The Paris Wife: A Novel
by Paula Mclain

Published: 2012-11-27
Kindle Edition : 336 pages
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This new deluxe eBook edition features more than ninety additional pages of exclusive, author-approved annotations throughout the text, which contain new illustrations and photographs, to enrich your reading experience. You can access the eBook annotations with a simple click or tap on your eReader via the convenient links. Access them as you read the novel or as supplemental material after finishing the entire story. There is also Random House Reader’s Circle bonus content, which is sure to inspire discussion at book clubs everywhere.
“A beautiful portrait of being in Paris in the glittering 1920s—as a wife and one’s own woman.”—Entertainment Weekly
A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures the love affair between Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Europe, where they become swept up in the hard-drinking, fast-living, and free-loving life of Jazz Age Paris—hanging out with a volatile group that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. As Ernest struggles to find his literary voice and Hadley strives to hold on to her sense of self, 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.
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY PeopleChicago Tribune • NPR • The Philadelphia Inquirer • Kirkus Reviews • The Toronto Sun • BookPage
“[Paula] McLain has brought Hadley to life in a novel that begins in a rush of early love. . . . A moving portrait of a woman slighted by history, a woman whose . . . story needed to be told.”—The Boston Globe
The Paris Wife creates the kind of out-of-body reading experience that dedicated book lovers yearn for, nearly as good as reading Hemingway for the first time—and it doesn’t get much better than that.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Exquisitely evocative . . . This absorbing, illuminating book gives us an intimate view of a sympathetic and perceptive woman, the striving writer she married, the glittering and wounding Paris circle they were part of. . . . McLain reinvents the story of Hadley and Ernest’s romance with the lucid grace of a practiced poet.”—The Seattle Times

Editorial Review

Author Paula McLain on The Paris Wife
Most of us know or think we know who Ernest Hemingway was -- a brilliant writer full of macho swagger, driven to take on huge feats of bravery and a pitcher or two of martinis -- before lunch. But beneath this man or myth, or some combination of the two, is another Hemingway, one weâ??ve never seen before. Hadley Richardson, Hemingwayâ??s first wife, is the perfect person to reveal him to us -- and also to immerse us in the incredibly exciting and volatile world of Jazz-age Paris.

The idea to write in Hadleyâ??s voice came to me as I was reading Hemingwayâ??s memoir, A Moveable Feast, about his early years in Paris. In the final pages, he writes of Hadley, â??I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.â?? That line, and his portrayal of their marriage -- so tender and poignant and steeped in regret -- inspired me to search out biographies of Hadley, and then to research their brief and intense courtship and letters -- they wrote hundreds and hundreds of pages of delicious pages to another!

I couldnâ??t help but fall in love with Hadley, and through her eyes, with the young Ernest Hemingway. He was just twenty when they met, handsome and magnetic, passionate and sensitive and full of dreams. I was surprised at how much I liked and admired him -- and before I knew it, I was entirely swept away by their gripping love story.

I hope you will be as captivated by this remarkable couple as I am -- and by the fascinating world of Paris in the 20â??s, the fast-living, ardent and tremendously driven Lost Generation.

A Look Inside The Paris Wife

Ernest and Hadley Hemingway, Chamby, Switzerland, winter 1922

Ernest and Hadley Hemingway on their wedding day, 1921

Ernest, Hadley, and Bumby, Schruns, Austria, 1925

The Hemingways and friends at a cafe in Pamplona, Spain
Guest Reviewer: Helen Simonson on The Paris Wife

Helen Simonson is the New York Times bestselling author of Major Pettigrewâ??s Last Stand. She was born in England and spent her teenage years in a small village in East Sussex. A graduate of the London School of Economics and former travel advertising executive, she has lived in America for the past two decades. After many years in Brooklyn, she now lives with her husband and two sons in the Washington, D.C., area.

