet. You never know. A name like that could catch on, and where would you be if you'd ditched it?"
"Good point. I'll take it under consideration."
A slow number starts, and without asking, he reaches for my waist and scoops me toward his body, which is even better up close. His chest is solid and so are his arms. I rest my hands on them lightly as he backs me around the room, past Kenley cranking the Victrola with glee, past Kate giving us a long, curious look. I close my eyes and lean into Ernest, smelling bourbon and soap, tobacco and damp cotton--and everything about this moment is so sharp and lovely, I do something completely out of character and just let myself have it.
There's a song from that time by Nora Bayes called "Make Believe," which might have been the most lilting and persuasive treatise on self-delusion I'd ever heard. Nora Bayes was beautiful, and she sang with a trembling voice that told you she knew things about love. When she advised you to throw off all the old pain and worry and heartache and smile--well, you believed she'd done this herself. It wasn't a suggestion but a prescription. The song must have been a favorite of Kenley's, too. He played it three times the night I arrived in Chicago, and each time I felt it speaking directly to me: Make believe you are glad when you're sorry. Sunshine will follow the rain.
Excerpted from The Paris Wife by Paula McLain Copyright © 2011 by Paula McLain. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher
Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
- In many ways, Hadley's girlhood in St. Louis was a difficult and repressive experience. How do her early years prepare her to meet and fall in love with Ernest? What does life with Ernest offer her that she hasn't encountered before? What are the risks?
- Hadley and Ernest don't get a lot of encouragement from their friends and family when they decided to marry. What seems to draw the two together? What are some of the strengths of their initial attraction and partnership? The challenges?
- The Ernest Hemingway we meet in The Paris Wife - through Hadley's eyes - is in many ways different from the ways we imagine him when faced with the largeness of his later persona. What do you see as his character strengths? Can you see what Hadley saw in him?
- The Hemingways spontaneously opt for Paris over Rome when the get key advice from Sherwood Anderson. What was life like for them when they first arrived? How did Hadley's initial feelings about Paris differ from Ernest's and why?
- Throughout The Paris Wife, Hadley refers to herself as "Victorian" as opposed to "modern." What are some of the ways she doesn't feel like she fits into life in bohemian Paris? How does this impact her relationship with Ernest? Her self-esteem? What are some of the ways Hadley's "old-fashioned" quality can be seen as a strength and not a weakness?
- Hadley and Ernest's marriage survived for many years in Jazz-Age Paris, an environment that had very little patience for monogamy and other traditional values. What in their relationship seems to sustain them? How does their marriage differ from those around them? Pound's and Shakespeare's? Scott and Zelda's?
- Most of The Paris Wife is written in Hadley's voice, but a few select passages come to us from Ernest's point of view. What impact does getting Ernest's perspective have on our understanding of their marriage? How does it affect your ability to understand him and his motivations in general?
- What was the role of literary spouses in 1920's Paris? How is Hadley challenged and restricted by her gender? Would those restrictions have changed if she had been an artist and not merely a "wife"?
- At one point, Ezra Pound warns Hadley that it would be a dire mistake to let parenthood change Ernest. Is there a nugget of truth behind his concern? What are some of the ways Ernest is changed by Bumby's birth? What about Hadley? What does motherhood bring to her life, for better or worse?
- One of the most wrenching scenes in the book is when Hadley loses a valise containing all of Ernest's work to date. What kind of turning point does this mark for the Hemingway's marriage? Do you think Ernest ever forgives her?
- When the couple moves to Toronto to have Bumby, Ernest tries his best to stick it out with a regular "nine-to-five" reporter's job, and yet he ultimately finds this impossible. Why is life in Toronto so difficult for Ernest? Why does Hadley agree to go back to Paris earlier than they planned, even though she doesn't know how they'll make it financially? How does she benefit from supporting his decision to make a go at writing only fiction?
- Hadley and Ernest had similar upbringings in many ways. What are the parallels, and how do these affect the choices Hadley makes as a wife and mother?
- In The Paris Wife, when Ernest receives his contract for In Our Time, Hadley says, "He would never again be unknown. We would never again be this happy." How did fame affect Ernest and his relationship with Hadley?
