The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, is a lilting story of the life of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson. Written from Hadley’s perspective, we get an inside look to what it was like to be a woman in the 1920’s married to a chauvinistic, self-obsessed man who is trying to make a name for himself in the literary world. It truly has the feel of an autobiography, although it is merely based on McLain’s historical research of the couple.
The love story opens in 1920 when Hadley and Ernest first meet. It starts as one of those boy pursues girl stories, in which Ernest chases and finally marries Hadley. Their marriage is one of deep love for each other, and lasts, perhaps longer than it should because of two things, the time period in which it occurred and Hadley’s deep feelings for Ernest.
While Ernest goes off every day to write the “one true sentence” he seeks, Hadley is left in their meagre apartment to amuse herself. Although Hadley’s trust fund finances their early married life, and Ernest seeks her honest opinion of much of his writing, she is not his equal, and her identity is tightly tied to her husband. Eventually she does return to her music and is just finding herself, going as far as planning a concert performance when their marriage reaches a turning point which causes her to cancel.
The best times of their marriage seem to be when they escape Paris for the Alps and have some real family time. It is during these holidays that Ernest is not so obsessed with his own writing and is occupied with other activities, allowing them to be truly together.
However, Ernest’s frequent affairs and quick temper wear on Hadley, finally culminating in her ability to end the marriage on her terms.
I enjoyed this story, and was able to sympathize with Hadley as she put up with Ernest’s behaviour. At times I was frustrated with all she endured, although the writing is very matter of fact and guides the reader to realize a woman’s limitations within the life and times of 1920’s Paris. The ending comes just as we are ready to give up on Hadley’s happiness, and I was glad that later on she did find someone who appreciated all she had to offer.
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