‘The Paris Wife,” by Paula McLain, is a biographical novel about Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson. The author uses real names, real places and real events as the foundation for her fiction and even includes “a note of sources” at the back of the book.
The novel is written in the first person, narrated by Hadley, and tells the story of their relationship (courtship), marriage and divorce. They met in Chicago in 1920 when Hadley was 28 and Ernest 21. They married in less than a year, then moved to Paris.
Ms. McLain’s description of the glittering 1920s in the City of Light allows her to place the couple in the midst of expatriates such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and Ezra Pound. At the time, Ernest was on his way to becoming an acknowledged writer. They lived off money from Hadley’s small trust and what little her husband earned as a journalist.
Their shared adventures in France, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and Spain, hiking, skiing and fishing helped them deepen their relationship. Hadley was also discovering the awakening of her own strength and self-worth. Her voice is strong and sad at the same time. Their life in Paris, the birth of their first child and the betrayal by her husband with their close friend, Pauline Pfeffer, makes this an interesting read. The complex and layered relationship of Hadley and Hemingway is clearly written as the novel shares with the reader the break-up of their relationship.
“The Paris Wife” may not add insight to history, but it does add flesh to an iconic American writer.