I just finished The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. It is the story of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife (not to be confused with the other three). It is told from his wife’s perspective.
Ernest Hemingway was a jerk and he had a wife who loved him. Older by about seven years, Hadley, Hemingway’s first wife, married him when he was only a promise of a writer. But she believed in him. She encouraged him through his insecurities about his skill, how he matched up to other writers of the time, and through his fears about life. It is the sad story of Hadley’s deep love and devotion to a man with whom she fell in love long before there was hope of The Old Man and the Sea, or The Sun Also Rises.
Ernest and Hadley strive to live an honest, if even at times painfully honest, life together. Hadley doesn’t shy away from the knowledge that Hemingway loved deeply before she came along, and sadly, she continued loving him even after their divorce and his remarriage to wife number two, Pauline.
Soon into the marriage, Hadley is shocked at herself for how much she absolutely depends on Hemingway. She hates the weakness and determines to appear strong even if she can’t be entirely strong. Hemingway’s life with Hadley seems so right and then he goes and spoils it all.
Moving to Paris, instead of the originally intended Italy, gives the Hemingways access to some of the most interesting parlors of the day: Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound. Bad company seems to corrupt, their association with all the free love artists and writers has its effect.
If you are at all acquainted with Ernest Hemingway’s life, you know this is not his only marriage, you know he commits suicide, and you know he becomes a very great writer. But, Paula McLain does such an excellent job of getting inside the head of Hadley that you find yourself hoping that history might rewrite itself as you read. Alas.
Paula McLain is herself such an excellent writer that it was pure pleasure to read of Hemingway’s journey to being a great writer through McLain’s words.