Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Reading: The Paris Wife



I read The Paris Wife late last year and it turned out to be one of my absolute favorite books. 

It's a novelization of life in 1920's Paris for Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Hadley. I was familiar with Hemingway's macho personality and love of bull fighting and boxing, but not much more about his biography (other than getting a kick out of his character in Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris). The Paris Wife is a beautiful and heartbreaking love story about how 21-year old Hemingway falls in love with Hadley, who is eight-years older and at the cusp of starting her own life after years of caring for her ailing mother. 

They meet in Chicago, fall in love, and after a long distance relationship in which they send each other daily letters they get married and decide to move to Paris where Hemingway would have a better chance at making it as a writer. There they become a beloved couple of the literary and artistic circles in post-war Paris:  drinking and dining with Gertrude Stein or F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and traveling to the Swiss Alps and Madrid.  

It's told from Hadley's point-of-view, since much of what is known about their life in Paris, was from what Hemingway wrote in A Moveable Feast. They lived a happy life there and loved each other deeply, 
“We knew what we had and what it meant, and though so much had happened since for both of us, there was nothing like those years in Paris, after the war. Life was painfully pure and simple and good, and I believed Ernest was his best self then. I got the very best of him. We got the best of each other.” 
Nonetheless, things unravel after Hemingway has an affair with one her close friends. Although I knew in the beginning that this was going to happen, I was still heartbroken when it did. I felt devastated for Hadley, who had loved and supported Hemingway so selflessly. I was mad at Hemingway for ruining everything and sad at how at the end of his life he regretted how things ended in Paris. 

After I finished the book, I couldn't stop thinking about Hadley. I wanted to know more about her and her life, and I wanted to know that after Paris, everything worked out for her.   I read A Moveable Feast, mostly looking for the quote, I wish I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.”  I'll admit, I was not that impressed by it, but maybe I was just still angry at Hemingway. :) 

So, I was really excited when one afternoon, soon after I had finished The Paris Wife, I came across a copy of Hadely Richardson's biography, Hadley at a used book store. The biography is just as beautifully written as the novel and I loved reading so much more about her life before and after Paris. It turns out she was happily married years later and lived a long and happy life.

I could probably go on and on, but if you want to get lost in 1920's Paris for a bit, I highly recommend you read these books.

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