- The Sun Also Rises is drawn from the Hemingways' real-life experiences with bullfighting in Spain. Ernest and his friends are clearly present in the book, but Hadley is not. Why? In what ways do you think Hadley is instrumental to the book regardless, and to Ernest's career in general?
- How does the time and place - Paris in the 20's - affect Ernest and Hadley's marriage? What impact does the war, for instance, have on the choices and behavior of the expatriate artists surrounding the Hemingways? Do you see Ernest changing in response to the world around him? How, and how does Hadley feel about those changes?
- What was the nature of the relationship between Hadley and Pauline Pfeiffer? Were they legitimately friends? How do you see Pauline taking advantage of her intimate position in the Hemingway's life? Do you think Hadley is naïve for not suspecting Pauline of having designs on Ernest earlier? Why or why not?
- It seems as if Ernest tries to make his marriage work even after Pauline arrives on the scene. What would Hadley it have cost Hadley to stick it out with Ernest no matter what? Is there a way she could have fought harder for her marriage?
- In many ways, Hadley is a very different person at the end of the novel than the girl who encounters Ernest by chance at a party. How do you understand her trajectory and transformation? Are there any ways she essentially doesn't change?
- When Hemingway's biographer Carlos Baker interviewed Hadley Richardson near the end of her life, he expected her to be bitter, and yet she persisted in describing Ernest as a "prince." How can she have continued to love and admire him after the way he hurt her?
- Ernest Hemingway spent the last months of his life tenderly reliving his first marriage in the pages his memoir, A Moveable Feast. In fact, it was the last thing he wrote before his death. Do you think he realized what he'd truly lost with Hadley?
Visit RandomHouse.com for Hemingway inspired recipes and cocktails!
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Ballantine Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
With 20 out of 22 reviewers rating it 4 or 5 stars, The Paris Wife is a clear favorite amongst BookBrowse readers, and has inspired many to revisit classic works by Ernest Hemingway. Here's what they have to say:
The narrative is very compelling! I was hooked by the first chapter and it never let up, and despite knowing how the marriage ended, I was riveted. The author stays true to history while finding truth and poignancy in Hadley's voice. While I didn't always agree with her decisions, she is astonishingly real on these pages (Michele J). Perhaps the author's greatest strength is that her writing style is much like Hemingway's - crisp, clear, and concise (Mary S). Upon completing the novel, I found myself wondering if Hemingway would have persevered during his early years to become the writer we know today if he hadn't been married to Hadley. I found the book fascinating (Rosemary T). A must-read for all Hemingway fans and a great introduction for those who are not acquainted with his tragic story (Mary S). I highly recommend this book, and I would also recommend reading The Garden of Eden; it's not one of Hemingway's best-known novels, but I believe it echoes - from his point of view - the story of this marriage (Linda P).
Some readers enjoyed traveling into 1920s Paris and mingling with the writers of "The Lost Generation":
McLain does an excellent job of setting the scene - first in the U.S. and later in Europe. The best parts of the book are the descriptions of Paris, where artists and writers form a united, if unstable, group of friends (Sandra H). Reading about American Expats in 1920s Paris alone was worth the read (Leann A). I felt I was living in this unstable world and sympathized with Hadley as she watched her marriage fall apart while Ernest became more and more concerned with his own reputation and with fitting into a world that she could not accept. If for no other reason, the novel is worth reading for taking us back to a time many of us know little about (Sandra H). I could not put this book down! I felt like I was sitting in cafés in Paris with Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and the famous couple F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. My book clubs can't wait for the release of this novel (Sharon S).
Other readers were intrigued by the tumultuous marriage between Hadley and an unstable Ernest Hemingway:
It was like reading an elaborately written diary where you are let in on secrets and private matters as uncomfortable and sad as they could be. Not quite on par with Loving Frank by Nancy Horan but a satisfying read nonetheless (Martha P). By the end of the book I was completely caught up in the saga of a fascinating though difficult relationship (Linda P). While Hemingway is certainly one of the literary giants of the 20th century, he plainly suffers from toxic selfishness, and Hadley suffers at his notion of marriage and stability. I highly recommend this book, not only for the story, but for the author's obvious writing talent (Marjorie H).
