The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

The Paris Wife

Paula McLain

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. 

Hadley 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. 


While The Paris Wife sounded like an intriguing story, I have to say I found it the exact opposite because the story is really built on nothing. As the first of Hemingway’s four wives and possibly the only one he actually loved, I found Hadley exceedingly dull and couldn’t really understand why a womaniser like Hemingway would settle for her. When the story begins, Hadley appears much younger than her twenty-eight years as she has been sheltered all her life by her domineering mother. Now that her mother has died, Hadley is determined to make up for lost time and she meets Hemingway at a party arranged by an old friend.

Hadley is intrigued by Hemingway’s ambitiousness and they correspond with each other for months before he proposes and whisks them to Paris where he hopes to make a success of his writing while working as a newspaper correspondent. In Paris, they become part of the literary scene and Hemingway is soon taken under the wing of established writers like Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein. Considering the names being dropped in the novel, you’d think the circle to which the Hemingways belong would be an exciting one but it is portrayed as anything but exciting. People like F Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, are nothing but unpleasant addicts with vicious tongues.

Amongst all these glamorous people is Hadley who seems to have little purpose other than to stroke Hemingway’s ego and she never does achieve anything despite what the blurb would have you believe. Hadley is a passive character who is swept along by her husband’s larger than life ego so it is hardly surprising she has little time to pursue her own dreams although it’s not clear whether she has any. When Hadley expresses a desire to have a child, Hemingway balks at the idea because he selfishly wants his wife all to himself. So, when Hadley does fall pregnant, he accuses her of having done it on purpose.

Hemingway really does not come across as a pleasant character at all and while I’ve never read any of his work, I can’t say that this novel has encouraged me to do so. As Hemingway’s star begins to rise, he becomes increasingly ill-mannered and he antagonises his friends to the extent they soon abandon him.

While the marriage only lasts five years, it feels like is it much longer in the novel because not much happens elsewhere. Hemingway goes to his favourite cafe to write every day while Hadley stays at home doing pretty much nothing, and when Hemingway visits his friends, Hadley is relegated to the corner with their respective wife or partner. Away from Paris, Hemingway likes to watch the bull-fighting in Pamplona which forms the basis for his first novel The Sun Also Rises and they also like to go skiing in Austria. For the next few years, they follow the same pattern, just swapping out old friends with new ones.

I feel bad for saying Hadley is a dull character since she was a real flesh and blood person, however her constant habit of excusing her husband’s boorishness really starts to grate after while, not to mention the babyish nicknames they constantly call each other. If Hadley ever did find herself, I really hope she did so with her second husband because it was certainly not evident in her life with Hemingway.