The Paris Wife

IMG_0756The last few weeks have been busy. There was some vacationing, which meant I needed a fun read on the endless plane rides.

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain is about Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson. Though this is a novel, McLain practiced meticulous research on Richardson, a woman eight years Hemingway’s senior. The novel begins with meeting Hemingway, who quickly becomes the center of her life, marrying her and taking her to Europe where she is the wife of the writer and friends with Pound, Stein, Fitzgerald, and other members of the Lost Generation.

It’s a thrilling life, but Richardson hopes to create the domestic home she’s dreamed of–to be the attentive wife and have children. As we all know, she’s married to Hemingway, who doesn’t encapsulate the “perfect husband.”

The whole unstable artist feels cliche, but Hemingway had difficulty staying loyal in a marriage, as we know from his biography. In addition, we don’t really hate Hemingway in this narrative (and he gets short chapters for his side of the story at times). I think a big reason we don’t hate Hemingway is that Richardson doesn’t. But there are moments where we see how awkward things become–the idea of an open marriage is taboo, yet common for many of the eccentric writers. And how can Richardson adapt to that, when she wanted a life of domesticity? We sympathize for Richardson when her social circle keeps praising her marriage with her husband, and how strong their bond is. She was the first wife, the one that supported her husband, went to Europe and back and watched his writing career take off. Obviously, their marriage doesn’t last, but Hemingway regards Richardson with respect for being his wife at a time when they lived in dreary apartments and were starting out.

The other thing I admired about this novel was seeing the fragile ego of Hemingway, how much he needed his writing to be a success. It was also interesting to see how he treated some of his mentors once he started to become a well-known writer, his anger that the public compared his writing style others because he was certain he was going something innovative.