However, some readers were unable to connect with McLain's novel:
The Paris Wife was a disappointment to me. None of the characters, especially Hemingway and Hadley, came alive. The relaxed pace of the book never gained enough speed to capture the excitement of running with the bulls in Pamplona nor the intensity of 1920s Paris when many of the most important literary figures of all time gathered. McLain uses reliable research sources for her fictional account of their marriage, and the reader would be better off sticking with those sources than reading The Paris Wife (Susan H). In terms of being emotionally engaging, the book fell a little flat for me. Some of it seemed like a laundry list of facts about Hadley's and Ernest's lives: where they lived, what they ate and drank, and who they saw (Liz C). While the novel was slow-moving at times and a bit repetitious, it was ultimately saved by the first-person narrative as told by Hadley (Martha P). While I liked the book, I didn't love the book. To me the characters were stiff, with the exception of Ernest who came away as a most selfish man. I felt deeply sorry for Hadley and her life with Hemingway (AzKate).
But overall, most BookBrowse readers were as delighted with The Paris Wife as Jill S:
Paula McLain sympathetically captures Hadley Richardson's voice in this highly addictive, page-turning debut. She pushes deep into the lives of her characters while remaining true to the facts. I found this to be a fascinating book, which has compelled me to re-read Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, which also examines those years. Recommended highly for any Hemingway fan or anyone who is seeking an in-depth look at a complicated marriage in the 1920s.
...And for a readers' guide to The Paris Wife, including questions about the book, recipes and even cocktails inspired by Hemingway, click here!
Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers
The Los Angeles Times
The problem with this book-length swoon is that writer and reader overlook cliché after cliché, pedestrian writing and overpowering sentiment.
The New York Times
Get ready for abundant debate on issues raised by The Paris Wife, because what it lacks in style is made up for in staying power. This is a work of literary tourism that expertly flatters its reader. It invokes an artist-packed Paris where "nearly anyone might feel like a painter."
The Chicago Sun-Times
McLain recreates the well-trodden territory of the Lost Generation with more skill and effect than anything written in recent years.
By making the ordinary come to life, McLain has written a beautiful portrait of being in Paris in the glittering 1920s — as a wife and one's own woman. Grade: A-
...[A] vivid addition to the complex-woman-behind-the-legendary-man genre...The historical figure cameos sometimes come across as gimmicky, but the heart of the story - Ernest and Hadley's relationship - gets an honest reckoning...
Much more than a "woman-behind-the-man" homage, this beautifully crafted tale is an unsentimental tribute to a woman who acted with grace and strength as her marriage crumbled.
Starred Review. Colorful details of the expat life in Jazz Age Paris, combined with the evocative story of the Hemingways’ romance, result in a compelling story that will undoubtedly establish McLain as a writer of substance.
Starred Review. An imaginative, elegantly written look inside the marriage of Ernest Hemingway and Hadley Richardson.
Mary Chapin Carpenter, singer and songwriter
After nearly a century, there is a reason that the Lost Generation and Paris in the 1920's still fascinate. It was a unique intersection of time and place, people and inspiration, romance and intrigue, betrayal and tragedy. The Paris Wife brings that era to life through the eyes of Hadley Richardson Hemingway, who steps out of the shadows as the first wife of Ernest, and into the reader's mind, as beautiful and as luminous as those extraordinary days in Paris after the Great War.
Nancy Horan, bestselling author of Loving Frank
The Paris Wife is mesmerizing. Hadley Hemingway's voice, lean and lyrical, kept me in my seat, unable to take my eyes and ears away from these young lovers. Paula McLain is a first-rate writer who creates a world you don't want to leave. I loved this book
Sarah Blake, New York Times bestselling author of The Postmistress
Despite all that has been written about Hemingway by others and by the man himself, the magic of The Paris Wife is that this Hemingway and this Paris, as imagined by Paula McLain, ring so true I felt as if I was eavesdropping on something new. As seen by the sure and steady eye of his first wife, Hadley, here is the spectacle of the man becoming the legend set against the bright jazzed heat of Paris in the 20s. As much about life and how we try and catch it as it is about love even as it vanishes, this is an utterly absorbing novel.
