Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Paris Wife

I just finished The Paris Wife, a book I have meaning to read for awhile. It is the story of Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway's first wife, who he meets in Chicago in 1920 and marries shortly after. This book is about their life in Paris, where Hemingway is a struggling young writer, not yet well known, and where he meets all the big names of that age, F. Scott Fitzgerald (and his wife Zelda), John Dos Passos, Ezra Pound, James Joyce,  Gertrude Stein, Picasso.

I love that era in Paris and have read a lot about that time, especially Hemingway's own memoir of the early years in Paris, A Moveable Feast.  When I lived in Paris, I loved visiting some of the cafes those writers used to frequent, like The Dome and The Select, and especially Closerie Des Lilas, which was Hemingway's favorite place to write. I have a picture of Patty at the Closerie des Lilas, which we thought was just about the most romantic place ever.

Ernest and Hadley have a passionate relationship and seem to be a stable couple, well, at least compared to some of the other slightly crazy people in Paris. There is a lot of drinking absinthe, angst about his writing, travels to Switzerland and Italy and Spain (he was obsessed with the running of the bulls at Pamplona).  But hanging over the story is what we know is going to happen, their marriage is going to fail,  Ernest is going to fall in love with Hadley's friend Pauline. Really? You kind of want to shake Hadley and tell her to stand up for herself, tell Pauline to get lost, but she doesn't. Her life has revolved around Ernest and his writing and that's what makes the story so sad.

I think it's an interesting tactic for an author to take a real person and fictionalize their story, trying to imagine a life through that person's eyes. Nancy Horan did this so well with Loving Frank (about Frank Lloyd Wright).  Of course I always loved Hemingway's writing style and I loved reading how the author shows his influence on Hadley, when she says after eating at a cafe in Spain, "I found I was hungry and that it all tasted very good to me."

It is not a great book, but it is enjoyable and if you liked the writers of that era, you will probably like it.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this book. I agree that it was in the "Loving Frank" genre and "Loving Frank" was a better story but I really liked this one.