The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, set in the 1920’s, is the partly fictional/partly factual account of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife Elizabeth Hadley Richardson and their life together in Paris among other British and American expatriates. The bohemian lifestyle of these expats led Gertrude Stein to dub them the “Lost Generation.”

The Paris Wife is movingly told in Hadley’s voice from her first meeting of Ernest, their courtship and wedding, life abroad, the birth of their son, and the painful unraveling of their marriage.

From the Publisher

No twentieth-century American writer has captured the popular imagination as much as Ernest Hemingway. This novel tells his story from a unique point of view — that of his first wife, Hadley. Through her eyes and voice, we experience Paris of the Lost Generation and meet fascinating characters such as Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and Gerald and Sara Murphy. The city and its inhabitants provide a vivid backdrop to this engrossing and wrenching story of love and betrayal that is made all the more poignant knowing that, in the end, Hemingway would write of his first wife, “I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her.” Ballantine Books


Book Club Ideas

The Hemingways’ European adventures with their wealthy disaffected friends took them across Western Europe, skiing in Austria, fishing in the Pyrenees, and making annual pilgrimages to Fiesta San Fermin in Pamplona. Ernest’s 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises was based on the real-life exploits of Ernest and his expat companions in Pamplona in 1925. (Curiously, there was no character based on Hadley in the novel even though she was present in Pamplona. Hadley’s reaction on first discovering this omission is poignant.)

I used the Fiesta San Fermin, immortalized by Ernest Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises, as inspiration to plan this book club party.

Decorations

The colors of the Fiesta San Fermin are red and white. Red represents pride and white good will. The main event of Fiesta San Fermin is “The Running with the Bulls.” Decorate for your book club party with red streamers, red and white balloons, red plates and cups, and any other red and white decorations that comes to mind. You can even find a poster of the Fiesta San Fermin at AllPosters.com.

Attire

Dress up all in white with a red scarf or sash à la “The Running with the Bulls” or dress 20’s chic like the Hemingways and friends in the photo below with a cute beret or a vintage stylish hat.

Hemingways and fellow ex-pats in Pamplona

Music

The beautiful Spanish guitar in Romance In Spain by Mark Baldwin lends a haunting quality to these Spanish love songs.


Book Club Menu

Pamplona, capital of the region of Navarra, is located at the foothills of the Pyrenees. The valleys of Navarra produce wonderful wines, and an abundance of vegetables and fruits, most notably white asparagus, pears and peaches. The mountainous terrain is ideal for raising lamb and goat, and the many freshwater rivers yield an abundance of fresh fish, most notably trout.

“The waiter brought gazpacho and good hard bread …”

Gazpacho

and Spanish bread

“Ernest came back to the room excited by it all, and talking about the lunch he’d just eaten, perfectly crisped river trout stuffed with fried ham and onions.”

Stuffed Trout with Jamon Serrano Ham and Onions

White Asparagus with Garlic Allioli

Fresh Peaches in Red Wine and Brandy Sauce

Spain produces excellent wines and the Navarra region is no exception to that rule. The two predominate wine grapes grown in Navarra are tempranillo (pronounced temp-ran-ee-oh), a variety of black grape which produces a full-bodied tinto (red wine), and garnacha, a red grape which produces the lighter claro (rosé wine). I picked up a couple bottles of Red Guitar which is a blend of 55% tempranillo and 45% garnacha for under $10. Red Guitar was delicious and the price excellent. I rate this Navarra wine a 4 out of 5 stars.


Book Club Resources

Ratings at the time this post was published

Goodreads: 3.80 stars (920 ratings)
Amazon: 4.6 stars (95 reviews)
LibraryThing: 3.86 stars (67 reviews)
My Rating: 4.25 stars A wonderful book to share with your book club. Much to discuss on the Jazz Age, Paris, WWI, Spain, “The Lost Generation” and Hadley and Ernest’s time together.

Reviews

Discussion

  1. What did you think about the striking similarities between Hadley’s and Ernest’s families? How do you think Hadley’s upbringing helped her in dealing with Ernest, who could be quite difficult at times?
  2. A valise in Hadley’s possession containing all of Ernest’s manuscripts and notes was infamously stolen and never recovered. Do you feel this loss of Ernest’s work was a crucial turning point in their marriage? Why or why not?
  3. Why do you think Hadley was excluded in The Sun Also Rises, a novel based on Ernest’s experiences in Pamplona Spain, when his other comrades were so prominently figured?
  4. Discuss Ernest’s aversion to becoming a father. Why do you think he felt so strongly against it. Contrast Ernest’s feelings with Hadley’s on becoming a mother.
  5. Discuss “The Lost Generation”. Why were many American and British authors and artists (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, etc.) drawn to post-war Paris. Why were they so willing to shuck convention? What did they hope to find there?
  6. A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway’s memoir published posthumously, is a poignant tribute of his time in Paris with Hadley. Ernest writes “I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her.” Do you think these musings were the fond remembrances of an old man for his lost youth, or was Hadley truly the love of his life?

Purchase The Paris Wife at your favorite bookseller

The Author

American author Paula McLain has published two collections of poetry and a memoir prior to the publication of The Paris Wife. McLain’s interest in Hemingway’s relationship with his first wife Hadley was first piqued while reading Hemingway’s memoir A Moveable Feast, which pays tribute to Hadley. McLain recounts, “Hemingway writes of Hadley, I wished I had died before I loved anyone but her. That line, and his portrayal of their marriage in his memoir—so poignant and steeped in regret—inspired me first to read biographies of her, and then to write a novel, The Paris Wife, which tells the whole of their wildly romantic and ultimately tragic love story from her point of view. All the biographers agree that of Hemingway’s four wives and numerous conquests, Hadley’s the one who is changed for the better by knowing him. She blooms.”

Recommended Reading


Personal asides …

Hemingway dedicated The Sun Also Rises as follows:
“This book is for HADLEY and for JOHN HADLEY NICANOR”

He also left all royalties for The Sun Also Rises, considered by many to be his greatest work, to Hadley and John Hadley Nicanor (Bumby).

I wished I had died before I loved anyone but her.