A storybook romance--a match made in heaven--surely it would last a lifetime, but it didn't. This is the story of Ernest Hemingway's first marriage that includes the years of his early writing career. It is told in the first person voice of Hadley, his first wife (first of four). The basic facts, movements and accomplishments of their relationship are well documented by previous biographies and memoirs. This book is written as historical fiction, and is thus able to make the story come alive in personal ways by reconstructing the probable thoughts, feelings and conversations in ways that can't be done in nonfiction writing.
The author has made the story an interesting and compelling romantic tale of his wife as inspirational muse, supporter and enabler, both emotionally and financially. Her income from a trust fund and inheritances enabled them to go to Paris in the first place. While in Europe they rubbed shoulders with the fabled "Lost Generation" that included Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. The experiences of life in Paris and their travels in Europe are so much a part of Hemingway's subsequent writing that it's unlikely that the literary world would have ever discovered Hemingway had they remained in Chicago.
Hemingway's personality as portrayed in this book confirms some of my impressions of him from other sources. He was probably bipolar, and in his manic state he was pretty full of himself. He probably considered himself to be God's gift to women, and there were plenty of women who agreed. It was this sort of arrogance that doomed his first marriage, and probably explains why his life ended up including a total of four wives. In his later years, and in what were probably depressive states of mind, he seems to have reflected on how he was responsible for ending a special and unique relationship when he split with Hadley.
In discussing this book it ultimately leads to the question of why their relationship didn't survive. The book suggests that Hemingway found his second wife to be more modern, interesting, and more astute regarding literary matters than Hadley. She also flattered his ego in an uncritical manner, whereas Hadley provided advice of a more objective nature.
I also couldn't help but notice that the second woman Ernest married was more wealthy than Hadley. This enabled him to comfortably set up shop in the Florida Keys. But the wealth of his second wife also allowed him to be generous to Hadley in the divorce settlement. He dedicated the income from the royalties of his novel, The Sun Also Rises
, to Hadley as well as dedicating the book to her and their son.
As described in this book, Hemingway wrote about scenes and experiences he actually experienced. The added fictional veneer was just enough to provide a plot line. This book has given me an incentive to read The Sun Also Rises
because he wrote that book while still married to Hadley and incorporated many of the activities they witnessed together. Many of the personalities of their acquaintances from that era can be recognized in the novel. However, Hadley is not one of the characters written into the plot--probably because she was too rational and practical (i.e. uninteresting).
This book, however, brought her to life in an interesting way. She was the steady rock that allowed Ernest to start his career. Once he tasted success, he jilted her. But she recovered, and entered into a second happy marriage that lasted for the rest of her long life. Her success in her second marriage is its own form of revenge.
The following is a short review from PageADay's Book Lover's Calendar for April 27-28, 2013:
For fans of Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank, here is another novel that imagines the life of a woman who had a greater influence than history might have fully acknowledged. In this case it’s Hadley Richardson, who fell madly in love with Ernest Hemingway and married him in short order. Despite their great love, other influences are at work that throw their marriage into crisis. An entertaining novel that offers bonus glimpses at the many famous members of the “Lost Generation.”THE PARIS WIFE
, by Paula McLain (Random House, 2011)