Paula McLain has taken on the task of writing a story most of us probably think we already know--that of a doomed starter wife. To make life more difficult, McLain proposes to tell us about Ernest Hemingwayâ??s first wife, Hadley Richardson, who is a twenty-eight-year-old Midwestern spinster when she marries the twenty-one-year-old unpublished, (but already cocksure) writer and runs off to Paris with him. The talent and joy of this novel is that McLain does a startling job of making us understand this as a great love story and seducing us into caring deeply, about both Ernest and Hadley, as their marriage eventually comes apart.

This novel moves beyond the dry bones of biography or skewed personal vision of memoir, and takes a leap into the emotional lives of these characters. It is a leap of faith for those readers who think they know Hemingway, but McLainâ??s voice sticks close enough to historical material, and to the words and tone of Hemingwayâ??s own writing, to be convincing. She had me at the description of young Hadleyâ??s father committing suicide.

â??The carpets had been cleaned but not changed out for new, the revolver had been emptied and polished and placed back in his desk.â??

Hadley is also crippled by a childhood fall and trapped into spinsterhood by her motherâ??s declining health and eventual death. By the time she meets Hemingway, we are rooting for her to make a break for foreign shores--even as we understand the danger of marrying a tempestuous man. Hemingway is all nervous purpose, ambition and charisma as he meets Hadley and is drawn to her quiet strength and ordinary American sweetness. In his youth and uncertainty, she is his rock and yet we already suspect that as he grows in artistic power, she will become an unwanted anchor. Through Hadleyâ??s eyes and plain-speaking voice, we see all of twenties Paris and the larger-than-life artists who gather in the cafes. We drink tea with Gertrude Stein and champagne with Fitzgerald and Zelda. We run with the bulls in Pamplona and spend winters in alpine chalets. And we see, through her love for him, the young writer becoming the Hemingway of legend. Perhaps it is the nature of all great artists to be completely selfish and obnoxious, but Hadleyâ??s voice is always one of compassion. Even as Hemingway leaves her completely out of The Sun also Rises, even as Hemingway publicly flirts with other women, she continues to explain and defend him. It is a testament to Paula McLain that the reader is slow to dislike Hemingway, even as he slowly and inexorably betrays Hadleyâ??s trust.

I loved this novel for its depiction of two passionate, yet humanly-flawed people struggling against impossible odds--poverty, artistic fervor, destructive friendships--to cling on to each other. I raise a toast to Paula McLainâ??s sure talent.



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."

It's October 1920 and jazz is everywhere. I don't know any jazz, so I'm playing Rachmaninoff. I can feel a flush beginning in my cheeks from the hard cider my dear pal Kate Smith has stuffed down me so I'll relax. I'm getting there, second by second. It starts in my fingers, warm and loose, and moves along my nerves, rounding through me. I haven't been drunk in over a year--not since my mother fell seriously ill--and I've missed the way it comes with its own perfect glove of fog, settling snugly and beautifully over my brain. I don't want to think and I don't want to feel, either, unless it's as simple as this beautiful boy's knee inches from mine. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

In many ways, Hadley's girlhood in St. Louis was a difficult and repressive experience. How do her early years prepare her to meet and fall in love with Ernest? What does life with Ernest offer her that she hasn't encountered before? What are the risks?

Hadley and Ernest don't get a lot of encouragement from their friends and family when they decided to marry. What seems to draw the two together? What are some of the strengths of their initial attraction and partnership? The challenges?

The Ernest Hemingway we meet in THE PARIS WIFE—through Hadley's eyes—is in many ways different from the ways we imagine him when faced with the largeness of his later persona. What do you see as his character strengths? Can you see what Hadley saw in him?

The Hemingways spontaneously opt for Paris over Rome when the get key advice from Sherwood Anderson. What was life like for them when they first arrived? How did Hadley's initial feelings about Paris differ from Ernest's and why?

Throughout THE PARIS WIFE, Hadley refers to herself as "Victorian" as opposed to "modern." What are some of the ways she doesn't feel like she fits into life in bohemian Paris? How does this impact her relationship with Ernest? Her self-esteem? What are some of the ways Hadley's "old-fashioned" quality can be seen as a strength and not a weakness?

