On the bestseller list: ‘The Paris Wife’
Paula McLain’s novel ‘The Paris Wife’ tells the story of the marriage between Hadley and Ernest Hemingway. Hadley was Hemingway’s first wife; they married in 1921 and, a short time later, moved to Paris. By 1926, Hemingway had struck up an affair with Pauline Pfeiffer, who he married in 1927 after he and Hadley divorced. Some of this period Hemingway wrote about himself, in the posthumously published memoir ‘A Moveable Feast’; McLain’s twist is that she tells the story, mostly, from Hadley’s point of view.
I think Hadley was more of a Victorian holdout than a modern woman. She wasn’t a flapper, wasn’t Zelda, for instance, or sophisticated and cultured like Duff Twysden or Sara Murphy, or shrewd and self-confident like Pauline Pfeiffer. But she had her own kind of strength, and she did manage to hold her own in her marriage to Hemingway, although it doesn’t always look that way from a distance. She deferred to his career and partnered with him to further his ambitions because she loved him and believed they were a team. She didn’t want to be the kind of wife her mother and sister were -- demanding, controlling, full of bitterness. She chose to be flexible and supportive because she benefits from that choice. With Ernest, she finds deep happiness as well as zest for life, physical endurance, and emotional resilience she didn’t believe were possible. Even at the disastrous end of their marriage, when Ernest has fallen in love with Pauline and the three are thrown into emotional deadlock, Hadley never entirely loses faith in Ernest or herself. Ironically, she gives in to his demands for a divorce out of devotion for him. After all they’ve been through together, she still has faith in the definitive power of love.
-- Carolyn Kellogg