Enter the world of Hemingway before he became a big name and one of the greatest writers of his generation.
In McLain’s novel, she gives readers the opportunity to see how Hemingway was influenced by his life in Europe. In Paris, he lived a poor life with his first wife, Hadley, who was eight years older than him. The two fell in love instantly and despite objections from friends, they married. In Paris, the Hemingways made friends with Gertrude Stein, Pound, the Fitzgeralds, and more. It was after hearing stories from Stein about the bullfighting in Spain that Hemingway began to vacation annually every summer.
While The Paris Wife is a historical fiction, McLain did plenty of research to make sure the events transpired in her novel were true. For those who have read Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises it’s an interesting read to see how his first major book came about. As it turns out, the story was inspired by true events from Ernest’s trip to Pamplona with friends and his wife. Only when it came to writing the novel, his wife wasn’t fit for the story and was never included. Ernest writes himself as the impotent character Jake Barnes, the lead character and another of the men in the group in love with the female lead character, Lady Brett. While Hemingway is in no way impotent, it may symbolize how he felt for the woman Lady Brett was inspired from, and did not seek to take further action beyond flirting with her.
Through Hadley’s marriage with Ernest, we see the strength she has gained. Being with Ernest made her strong. As a child, she used to be curious and strong-willed. Then after falling out of a window as a child causing her to be bedridden for a while, her mother babied her and she became weak and repressed. We see the weak side of her when Ernest leaves her alone for a few weeks for a trip. She grows fatigued and whiny. With the news of an unexpected pregnancy, Hadley gains the courage and confidence she needs. It’s only a shame that she becomes weak again when Ernest starts an affair with what becomes wife #2.
In Paris, the Hemingways observe an unconventional lifestyle through their artistic friends. It’s common for men to have mistresses and for their wives to accept it. Hadley worries that being around these type of men will encourage Ernest to take a mistress and when that happens, Hadley lives with it for a time. The pain she goes through as she experiences a life with Ernest and another woman on the side is almost unbearable. Questions such as how can she let this continue? When will she draw the line? came through my mind and I wanted to smack Ernest for her quite a few times. However, the answer to those thoughts are simply that she loves him. It tears him apart too, to hurt her that way but he can’t help falling in love with the other woman. She wants to hold on to him for so long, but I don’t think she fought hard enough and early enough to keep him in place. By the end of Hemingway’s life in the ’60s, he still writes in his memoir that he loved Hadley and it probably continued to pain him that he hurt her in such a way.
The novel is all through the eyes of Hadley and this way we get to see Ernest intimately. It’s worth the read, and I couldn’t put the book down. The Paris Wife can make you feel happy but incredibly sad for how the Hemingways marriage turned out. At least Hadley still had her happy ending.