Hadley and Ernest's marriage survived for many years in Jazz-Age Paris, an environment that had very little patience for monogamy and other traditional values. What in their relationship seems to sustain them? How does their marriage differ from those around them? Pound's and Shakespeare's? Scott and Zelda's?

Most of THE PARIS WIFE is written in Hadley's voice, but a few select passages come to us from Ernest's point of view. What impact does getting Ernest's perspective have on our understanding of their marriage? How does it affect your ability to understand him and his motivations in general?

What was the role of literary spouses in 1920's Paris? How is Hadley challenged and restricted by her gender? Would those restrictions have changed if she had been an artist and not merely a "wife"?

At one point, Ezra Pound warns Hadley that it would be a dire mistake to let parenthood change Ernest. Is there a nugget of truth behind his concern? What are some of the ways Ernest is changed by Bumby's birth? What about Hadley? What does motherhood bring to her life, for better or worse?

One of the most wrenching scenes in the book is when Hadley loses a valise containing all of Ernest's work to date. What kind of turning point does this mark for the Hemingway's marriage? Do you think Ernest ever forgives her?

When the couple moves to Toronto to have Bumby, Ernest tries his best to stick it out with a regular "nine-to-five" reporter's job, and yet he ultimately finds this impossible. Why is life in Toronto so difficult for Ernest? Why does Hadley agree to go back to Paris earlier than they planned, even though she doesn't know how they'll make it financially? How does she benefit from supporting his decision to make a go at writing only fiction?

Hadley and Ernest had similar upbringings in many ways. What are the parallels, and how do these affect the choices Hadley makes as a wife and mother?

In THE PARIS WIFE, when Ernest receives his contract for In Our Time, Hadley says, "He would never again be unknown. We would never again be this happy." How did fame affect Ernest and his relationship with Hadley?

The Sun Also Rises is drawn from the Hemingways' real-life experiences with bullfighting in Spain. Ernest and his friends are clearly present in the book, but Hadley is not. Why? In what ways do you think Hadley is instrumental to the book regardless, and to Ernest's career in general?

How does the time and place—Paris in the 20's—affect Ernest and Hadley's marriage? What impact does the war, for instance, have on the choices and behavior of the expatriate artists surrounding the Hemingways? Do you see Ernest changing in response to the world around him? How, and how does Hadley feel about those changes?

What was the nature of the relationship between Hadley and Pauline Pfeiffer? Were they legitimately friends? How do you see Pauline taking advantage of her intimate position in the Hemingway's life? Do you think Hadley is naïve for not suspecting Pauline of having designs on Ernest earlier? Why or why not?

It seems as if Ernest tries to make his marriage work even after Pauline arrives on the scene. What would Hadley it have cost Hadley to stick it out with Ernest no matter what? Is there a way she could have fought harder for her marriage?

In many ways, Hadley is a very different person at the end of the novel than the girl who encounters Ernest by chance at a party. How do you understand her trajectory and transformation? Are there any ways she essentially doesn't change?

When Hemingway's biographer Carlos Baker interviewed Hadley Richardson near the end of her life, he expected her to be bitter, and yet she persisted in describing Ernest as a "prince." How can she have continued to love and admire him after the way he hurt her?

Ernest Hemingway spent the last months of his life tenderly reliving his first marriage in the pages his memoir, A Moveable Feast. In fact, it was the last thing he wrote before his death. Do you think he realized what he'd truly lost with Hadley?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Hadley Richardson was Ernest Hemingway's first wife; yet for many of us, she is largely unknown, a woman at the fringes of literary history. Why did you decide to write a novel about her, and why did you choose THE PARIS WIFE as your title?

