Monday, April 2, 2012

What I'm Reading: The Paris Wife

I was initially intrigued by this book for 2 reasons: 1) I developed a rather unnatural attachment to Paris while we were there and what I longed for most in a novel was a descriptive narration of the cafes and Parisian life in those cafes, tucked along the same streets where we had walked 6 months earlier and 2) I had just finished A Moveable Feast by Hemingway and felt like it was time to get Hadley's perspective on their marriage. 

I originally purchased A Moveable Feast about an hour after seeing City of Angels in the movie theater. So, yes...I've been toting an unread copy around with me for awhile. Hemingway's account of living in Paris with Hadley and their infant son Bumby is depicted as the events that interrupt his writing, drinking, and carousing in cafes and abroad. He goes into great detail about his friendships with Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and the Fitzgeralds, stopping occasionally to talk about how obnoxious Ford Maddox Ford was or how impulsive, thoughtless, and...well...crazy Scott and Zelda turned out to be. But he reflects very little on his marriage to Hadley and their lives as a family in 1920's Paris. He mentions that she was his first and only true love and that he certainly didn't deserve her. And after reading Hadley's version, that certainly seems to be the case. 

Hadley met Hemingway at a party in Chicago and he essentially whisked her away from all she knew to start a life in Paris. And I can easily imagine how intoxicating that would have been. At first. He was, according to many, charming, attractive, and ambitious. It's the holy trinity when you're a girl in your early 20's. I know...I've been there. And, at first, she embraced his writing and their lives among the expatriates. It didn't take long for the shine to wear off and for Hemingway to grow bored, always chasing the next unattainable. 

It is certainly difficult, at times, to keep reading simply because Hadley is so devoted to Hemingway that it evolves into desperation. She didn't exactly forgive his affairs, but she didn't press him on it for a very long time. She continued as the dutiful wife and mother, supporting his writing as best she could. Hemingway was absolutely correct; he did not deserve her. 

I guess what I found most troubling about this book is that I can absolutely envision Hadley's circumstances happening to any woman. She and Hemingway became good friends with 2 women, one of which was named Pauline. As Hemingway feverishly hammered out The Sun Also Rises, the 3 or 4 of them attended the running of the bulls and would sometimes travel on to Austria for a holiday of skiing together. Hadley considered Pauline a friend, someone who would never become involved with her husband. And yet...hoes be homewrecking. 

Haven't we all had that one friend who was just a little prettier than us...a little more glamorous...whose stories captured our husband's interest just a little too fully...and whose name was uttered around the house just a little too often? And it wasn't always a foregone conclusion that she understood: this man is off limits. He's mine. Get your own. These women are great fun in a crowd, when the wine is flowing and there are other men besides yours to distract her. But our sixth spidey senses tell us to not leave her alone with the Mr. He may be Captain Fantastic, but he is not above letting her rip that cape right off with her teeth.

Perhaps it sounds like I'm speaking from experience. And I am. But not with anyone who truly mattered. But when you're in the moment, you accept a lot that would otherwise be allowing your husband's lover to climb into bed with the two of you. How Hadley kept from stabbing her in the eye with the closest pointy object is beyond me. I only hope that she found true and everlasting love with her second husband and that, over time, her binding ties to Hemingway were severed completely and irrevocably.

I would recommend this book if you enjoy history about Paris in the 1920's, the expatriates, or the Hemingways in general. Also, if you are looking for a deeper insight into their marriage and what it was like to live in that era and don't mind a slow-moving novel. Hadley does, in the end, divorce Hemingway and go on to redeem herself as a strong woman who is capable of putting herself first again. And so if you like a good redemption story, this might be the one for you. But it's not a page-turner, there's no mystery, and it certainly doesn't inspire one to go out and be great. It's just the history of 2 people's lives during a unique era.


  1. This is a great review! I've been working on my summer reading list. This will now go on it. Thanks. You should start a blog book club and have us all link up with reviews once a month ;)

  2. Excellent review! I learned a few things about the Hemingways just by reading your review. Thank you!

  3. I have this book! I'm going to start reading it...I was scurred at first.

  4. This is on my Kindle to-read list, but perhaps I might take it off now. It kind of sounds boring and if the world is gonna end in December I'd rather read something a little more lively! Like about Zombies, lol!!! Hugs!

  5. Yes, this is a great review and much appreciated! I downloaded this book to my i-pod quite awhile ago and just haven't got around to listening to it yet. I'll have to pull it out and give it a go. I too wanted to read too for almost all the same reasons. I think after seeing the movie Midnight in Paris and realizing that I have never read Hemmingway and of course that much is set in Paris, that this would be a good book for me. Thanks for your review.

  6. I'm going to download it for this weekend. Not sure I have enough to make two train trips! Thanks.

    "See" you in a couple of hours... go 'cats!

  7. Thanks for the review! This is on my "gift list" for a friend who loves Hemingway and the expats, so I'm glad to know what you thought of it. =)


That's it, let it all out....