Rated of 5
The Times called Hadley boring at times, but that is incorrect.The book is a perfect portrayal of how a narcissist thinks. Nothing this man says to his supposed love has anything whatsoever to do with HER. It is always about HIM right down to how she says she is happy at their marriage because HE NEEDS to hear it. Its exhausting to know these individuals let alone LOVE them because there really is no empathy or ability to love. And you see in this book how it affects those around them. I pity this woman and to see her get a little angrier, show some self would be the stuff of modern romance where Jerry Mcguire realizes that he has been a shallow self absorbed jerk and vows to change...but narcissists don't change...psychiatrists don't treat then, they ignore them, and that's not how his life went..
I bought the book because I absolutely had to see the quality of fiction writing that goes to auction and I am left without a bone in my body that ISN'T jealous of McClains prose.It is beautifully imagined.
Rated of 5
by Martha P. (Issaquah, WA)
An American girl in Paris
Paula McLain's story of Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway's first wife, gives the reader a behind-the-scenes look at the very early days in Hemingway's career and the social scene in Paris with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, etc. While the novel was slow-moving at times and a bit repetitious it was ultimately saved by the first person narrative as told by Hadley. It was like reading an elaborately written diary where you are let in on secrets and private matters as uncomfortable and sad as they may be. Not quite on a par with Loving Frank by Nancy Horan but a satisfying read nonetheless.
Rated of 5
by Liz C. (Portage, MI)
The Paris Wife
I enjoyed Paula McLain’s poetic depiction of Ernest and Hadley Hemingway’s years as a married couple in Paris. The cast of characters is an interesting one and reading about their exploits is intriguing. In terms of being emotionally engaging, the book fell a little flat for me. Some of it seemed like a laundry list of facts about Hadley and Ernest’s lives: where they lived, what they ate and drank, who they saw. McLain’s Hadley can’t help but be overshadowed by her larger than life husband and some of their friends. The Paris Wife may inspire some readers to read Hemingway’s novels and short stories. I look forward to reading more of McLain’s work.
Rated of 5
by Michele J. (Gig Harbor, WA)
A novel written in first-person narrative from the point of view of Hadley Hemingway, Earnest Hemingway's first wife. Hadley married Earnest when he was a young, unknown, aspiring writer and gave up her life in the States to move to Paris with him so that he could immerse himself in his writing.
The narrative is very compelling...I was hooked by the first chapter and it never let up. Despite knowing how the marriage ended, I was riveted to this book.
The author stays true to history while finding truth and poignancy in Hadley's voice. While I didn't always agree with her decisions, she is astonishingly real on these pages.
Highly, highly recommended!
Rated of 5
by Linda P
The Paris Wife
This beautifully written account of Hadley Richardson’s marriage to Hemingway starts a bit slowly, but stay with it and you’ll be rewarded. By the end of the book I was completely caught up in the saga of a fascinating though difficult relationship. I highly recommend this book to Hemingway fans or those who would like to understand his personality. At the end of the book, I came away with a real appreciation for Hadley and what their relationship meant to both of them. It was a can’t-live-with-him-can’t-live-without-him seesaw they shared and eventually the can’t-live-with-him side triumphed. I would also recommend reading The Garden of Eden. It’s not one of his best-known novels, but I believe it echoes–from his point of view–the story of this marriage.
Rated of 5
by Susan H. (Charleston, WV)
The Paris Wife
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain was a disappointment to me. None of the characters, especially those of Hemingway and Hadley, became alive as I read the book. The relaxed pace of the book never gained enough speed to capture the excitement of running the bulls of Pamplona nor the intensity of the Paris when many of the most important literary figures of time gathered, or the intricate first marriage of Hemingway.
Ms. McLain used reliable research sources for her fictional account of the marriage between Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway, and the reader wanting a Lost Generation moment or two would be better off to stick to those sources than The Paris Wife.
