Hadley Richardson was known solely for being the first of Ernest Hemingway’s four wives, or “the Paris wife”, due to the majority of their marriage being spent in Paris while Hemingway tried desperately to find success as a writer. But The Paris Wife by Paula McLain tells the story of their relationship from Hadley’s point of view and fleshes her out as a woman with hopes, doubts, triumphs, failures, and a glimpse of the hedonistic lifestyle in 1920s France, Spain, and Austria. She comes alive as a woman who tries desperately to hold on to what is familiar and solid, even as everything changes around her.
Hadley may be just one in a long line of Hemingway’s women, but through her account, we see that she’s simultaneously Hemingway’s buoy and his anchor, which sadly he later casts off. At the end of the novel after love fails to be enough and Hemingway slips away from her, Hadley says looking back, “There was nothing like those years in Paris, after the war. Life was painfully pure and simple and good, and I believe Ernest was his best self then. I got the very best of him. We got the best of each other.”
Perhaps most heart-stabbing is the fact that Hemingway later wrote of Hadley in his memoir A Moveable Feast, “I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her.”
Hadley’s account, although fictionalized, draws authority and historical accuracy through McLain’s impeccable research through biographies on Hadley, correspondence between Hadley and Ernest, accounts of 1920s Paris, and Hemingway’s own writings.
I wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone who loves a realistic love story in all its rawness. It’s difficult not to become emotionally invested; Hadley and Ernest stayed in my mind long after I finished reading the book.