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McClain lets Hadley ‘Step into the Light’

March 1, 2011

Paula McLain. Photo: Stephen Curti.

“The very first thing he does is fix me with those wonderfully brown eyes and say, ‘It’s possible I’m too drunk to judge, but you might have something there.’”

So reads a passage from The Paris Wife, the novel by Paula McClain published by Ballantine, which was won rave reviews for its fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife Hadley Richardson.

NPR ran a thoughtful interview with McClain, and includes an excerpt from the book. (You can find the text and the audio here.) A highlight is a vintage recorded interview with Hadley where she talks about the decline of their relationship, and her ongoing affection for him nonetheless:

“It was the greatest relief,” Richardson said. “I didn’t expect it would be, but it was. Ernest was a terrific responsibility. And when he wasn’t happy, when he was leading a double life and everything, it was just awfully hard. I just didn’t care for it.”

It was a line from A Moveable Feast that inspired the novel, McLain told reporter Lynn Neary: “I wished I had died before I loved anyone but her … I loved her and I loved no one else and we had a lovely magic time when we were alone.”

That sent McLain imagining what that Paris looked like not through Hemingway’s eyes, but through Hadley’s.

“[I was] giving her an opportunity to step into the light for a moment, out of the fringes of literary history,” she said.