Recommended Reads: ‘The Paris Wife’ looks at Hemingway’s life through spouse’s eyes
I’ve found an interesting he said/she said pair of books. Published after Ernest Hemingway’s death, “A Moveable Feast” is his memoir of his experience starting as a writer in 1920’s Paris, with his wife Hadley Richardson. It was put together by his fourth wife, Mary Welsh, who edited his personal manuscripts and notes containing his observations and stories. “The Paris Wife” is a fictionalized account of these same Paris years as told in fiction by Paula McLain as if this is Hadley’s memoir.
The time period and characters are very well researched. In an interview, Paula McLain said, “I first came to know Hadley in the pages of “A Moveable Feast.” His reminiscences of Hadley were so moving that I decided to seek out biographies of her life—and that’s when I knew that 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.”
The author takes the time to weave her story from before Hadley meets Hemingway, so that what shaped her character and personality are well understood by the reader. The writing is entertaining, and each of the characters’ feelings comes across so intensely that you are drawn to them. You’ll find this book hard to put down. It’s written as if a friend is confiding in you all her hopes, desires, and fears, as well as sharing all her joys.
In this book you also encounter all the other writers and friends that Ernest Hemingway describes in his memoir, including Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. You read Ernest Hemingway’s impressions of these people as expressed to Hadley, but also you get Hadley’s feelings about each of these friends, and her insights into how they all interacted.
The author successfully paints a picture of the excitement, fervor, temptations, and creative energy of this Jazz Age period. You can vividly imagine the conversations and scenes of these larger than life people. You’ll be captivated by the evolution of the Hemingways’ relationship that was a profound first love. It was so interesting to get to know Hadley’s warm sense of humor and personable charms, through this author. You’ll also see a different dimension of Ernest Hemingway that is not often described in his legend. As the author said, “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.”
“The more I see of all the members of your sex,” Ernest Hemingway wrote to Hadley in 1940, “the more I admire you.” She remained untainted in his mind, an ideal that persisted and reminded him that the best luck and truest love he’d ever had he found with her.
Thereby hangs a tale . . .
– By Wendy Kendall
Wendy Kendall is a writer, project manager and volunteer at the Edmonds Library. She’s enjoyed living in Edmonds for over 20 years. Follow her via her blog here or on Twitter @wendywrites1.