The Paris Wife: A Novel

By Paula McLain
Publisher:Ballantine Books, (2/22/2011)

Average Rating:
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3.88 out of 5 (8 Clubie's ratings)

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A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, The Paris Wife captures a remarkable period of time and a love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.

Chicago, 1920: Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway and her life changes forever. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group—the fabled “Lost Generation”—that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill prepared for the hard-drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy. Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and their circle of friends into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises. Hadley, meanwhile, strives to hold on to her sense of self as the demands of life with Ernest grow costly and her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Despite their extraordinary bond, 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.

A heartbreaking portrayal of love and torn loyalty, The Paris Wife is all the more poignant because we know that, in the end, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.
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loralee1085's thoughts on "The Paris Wife: A Novel"
updated on:4/20/2013

January 2013

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pjmreads's thoughts on "The Paris Wife: A Novel"
updated on:4/14/2012

I loved this book.  It made me want to go back and read Hemingway books.


CagneyC's thoughts on "The Paris Wife: A Novel"
updated on:3/29/2012

Interesting and well-written.  More likeable characters would have raised my rating, but there's not much you can do with real life people.

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Nick's thoughts on "The Paris Wife: A Novel"
updated on:5/2/2011

Tackling historical characters in what is in essence a fictional novel (even one based on true events) and doing it with respect and realism is no easy task. Doing all this with larger than life characters like Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound and F. Scott Fitzgerald is unbelievably gutsy. And Paula McLain pulls it off beautifully with The Paris Wife.

The novel works well on two levels. One one level, it is an engaging love story between Hadley and Ernest, two very different people with very different goals and desires trying to find their way in the world. Hadley gives and gives and gives, sacrificing much of herself to allow the work of her genius husband to grow and develop. On another level, the audience gets a window into a fascinating era in literature in art. Through Hadley's grounded perspective, we are given a picture of a crux point in 20th century literature.

Well written and filled with human drama, The Paris Wife is one of those books that makes you want to go out and read other books. (Yes, I have lots of Hemingway to catch up on.) Paris, Spain and other European locales become real characters in the story. But in all this sweeping scenery and huge characters, we feel every high and low with Hadley, a very real person filled with love for a person who was exceedingly difficult to love. Her relationship was like a moth to a flame. It's easy to understand the attraction and just as easy to get burned. 


Steph's thoughts on "The Paris Wife: A Novel"
updated on:5/2/2011

A larger-than-life personality such as Ernest Hemingway can be hard to contain, but Paula McClain, the author of The Paris Wife, and Hadley Hemingway, Hemingway’s “Paris wife” both handle it adeptly (well, the latter at least for a time).  Through Hadley’s voice, McClain transports us to a time when Ernest Hemingway was a still unknown burgeoning writer in Chicago.  It is then that he meets Hadley Richardson, a seemingly unlikely women to capture the affections of the adventurous Ernest Hemingway we know.  At 28, Hadley’s sheltered life is such a contrast to the experiences the younger Ernest has already had.  As the beginning of the story sweetly unfolds and more is unveiled about the parallels Ernest and Hadley experienced in their youth, the bond begins to make sense.  After a mostly long distance courtship of letters, the two married and set off for Paris.  While Ernest’s unbridled ambition and undeniable talent was the obvious impetus that set them on this path, Hadley’s steadfast support and companionship offered the stability and affirmation needed to set the stage for Hemingway’s introduction to Paris and then the world.  I’m afraid my description of The Paris Wife is misrepresenting Hadley as a secondary character when this book is really her story.  But perhaps that’s appropriate.  Hadley’s life was largely guided by Ernest’s ambitions.  A talented woman in her own rite, Hadley set aside her own aspirations to fully commit to Ernest.  Yet, as I was reading, I never disrespected Hadley – quite the contrary.  Perhaps it’s because I found her to be selfless, and patient, and understanding, and charming and witty.  I’m certain it is also a tribute to the stunning writing, as one other reviewer alluded to.  And despite Ernest Hemingway’s reputation, he clearly has great love and affection for Hadley.  I will look forward to seeing the discussion questions, particularly people’s thoughts on the “role of an artist’s wife” (which Hadley herself even mentioned as she was forced into socialization with Alice Toklas and Dorothy Shakespear - Ezra Pound’s wife – and the other wives of the Paris artists and intellectuals).  I loved this book for its portrayal of Paris during an incomparable age, for an actually likeable depiction of Ernest Hemingway, and for introducing me to Hadley.  I’m inclined now to read Hemingway’s parallel account in A Moveable Feast.

(Fun fact, this weekend I came across a movie starring Marial Hemingway (her father is “Bumby” – Ernest and Hadley’s son) called The Mean Season.  Unlike this book, I would not recommend it.


Ceci's thoughts on "The Paris Wife: A Novel"
updated on:5/1/2011

You can’t help but root for Hadley Hemingway. She managed to break away from a cheerless, tedious Midwestern life for a great love and great adventure only to find herself in the grip of Ernest Hemingway’s whims, vanity, and uncontrollable mood-swings. What type of woman survives being cast off by Hemingway as his first wife, but still inspired him to write a tribute to her as his last novel? As depicted in The Paris Wife, the passion and self-regard that propelled Hadley out of her cocoon in St. Louis dissipates into self-pity, passive aggressiveness, and co-dependency once she’s married. Truth or fiction? We cannot know, but this fictionalized Hadley is kind of pathetic, one-dimensional, a stereotype of the long-suffering artist’s wife, and kind of a waste of fictionalizing. While this book is generally a nicely written account of the Hemingways’ life and travels together, and their pet names for each other, I would look for other sources to explore Hadley Hemingway’s character. 

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Book Junky's thoughts on "The Paris Wife: A Novel"
updated on:4/29/2011

This book has some of the most beautiful phraseology I think I have ever read. The author really has done a wonderful job of melding the language of the time with descriptions that make you just want to reread some of the copy outloud as you go along. Seriously I had to stop reading and say, "Wow, you have to hear how she said this…" several times. Beautiful! On top of that the story is woven together very well. It's not a "can't put down" kind of book, but it definitely held my interest. I think the foreshadowing at the start kept me more in anticipation and was a brilliant way to go about things. Hadley herself… well, she… followed her dream of being the best wife she could be. Though I so so wished she had done something more with her talents, versus just letting herself take a supporting role to Earnest… that did seem to be her dream, so - I guess, good for her. (That's just not my cup of tea.) Earnest you just wanted to slap and tell him to stop being such a spoiled brat much of the time! At other times his charming nature was irresistible. I can see why Hadley fell for him.What I absolutely LOVED about the book is how it demonstrated that there is no "self made man" that there is always a slew of people influencing and supporting these stars in becoming who their potential allows them to become. We would not have the books of Earnest Hemingway had there been no Hadley in the picture. Her love and support (financial support too) allowed him to explore and really follow his passion. It was nice to see the story of a character who normally is the side character and see life through their eyes. Beautiful read, with LOTS to discuss. I give it a 4.5.

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htratt's thoughts on "The Paris Wife: A Novel"
updated on:4/26/2011

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"The Paris Wife: A Novel"
By Paula McLain

Average Rating:
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3.88 out of 5 (8 Clubie's ratings)

The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 General reading guide discussion questions to be used with ANY book your book club or reading group might be discussing.

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?

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