I first came to know Hadley in the pages of A Moveable Feast, Hemingway's remarkable memoir of his years in Paris. His reminiscences of Hadley were so moving that I decided to seek out biographies of her life—and that's when I knew what I'd found something special. Her voice and the arc of her life were riveting. She's the perfect person to show us a side of Hemingway we've never seen before—tender, vulnerable, and very human—but she's also an extraordinary person in her own right.

As for the book's title, although to many Hadley might simply appear to be Hemingway's "Paris wife"—the way Pauline Pfeiffer became known as his "Key West wife" and Martha Gelhorn as his "Spanish Civil War wife"—Hadley was actually fundamental to the rest of his life and career. He couldn't have become the writer we know now without her influence.

How did you go about re-creating the world that Hadley and Ernest inhabited?

I began by reading biographies of them both, their correspondence, and Hemingway's work from that time—particularly The Sun Also Rises and his story collection In Our Time. A Moveable Feast was also enormously useful, as were several other biographies—on Stein, the Fitzgeralds, the Murphy's—and books about what Paris was like in the 20's. What a singular time in history! It was thrilling to be with them in the cafés, in the middle of those quintessential conversations.

At a certain point, however, it was equally important for me to close the books, step away from the historical record, and simply immerse myself in the world I was creating. Biographies can only be so useful to a novelist interested in the story beyond the facts on record, complete with emotional intricacies a biographer would never presume to know. For instance, the dénouement of the Hemingway's marriage, from Pauline Pfeiffer's arrival at Schruns to the end of the "dangerous summer" in Antibes and Pamplona, occupies five pages in the most well-regarded biography of Hemingway's life—but it's the absolute core of my story.

Why did Hadley and Ernest fall for each other? Many of their friends seemed to find it an unlikely pairing, especially given the fact that Hadley was several years older and less worldly than her husband.

Ernest was awfully young when he proposed—off the cuff in a letter, no less—but he seemed to know instinctively that in order to pursue his wildly ambitious creative path, he would need to be anchored by someone like Hadley, who was not just solid and reliable, but absolutely real. She trusted the essence of their partnership, too, the way they brought out the best in each other, and so was able to take the leap. It was a leap too—this small-town, "Victorian" girl moving to Bohemian Paris—but one that paid off in spades. She said later that when she decided to hook her star to Ernest's she exploded into life.

The Ernest Hemingway we meet in THE PARIS WIFE—through Hadley's eyes—is in many ways different from the way many of us envision him today. What was he like as a young man and a budding novelist?

The myth and reputation of the later Hemingway—all swagger and feats of bravery—stands in sharp contrast to his twenty-something self, and makes him all the more fascinating to me. He had incredibly high ideals as a young man, was sensitive and easily hurt. Hadley often spoke of his "opaque eyes," which showed every thought and feeling. She would know in an instant if she'd wounded him, and then feel terrible. That vulnerability alone will surprise many readers, I think.

In THE PARIS WIFE, Ernest and Hadley's romance blossoms through a series of letters. Indeed, he proposes through the mail. Are these letters drawn from real life, and can you imagine anything like that happening in today's world?

Ernest and Hadley burned up the postal lines between St. Louis and Chicago. Hundreds and hundreds of pages flew back and forth, and they essentially fell in love that way. Most of Ernest's letters to Hadley have been lost or destroyed, but he saved every letter she ever wrote to him. Her charm and candor and winning humor come through in every line. In her first letter to him, for instance, she wrote, "Do you want to smoke in the kitchen? Should say I do!" I fell in love with her too!

The Hemingways originally planned to go to Rome in 1920, but they opted for Paris instead at the suggestion of Sherwood Anderson. What was life like for them when they first arrived in Paris? Did Ernest and Hadley fall in love with it immediately?

Ernest loved Paris immediately—their working-class neighborhood, the raw and real quality of peasant life. He trusted that in a way he didn't trust the "artists" talking rot and drinking themselves sick in the cafés. He was such a purist then! Hadley definitely needed more time to warm up to Bohemian Paris, which couldn't have been more different from what she knew in St. Louis. When it did begin to grow on her, it was the intellectual life that appealed to her most, smart and interesting people engaged in something new and fresh. She loved great conversation and didn't want to be put in a corner with the "wives," the way she often was at Gertrude Stein's famous salon.

