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The Paris Wife

February 13, 2011

A new novel offers a glimpse of Hadley Richardson, Hemingway’s first wife, and a woman it seems he never quite got over.

Paula McLain brings us The Paris Wife, a love story of the young Hemingways, a Midwestern couple exploring the salons and cafes of Paris in the Twenties.

From the publisher Random House:

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.

We know the sad ending. Hemingway leaves Hadley for the more glamorous Pauline. He’ll leave Pauline, too, as he embarks on a series of affairs and marriages that never seem to bring him the happiness he’s searching for.

I’m excited to pick up The Paris Wife. Ernest has had his share of ink. It’s about time Hadley gets some attention. The book is gaining some momentum, too. The Christian Science Monitor listed it among five novels for the new year.

“As McLain expresses how their union gave way to betrayal and torment,” writes the New Jersey Star-Ledger, “Hemingway’s own words from “The Moveable Feast” come to mind. There was a time, he wrote sadly, when “we were very poor and very happy.”

Here’s Paula McLain talking about the novel.