Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Readings and Greetings: The Paris Wife

Our book club just read and enjoyed The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.  My first response to the prologue was, "Oh, how can I possible read another sad story."  Even though the book is fiction, McLain has done her homework, much like Gwendolyn Brooks does with her great novels such as Caleb's Crossing and People of the Book.  The book is written in first person, and I honestly felt like Hadley, Hadley Richardson, Hemingway's first wife, was vividly telling the story as if it were in the most recent past instead of nearly one hundred years ago.

Ernest and Hadley (kinkanon.blogspot.com)
Perhaps I found sadness when others might not, because of heart ache and memory of a dreadful war called Vietnam, and it's lifelong effects on those who fought and the families who were touched by the tragedies around them.  Reflecting on the relationship Hadley and Ernest developed from the time they met and married in Chicago through the years in Paris, and the birth of their son, Bumby, she writes, "Why couldn't we stop drinking or talking or kissing the wrong people no matter what it ruined.  Some of us had looked into the faces of the dead and tried not to remember anything in particular.  Ernest was one of these.  He often said he'd died in the war, just for a moment; that his soul had left his body like a silk handkerchief, slipping out and levitating over his chest.  It had returned without being called back, and I often wondered if writing for him was a way of knowing his soul was there after all, back in its place."  

I'm not nor have ever been a Hemingway fan because his life was so bullish and brash;  he steals and shreds the life from Hadley and the friends who surround them.  I stayed mad at Ernest as I read Hadley's story, and I yearned for Hadley to stand her ground.  When they first met and she read some of Ernest's first works (as yet unpublished and unknown) she said, "You're very talented..."  Ernest listened and glowed with her response and then seemed to sum up his feelings for her immediately, "I like you, you know.  You're a good clear sort."  Forty years later, before he committed suicide he talked with Hadley (Tatie, as they lovingly called each other),  and it was good to know that he still cared and respected her, afterall.

McLain's writing was as powerful as the characters in the story.  "Ernest's mother, Grace, met us at the door herself, literally pushing the servants to the side to do it.  She was plump and plush, with a sheaf of graying hair piled on her head...I could see why Ernest fought against her.  She was bigger and louder than anything else around her, like my own mother.  She changed the gravity of the room; she made everything happen."  Of course, the story was a name dropping conversation in Paris with the lives of the famous; Gertrude Stein, Alice Tolkas,  Ezra Pound, John Dos Passos, F.Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald,  Sherwood Anderson, Chanel, even Benito Mussolini,  was interviewed by Ernest.  The description of Gertrude's salon showed the times, "The walls were covered with paintings by heroes of cubism and postimpressionism and the otherwise highly modern--Henri Matisse, Andre Derain, Paul Guaguin, Juan Gris, and Paul Cezanne.  One striking example was a portrait of Stein done by Picasso, who had long been in her social circle, and often attended her salon."  Aside from the flamboyant characters, the strong women with money and time, there were the trips or excursions to Lake Geneva, to Austria,  to Italy, to the French countryside, to the mountain streams in Spain, a summer home in Antibes where Hadley befriends the woman who would split their marriage, Pauline, and then to the blood and gore of the bullfights in Pamplona.

As Hadley finishes her story of the years they lived in Paris and of the time when Ernest wrote his first successful novel, The Sun Also Rises, she and I realize that those were good years; that she and Ernest shared their lives, and both of them became better stronger people because of their relationship.  Was it sad? Yes.   But did I feel a part of their lives and escape my world through their vastly explosive, yet romantic,  experiences? Yes.  Sometimes that is all I ask of a story.


  1. Your comments are right on!

  2. Great blog on The Paris Wife, you captured the essence of the book. Thanks.

  3. Your comments are "Right On!"