Throughout THE PARIS WIFE, Hadley refers to herself as "Victorian" as opposed to "modern." Why, and how did that impact her life in Paris and relationship with Ernest?

Hadley didn't have the edge, hunger or shrewdness she saw in the modern girls around her, and often didn't think she could compete with those women, dressed to the nines and exuding sexual confidence in the cafés. After she became a mother, she felt this even more sharply. She began to worry that Ernest's head would be turned, that she couldn't keep up with him. She was right, ultimately, but I couldn't help admiring Hadley's old-fashioned quality, the way she remained herself in a thorny and volatile world.

Their marriage survived for many years in a bohemian environment that discouraged monogamy. Why was theirs such a powerful and fruitful partnership?

They understood each other profoundly, and they knew that what they had was solid and true, and incredibly rare. He opened her up and encouraged her to live more broadly, more passionately. She anchored him, made him feel safe and loved and free to pursue his genius. They actually complemented each other perfectly.

Most of THE PARIS WIFE is written in Hadley's voice; but you decided to write a few passages in Ernest's voice. What challenges did you face in depicting his marriage and the world through his eyes?

The number one challenge was simply having the confidence to believe I could channel his voice and consciousness, and pull it off. The leanness and muscularity of the prose felt exotic, not at all like my natural style, but was ultimately liberating and ridiculously fun.

I also think that seeing their world through his point of view helped me identify and sympathize with him in important ways. This is a more complex and balanced portrayal than I first intended to write, and a truer one I think.

What was the role of literary spouses in the world of A Moveable Feast?

In many cases, the role was supportive only, sitting in the wives corner with Alice Toklas as she attended to her needlepoint—while on the other side of the room the "artist's" talk crackled with excitement and invention. But some of the literary wives had strange and even toxic power—Zelda Fitzgerald, for instance. It was important to Hadley that she not try to run Ernest's life but be his ally and his best friend. I think of her as essential to his emotional foundation, and that's when the word "supportive" takes on a new strength and meaning.

How did you envision and recreate Ernest's conversations and relationships with mentors like Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein, who had such a major impact on his career?

In most cases, I took some well-documented thread of literary lore—Stein telling Hemingway to throw out all the work of his first novel and begin again "without so much description," or Pound advising him to "make it new"—and then fleshed it out into a scene, fully imagining the dialogue and context. I wanted them to be real people, not taking heads, not just symbols of our literary history. One of my favorite moments in the book is when Pound recounts the story of how he got fired from his teaching job in Indiana for roasting a chicken (and seducing and actress!), while they're all swilling back the absinthe. That scene was so much fun to write!

One of the most wrenching scenes in the book is when Hadley loses a valise containing all of Ernest's work to date. Did that really happen? Did it mark a turning point in their marriage, and if so how did things change?

That did happen, unfortunately, and in some ways their marriage never recovered. It's not that Ernest believed Hadley lost the manuscripts on purpose, trying to sabotage his career (as some biographers and critics have suggested), but it did introduce a potentially irrevocable flaw. Ernest required absolute loyalty and reliability, and he began to wonder if he could trust her. More importantly, he wondered if she could really understand what his work meant to him, how it was part of his soul. If she could leave the manuscripts unattended on a train, could she really know how valuable they were? What they were worth?

Hadley is the grandmother of Margot and Mariel Hemingway. Yet having children wasn't necessarily part of Ernest's plan when he married her. How did they respond to the surprise of parenthood, and how did their own childhoods impact their reaction?

Ernest resisted fatherhood because he was terrified that a baby would compromise his ambitions and create a financial burden. Over time, however, he began to see it was an opportunity to create a family, an inviolable unit in opposition to his own upbringing. He and Hadley both had "dangerous" families that did more harm than good. They wanted something else for their son Bumby, and believed that was worth struggling for.

