The Paris Wife review

The Paris Wife review


At the end of Hemingway’s A Movable Feast, he writes about his first wife, Hadley Richardson, “I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her.” Powerful stuff, but until I read The Paris Wife I never really knew much about Hadley.

Part biography, part novel, The Paris Wife is the fictional retelling of the love story between Ernest Hemmingway and his first wife. Author Paula McLain does a wonderful job of bringing Hemingway and Hadley to life, along with a colourful cast of other characters such as Paris’s Lost Generation: Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

The story starts in Chicago, where Hadley and Hemingway met, and St Louis, where Hadley lived. They fall madly in love, marry, and move to Paris on Hadley’s inheritance money. Right from the start you question Hadley’s staying power—she’s 8-years older than Ernest and comes across as unfashionable and… sturdy. Perhaps appealing in St Louis, but you know she won’t stand a chance in Paris.

It’s here, in their run down apartment in the Latin Quarter that the book really picks up. Their social life, Hemingway’s work, Gertrude Stein’s salons, their extensive travels in Italy, Germany, Austria and Spain… it’s a classic Roadmance read merging picturesque locations with the very real struggles they had maintaining their marriage.

Hemingway was obviously a difficult man, with the depression that eventually killed him shadowing him even then. Hadley was his anchor. He was also charismatic, and wielded that charisma like a sword, regularly hurting Hadley with his flirtations with other women. I felt for her, but at times I really wished she’d grow some backbone and give him the serve he deserved. Especially when Pauline Pfeiffer arrived in their life.

I’d be interested to read more about Pauline. In The Paris Wife she comes across as the sneaky sophisticate who befriends Hadley, only to steal her husband. We all know that Pauline became Hemingway’s second wife, but I still hoped for another outcome… Despite her often frustrating passivity, I was team Hadley all the way. But of course Hemingway got the divorce he wanted, yet later in life regretted.

“I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her.”

After reading The Paris Wife, I understand why.