The Paris Wife

Paula McLain

Amid recent appreciation for 1920s Lost Generation literary life (see Woody Allen’s clever homage, Midnight in Paris) comes Paula McLain’s biographical novel written from the perspective of Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway’s first wife. McLain’s fiction follows the Hemingways from their introduction in Chicago in 1920 through the publication of Hemingway’s breakthrough novel, The Sun Also Rises (1926). While this period of the famous author’s life has been well-documented in Hemingway’s own posthumously published work—A Moveable Feast (1964), The Garden of Eden (1986)—The Paris Wife adds a hauntingly life-like dimension to a legend laden with machismo and braggadocio. Hadley’s story is both noble and heart-breaking in her unwavering support of the man and writer and the sacrifice of her own professional pursuits as an accomplished pianist in order to care for their infant son, Bumby, while Hemingway struggled to make his start writing stories in Paris cafés; and in her dedication to the marriage long after her love had been discarded. McLain’s portrayal is that of a man with many imperfections; a man traumatized by war and death yet full of life, an “incomparable friend and a son of a bitch” who wanted everything and nothing but his art.