In THE PARIS WIFE, when Ernest receives his contract for In Our Time, you write, "He would never again be unknown. We would never again be this happy." How did fame affect Ernest and his relationship with Hadley?

It's a powerful seduction to have knowledgeable people whispering in your ear that you're a genius. It was too much for Ernest. The more susceptible he became to the opinions and manipulations of others, the more he lost sight of what he'd always admired and found true. Certain friends believed he needed a woman who moved at a faster pace than Hadley, one who could help him move to the next phase of his career. He never forgave himself for listening to that advice.

The Sun Also Rises is drawn from the Hemingways' real-life experiences with bullfighting in Spain. Ernest and his friends are clearly present in the book, but Hadley is not. Why? Do you think Ernest would have written the novel without her? To what extent was she instrumental in fostering Ernest's literary career?

The characters in The Sun Also Rises are devastatingly empty and disaffected. That makes for a great story, but I don't think that Hadley could ever be part of it. She was too noble in Ernest's mind to be woven into that human messiness. She wasn't in the book as a character, but was absolutely imperative to its making. Ernest never could have written it without her support—both financial and emotional—and all the ways she bolstered and encouraged him. If you think about it, if he didn't have the utter stability of life with Hadley, he would likely have been down in the muck of that world, too, unable to see it and depict it so powerfully.

Through Hadley's eyes, it's clear that Paris itself changed over the course of the Hemingways' marriage. In what ways?

Paris after the war seemed to grow more unstable and disenchanted with traditional values, more fascinated by the shockingly new. That pull is darkly magnetic for Ernest, and Hadley begins to wonder if she recognizes her husband anymore, or likes the change in him. That tension grows and marks the beginning of the end for them—which is all the more tragic when we know that later, Ernest would have given anything to return to the simplicity and bliss of a simpler Paris, and the best part of his life with Hadley.

How had Hadley changed by the end of her marriage?

Even with the failure of the Hemingway's marriage, Hadley is better off having known and loved Ernest. If you think of the emotional pain and physical restriction of her girlhood, you see how dramatic her change is. She blooms in her years with Ernest, and discovers a strength and resilience she didn't know she had. Motherhood changes her too—she finds her purpose, her core. In the end, the resources she finds in herself over the course of her marriage to Ernest help her survive the pain of its unraveling.

What happened to Hadley and their son Bumby after the divorce? Do you think she found that sort of sweeping love again? Did Ernest?

Hadley married Paul Mowrer, a journalist and poet, in 1933, and they raised Bumby together, in Europe and then later in a suburb of Chicago. It was important to Hadley that Bumby have a solid and secure family life, which is one of the reasons she married Paul. She didn't love him immediately, she said, but he grew and grew on her, and proved himself one of the kindest people she would ever know, and also a stabilizing force in her life.

Bumby spent as much time with Ernest and his two new brothers as possible. He went to several private schools, then did a year at Dartmouth before enlisting in the army for the second World War. In 1944, he was wounded and apprehended by German troops while on reconnaissance in the Rhone Valley. The German officer in charge of his interrogation was an Austrian who, when he heard his full name, asked him if he'd ever visited Schruns. As it so happens, the officer's girlfriend was no other than Bumby's nanny Tiddy! The officer ended the interrogation and sent him to a hospital for treatment. From there, he became a prisoner of war while his parents worried for him profusely. He was released unharmed six months later.

Do you think Ernest realized what he had lost, in the end?

I do. Each of his three subsequent marriages was marked with discord and turbulence. Late in his life, it was obvious he longed for the innocence and pure goodness of his life with Hadley—a longing that colors A Moveable Feast so poignantly. "The more I see of all the members of your sex," he wrote Hadley in 1940, "the more I admire you." She remained untainted in his mind, an ideal that persisted to remind him that the best luck and truest love he'd ever had he found with her.

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