Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Paris Wife by Paula Mclain

The Paris WifeThe Paris Wife by Paula McLain

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The full name of Paula Mclain's novel is The Paris Wife – A Novel. I suppose the subtitle is to let the reader know this is historical fiction. Still, the big events seem to stick with the way things really went during the five year marriage of Elizabeth Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway.

They met in Chicago a short time after Hadley's mother died. They decided to move to Paris because as Sherwood Anderson tells Ernest: “Paris is the place to be. That's where the real writers are now. The rate of exchange is good. There are things to do at any hour. Everything's interesting and everyone has something to contribute.” But did Hemingway react in a controlled and understanding manner when Hadley lost three years of his manuscripts on a train bound for Lausanne, but react with fury when, on the same trip, Hadley told him she'd forgotten her diaphragm? There must have been some conjecture there.

The picture I got of Hadley and Ernest's personalities was of two opposites. Hadley seemed optimistic, supportive, but also whiny. Ernest seemed self-centered, dogmatic, and at times cruel. I don't know how much of their personalities was based on research, but it is a fact that The Torrents of Spring was a parody of the work of Sherwood Anderson, who had been a friend. Hemingway seemed to be someone who was willing to step on others to advance his career and willing to hurt others to show off. It was interesting to note that Hadley had a successful marriage after their divorce while Ernest went through four wives then committed suicide.

Although I believe the Hemingway marriage didn't last because Hadley and Ernest weren't good together, the book seems to put much of the blame on the Paris scene. They spent most of their time partying with rich friends from the art and literary world. Ernest's second wife was Pauline Pfeiffer, who was part of their crowd and a friend of Hadley's. They tried to be a threesome for awhile, which was in keeping with the anything goes attitude of that time and place, but it didn't work for Hadley. The fact that she tried says a great deal about her personality.

This book presents an interesting view of one of the world's greatest writers. It is well worth reading.

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