Rated of 5
by Victoria (CA)
A Unique Perspective on Hemingway's Crowd
As someone who hasn't read a lot of Hemingway, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself engrossed in the story of "Hem" and his first wife, Hadley. It's easy to get caught up in this novel, with its quick pace and clear writing. The story takes place not only in Paris, but around the globe, making it as interesting a read for the traveling as for the famous characters. McLain does a great job introducing characters like Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald through Hadley's eyes, without any starstruck pretenses. Hadley is a likable main character, as she is a bit of an outsider to Hem's artistic Parisian set, yet fascinated by them all the same (rather like her readers). The Paris Wife makes me want to go back and reread The Sun Also Rises... a true delight for Hemingway fans and historical fiction lovers alike.
Rated of 5
by Marjorie H. (Bedford, TX)
What's Love Got To Do With It
Excellent, well-written book. The characters had depth and believability.
While Hemingway certainly is one of the literary giants of the 20th century, he plainly suffers from toxic selfishness. Perhaps all artists do . . . but Hadley suffers at his notion of marriage and stability. He uses her, discards her and uses his central focusing eye on himself. Obviously, Hadley expected more than hanging out with shiftless, unfocused "artists." Hadley and Ernest's marriage is a timeless struggle of failed expectations and ever mounting disappointment while trying to navigate two separate lifestyles. It was a recipe for disaster. Very sad, but not a new story.
I highly recommend this book. Not only for the story, but for the author's obvious writing talent.
Paula McLain's novel, The Paris Wife, centers on the relationship between Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Elizabeth Hadley Richardson. However, over the course of his life (1899-1961) Ernest Hemingway married four different women, each unique and interesting in her own right:
Elizabeth Hadley Richardson: Born on November 9, 1891, Hadley was raised in a rather cheerless household. She suffered a serious injury as a child when she fell out of a second-story window, putting her in the hospital for months and igniting her mother's overprotection. This, plus the suicide of her father when she was 12, contributed to Hadley's severe shyness, and she sought refuge from her difficult childhood in music. After her mother's death, Hadley visited a friend in Chicago, whereupon she met Ernest. They were married on September 3, 1921 and shortly thereafter moved to Paris. On October 10, 1923, John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway (Bumby) was born, Ernest's first child. However, during his time writing The Sun Also Rises, their marriage began to fall apart, and after Hadley discovered that Ernest was having an affair with Pauline Pfeiffer, they officially divorced in January 1927.
Pauline Pfeiffer: Born in Iowa on July 22, 1895 and raised in St. Louis, Pauline graduated from the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 1918. She worked at the Cleveland Star, moved to New York, was hired by the Daily Telegraph, and finally landed jobs at Vanity Fair and Vogue, where she was a fashion reporter. She met Ernest in Paris, and they began a romantic affair, effectively ending his marriage to Hadley and leading to their own marriage in May 1927. In 1928 they moved to Key West and had two sons - Patrick (born 1928) and Gregory (born 1931). The couple divorced in November 1940 on the grounds of "desertion."
Martha Gellhorn: Born on November 8, 1908 to a well-educated family, and one of four children, Martha Gellhorn graduated from John Burroughs School in 1926 but never finished her studies at Bryn Mawr College, instead pursuing a career as a foreign correspondent. A close friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, and well-known as an extremely accomplished journalist, she also wanted to write fiction. In November 21, 1940 Martha and Ernest were married - just two and a half weeks after his divorce to Pauline was finalized. Their marriage, however, did not last long, as Martha's strong will and Ernest's frequent drinking habits put them at odds. They were divorced in December 1945, without children.
Mary Welsh Hemingway: Born in Minnesota on April 5, 1908, Mary worked as a war correspondent and journalist, both within the United States and internationally. At the time she met Ernest, she was living in London and writing for Time. After her divorce from Noel Monks in 1945, she and Ernest were married in the spring of 1946 in Cuba. Eventually, they moved to Ketchum, Idaho. Ernest's marriage to Mary was the only one that did not end in divorce. Tragically, Mary became his widow in 1961 after Ernest's suicide.
For more information on the wives of Ernest Hemingway, check out Bernice Kert's fabulous book: The Hemingway Women: Those Who Loved Him - the Wives and Others