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Literary Friday: The Paris Wife

Friday, August 19, 2011


This week I read The Paris Wife by Paula McClain.  

Why in the world did I read this book?  Truly, I should have known better.  As a student of American literature, I already knew the ending of the story.  It was a stupid decision on my part.

The Paris Wife is the fictitious story of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson. She is often referred to by historians as the Paris wife because she and Ernest joined the Expatriates in Paris during the early nineteen twenties.  Although the historical facts surrounding the characters are true and accurate, the details are imagined.  Paula McClain has quite the imagination!  She writes the story from Hadley's point of view, and McClain certainly makes it clear that that Hadley is one of the few (which includes F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, John Dos Passos, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Archibald MacLeish, other artists, musicians, and all their various lovers) with a modicum of sense and decorum.  Although it is true that these artists' works have stood the test of time and will always be revered, I have to ask myself if their negligent Bohemian lifestyle was worth it in the end. Is it worth it to literally sell your soul for your art?  McClain's portrayal of these artists should make your stomach churn and give you a headache.  The expatriates are users and betrayers.  It is as simple as that.  Your very best friend could be depended upon to take your spouse away, either as a lover or as a future spouse. Hemingway chronicles his Parisian lifestyle and the Expatriates in The Sun Also Rises, which he dedicated to Hadley and his son.

It has always been difficult for me to get into Hemingway's work due to his machismo bent.  His obsession with life-threatening masculine pursuits and death has never truly appealed to me.  I still do not understand his fixation with bullfighting and the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. I find it interesting how he survived a terrible injury during World War I, and how it shaped the man he became.  I cannot imagine such a horrible war.  The young men who were left after the conflict were forever scarred, and they became part of the Lost Generation, a phrase Hemingway used in The Sun Also Rises.  The phrase was attributed to Gertrude Stein, and it truly pained me to read in the book Hemingway's disregard for those, like Stein, who mentored him and gave him breaks in his career.

The Paris Wife is well written, and overall I liked Hadley's character until the end of the book. She did not show enough backbone for me until far too late in the story.  I almost feel guilty for reading it; it is like when you witness a terrible accident:  you know you should look away, but you can't. Reading The Paris Wife is like that: you should not read about the Lost Generation's sordid and decadent lifestyle, but you can't help it because everyone loves tragedy.  It makes us feel better about ourselves.

Please remember that Bonnie and I will be hosting our What We're Reading Linky Party tomorrow.

What We're Reading

I have missed you guys, but I still need a few more days to help my girls get settled into their new routines.  I appreciate your kind emails and comments so, so much!

Until next time...

Happy Reading!
Ricki Jill


  1. First, Yeah!! You are back. Second, wow that is deep. I guess that is why I stick to the fluff in books. Same with movies. I don't like depressing movies or books. Life is hard enough so I avoid things that are sad. I was a history major so it is not as if I never had to read anything sad. Maybe that is what has scarred me this way. Anyway I am seriously rambling. Hope all is well with the co-ed. All settled in?

  2. Is your daughter moved in already! what is she going to study?


  3. This has been on my to-read list but now I'm thinking maybe not! Thanks for the great review. check in with you tomorrow!

  4. I live in Hemingway country and have never been able to relate to him either. Suicide is selfish as many artists are. Enjoyed the review.

    Susan and Bentley

  5. it nice to hear your review because the cover and I'm sure the back of the jacket would have enticed me. I don't care to much for Hemingway, but I would be curious to see things from Hadley's point of view. I think I'll take a pass now. I'm still reading some drugstore fluff...don't know why.


  6. This is on my reading list....but I keep passing it up for other books. Maybe there is a reason....

  7. I don't care for Hemingway, and I'm guessing from your review that this wouldn't elevate him in my opinion. Thanks for helping me avoid.

  8. An interesting review Ricki! Sometimes the covers and the names are enticing, though the story isn't.

    I am a constant reader, even more so this Summer as the unrelenting heat has kept me in. Just finished Summer Rental and Gone With a Hansomer Man!

  9. I won't be reading this one. I am not a fan of Hemingway at all. Maybe because of his love for killing animals and also reading what his one son said about him...that he was a terrible father. I don't understand all the hype about him. He has always come across to me as an awful man.

    Pamela xo

  10. What a good review...sounds like one I would not read. Thanks for giving an honest review! I linked this afternoon! YAY! ♥

  11. Wow! I will certainly be skipping this one! Thanks for saving me. :)



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I'm Ricki Jill. Welcome! I'm honored that you're reading my blog. I enjoy sharing my creative lifestyle @ The Bookish Dilettante. For more information about my blog, please read the Start Here page. Thank-you for stopping by, and I hope you'll consider following me via email.

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