Author:
• Friday, September 26th, 2014

Paula McLain was born in Fresno, California, in 1965. She is the middle daughter of a mother who left home when McLain was four years old and a father who was often in jail. McLain and her two sisters spent their childhood in various foster homes. When Paula McLain was eighteen she became independent and supported herself by working as a nurses’ aid in a convalescent hospital, then as a pizza delivery girl, an auto-plant worker and a cocktail waitress before coming across a creative writing class when twenty four and discovering that her passion was to be a writer.

Paula Mclain has written two novels to date: A Ticket To Ride in 2008 and The Paris Wife in 2011.
She also wrote a non-fiction book in 2003: Like Family:Growing Up In Other People’s Houses and two poetry books: Less Of Her in 1999 and Stumble, Gorgeous in 2005.

Paula McLain received an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan in 1996 and fellowships from the corporation of Yaddo, the MacDowell colony, the Ucross Foundation, the Ohio Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. McLain teaches poetry in the MFA program at New England College and lives with her family in Cleveland, Ohio.

The Paris Wife narrated by Hadley, is a well documented, fictionalized biography, which also
respects the historical period in which Hemingway, the famous pillar of American literature, lived with his first wife, Hadley Richardson, in the Paris of the roaring twenties.

The reserved and timid, Hadley Richardson, who has abandoned any hope of love and marriage, is twenty eight years old when, in October 1920, she meets a handsome young man called Ernest Hemingway, eight years younger than herself, at a party in Chicago. They fall in love and after a short courtship and a stream of letters, they get married in 1921 and decide to live in Paris, which at the time is the centre of art and culture and where Hemingway will work as a foreign correspondent.

The Paris Wife is a homage to Hemingway’s first wife Hadley. McLain recognizes that The Moveable Feast – Hemingway’s own posthumously published memoir in 1964 by his fourth wife, Mary Walsh, about his Paris years – was the inspiration that spawned her book. The story is told from Hadley’s perspective in a similar way to The Moveable Feast, which was written from Hemingway’s perspective. He says in his book that it’s about “how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy”.

McLain recounts the short, tumultuous years when Hadley and Hemingway lived together, as well as the beginning of Hemingway’s literary career in the early twenties in Paris. The newly married couple mix with Anglo Saxon expatriates, like American novelist, Francis Scott Fitzgerald and his novelist wife, Zelda, the American poet and critic, Ezra Pound, the American novelist, poet and playwrite, Gertrude Stein and the Irish novelist and poet, James Joyce, to name a few.

Unlike Hemingway, Hadley doesn’t feel at ease mixing with these non-conformist new acquaintances. She discovers that she lacks the ambition and the stamina to pursue her pianistic talent despite the encouragements of her husband and her friends. She is contented to be living through and in the shadow of her highly ambitious husband who is working very hard to make a name for himself in the literary world.

The Paris Wife is a poignant story of two psychologically damaged and therefore highly vulnerable people who love each other deeply without being able to grow old together. They both need each other but can’t lean on or rely on one another. Consequently their marriage is destined to fail.

Hadley loses Hemingway’s trust when she loses the small valise containing all of Hemingway’s three years work manuscripts on a train in the Gare de Lyon on her way to join him in Lausanne. Hemingway’s mistrust deepens further when Hadley announces her unexpected pregnancy to him when he isn’t yet ready for fatherhood and thinks that Hadley is imposing her will. Hemingway loses Hadley’s trust when she first sees his interest in other women and suspects his disloyalty when admiring Lady Duff Twysden, followed by the justified threatening love affair with her unfaithful friend, Pauline Pfeiffer.

After a brief marriage that lasts from 1921 to 1927, Hadley and Hemingway divorce because Hadley refuses Hemingway’s proposal for a “ménage à trois” with Pauline Pfeiffer, a not uncommon practice in the post first world war liberal Paris. Unable to convince Hadley, Hemingway marries Pauline Pfeiffer who becomes the second of his four wives.

Once the irreparable happens, life is never the same again for either of them. “Hemingway still loved Hadley afterwards. He couldn’t and wouldn’t stop loving her, maybe ever, but she killed something in him too. He’d once felt so anchored and solid and safe with her, but now he wondered if he could ever trust anyone”. Much later in his life, Hemingway reveals his regret in the last book he was working on before committing suicide, The Moveable Feast, when he wrote: “I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her”, referring to Hadley.

When Hadley is informed about Hemingway’s suicide by his fourth wife, Mary Walsh, she says: “Tatie was dead. There was nothing Paul – her second husband – could possibly do for me except let me go – back to Paris and Pamplona and San Sebastian, back to Chicago when I was Hadley Richardson, a girl stepping off a train about to meet the man who would change her life. That girl, that impossibly lucky girl, needed nothing”. A sad love story that transcends any epoch.

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