I love historic fiction. It’s as though the novelist takes a paint brush and carefully constructs the important details that enables the reader to enter a living breathing world of that time. I had wanted to read Ernest Hemingway’s memoir A Moveable Feast but was given The Paris Wife as a birthday gift so I read it instead. The Paris Wife is the story of Ernest Hemingway’s marriage to his first wife Hadley Richardson against the backdrop of Paris, Spain and Europe in the early twenties.
I have a soft spot for Paris and a fascination with the 1920s literary scene there that included Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, F, Scott Fitzgerald and of course the young Ernest Hemingway. All of these characters make an entrance in this book, showing them as real but crazy, drinking, wildly talented and driven people.
Having just finished a tour of the First World War battlegrounds and surrounding towns which felt both very real but also haunted, I felt like a Paris Wife gave life to a post war era, where the rules had changed and so had the people. Ernest Hemingway suffers from trauma and depression (although his entire family suffered from depression) but it was clear the war had taken its toll on him. And Paris felt like a city that someone had just popped the top of a champagne bottle off of. It had energy, beauty and no rules.
This is the city that Ernest (at 21) and his first wife Hadley who was 8 years his senior, escaped to live in. He could earn a living as a journalist, surround himself with the literary inspirations of the time and write.This was the city that inspired him as a writer and a husband. A city where they tried their damn-dest to do that thing called ‘monogamy’, where they were admired as the ‘solid’ couple, the couple who would survive the craziness of the times – the drinking, parties, jealousies and infidelities.
And in spite of their immense love for each other and Hadley’s steady, down to earth nature, which he loved and adored, they lost their battle. Maybe it was the partying, his youth, ego, ambition or maybe it was a predatory girlfriend who stole her husband right in front of her eyes. Or maybe in the end he couldn’t forgive her losing all his manuscripts, his heart, his life.
In their last conversation before he died he asked her what went wrong…we loved each other too much he said, I ruined everything, he said. I would rather have not lived at all then not have ever loved Hadley, he said. And sometimes there’s no explanation for losing sight of the people we cherish most, who steer us straight, anchor our hearts in love and purpose.
I loved this book. Loved their love, loved the backdrop of Paris, and Europe and the times.