A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.
Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway and her life changes forever. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group—the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy. Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and their circle of friends into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises. Hadley, meanwhile, strives to hold on to her sense of self as the demands of life with Ernest grow costly and her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Despite their extraordinary bond, they eventually find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unraveling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.
A heartbreaking portrayal of love and torn loyalty, The Paris Wife is all the more poignant because we know that, in the end, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.
Our second meeting would have appeared – to an outsider – a quieter affair.
This was NOT the case. There were only four of us – two of our possie unable to attend our amended date – but we chatted up a storm; managed to work in some of the most interesting literary tangent topics! Before we’d even begun – we’d lined up topics for later discussion. Especially for @L1nds; there was a specific Benedict Cumberbatch link through most of them.
Rather reluctantly; we dragged ourselves back to the point of our meeting – The Paris Wife. The person who picked the book opening with an apology for the rest of us – certainly an ominous beginning!
While we could most of us conceive of why this book was so popular – none of us had found the experience of reading it to be a pleasure. More than one of us noted that if this hadn’t been a book club choice; we’d have discarded it after the first few pages.
Personally; I found the blurb on the book to be very misleading. The cover image is great – evocative and empowering. It suggests a successful woman in the 40’s or 50’s who had embraced life and the chic environment of sweet Paris. The back of the book promised epic romance and betrayal in a fabulous local. Instead; we found our protagonist to be a dull character who watched the roaring 20’s (so why not pick an image from that time period?) from the sidelines – but one who never fully engaged with it.
One member was not a fan of Ernest Hemmingway and found it off putting that he was one of the primary characters. Having read his books – albeit a few years ago – we agreed that the character didn’t seem to have his voice. He seemed flatter than his famed full of life persona. And this account doesn’t seem to chime with his books from the same time frame.
Perhaps we all would have fared better if the book was strictly fictional – rather than based on actual people. It bothered some of us that throughout the book Hadley was portrayed as such a ‘good’ wholesome person. She rarely complained; never grumbled and seemed so passive within her own life. She had been invalided and seemed to bear it with good grace. Her fathers suicide had troubled her but did not damage her in any visible way. Her parents and her sister were in very unhappy marriages. Despite that; she never considered the realities of her own situation should her marriage also turn sour and jumped at the chance of marrying Ernest.
She is also dull – never demonstrated so clearly as in her letter writing from the first section of the book. Clearly the author had access to many wonderful letters between Ernest and Hadley. We’d have preferred to read them than this sideline view.
In a less than charitable moment, we discussed the fact that they were living off her money in Paris and wondered whether her purse – rather than her person – had been the charm in attracting him. In the end; our better selves prevailed and we agreed that there had been a real affection between the two of them.
We wandered off course for a bit and discussed Hadley as an archetype – wondering at the appeal of this type of super-innocent docile character. In the end; we decided that while she would appeal to particular types of readers – we didn’t happen to be them!
Another book clubber was quite upset to find that it was a Virago book; leading us to wonder whether this was one of those ‘clever’ reads – where you’re meant to feel like you are peeking behind the curtain. After all; there were numerous references to the literary elite of the time frame. However; while we were able to recognise particular conversations from their original settings (for example the Fitzgerald’s and The Great Gatsby); we found them to be very prosaic representations of them – going from beautiful to mundane.
This led us to wonder about the perspective of the book. After all; Hadley was adjasent to the great thinkers – at no point was she ever considered one of them. By herself especially. Because she’s so modest *eye roll*. So, when in the house of Gertrude Steiner; Hadley is off in the corner and the great minds are all off elsewhere. That for us was interesting. Not her (trying to be charitable here) smaller world view.
Moving onto the relationships within the books we were particularly unimpressed with Hadley’s acceptance of Pauline as her new best friend; especially once it had become clear to the reader – if not the primary protagonist – that Ernest was once again being unfaithful. Though we did speculate that in the post-war era; perhaps men were able to get away with more than now. There were so few of them…so many women… We wandered off on this for an enjoyable interlude.
Looking at Ernest and Hadley – they seemed to the reader to be doomed from the start. In the end; we thought that Hadley behaved nobly when she facilitated the seperation and subsequent divorce. But she just stepped aside! Just let him go…never actually trying to save their marriage. Grrr.
We bounced around for a little while longer – looking at the interest people have in reclaiming women from this time period; at how Hadley must have been more in real life then she was in this as there seems to be some interest in her; and how wed quite link to read some of the books that were referenced – before moving on to other book series that we loved.