My relationship with Ernest Hemingway has so far been a rather distant one. Although the fact that I have actually never read any of his books is almost as painful as my Daphne du Maurier virginity – it somehow doesn’t feel quite as naughty. The boyfriend devoured his books whilst we were in Paris; where the atmosphere and the opportunity to read surrounded by the author’s old haunts was the absolute perfect setting, it was a location I sadly never took advantage off to introduce myself to him.
The main problem is, and I’d be intrigued to know whether any of you feel the same way, I always see Hemingway as a bit of an author – dare I say it – for men (yikes!). I suppose this is a pretty controversial topic and probably merits a blog post of its very own. Women and men can of course read whatever kind of book they choose and I detest pigeonholing people/authors, though by the very virtue of what I’m saying here, I know I’m guilty of it myself. Surely at the end of the day, an author has a certain type of personality and an audience in mind when writing that may well mean that they largely appeal to one sex more than the other?
Procrastinating aside, the boyfriend was the first to pick this up and (rather ironically) was very unsure at first; feeling that Mclain’s style and sensitive portrayal of Hemingway’s first, most beleaguered young wife Hadley Richardson was more aimed at a female audience who would perhaps connect with her voice more easily. I can however happily confirm that despite these initial doubts he soon became hooked and was, needless to say, quite affected by it all in the end.
A few years ago I read Coco, the Novel by Patricia Soliman and surprised myself by quite enjoying the biographical-fiction genre; something I thought might be a little too trashy and vaporous for my tastes but that I found hugely entertaining, adding a bit more colour to my existing image of the legend that is Coco Chanel. That discovery considered, as well as always being intrigued by the wholesome-looking young woman who always features in photographs of Hemingway’s early life, I thought The Paris Wife might also gently nudge me in the her husband’s long-neglected direction.
(Elizabeth) Hadley Richardson met Ernest Hemingway in Chicago in the early 1920s through a mutual friend and were instantly attracted to one another. Deeply affected by his war-time experiences Hemingway was young, eccentric, energetic and, above all, volatile. Hadley, on the other hand, was the epitome of reliability and stability; honest, straightforward and strong, qualities that Hemingway clearly found attractive, most likely a breath of fresh air from the frivolous, frilly women who usually flitted around him.
Quickly married and with Hemingway’s new ideas and imaginings for novels full to bursting point, the couple moved to Europe and smack bang into the center of 1920s Parisian artistic society. Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, you name it, everyone is here. As well as bringing back fond memories of this beautiful city and exploring an incredibly dynamic and exciting period of history, Paula Mclain has created a sensitive and astute portrayal of a young woman and her great love for an extraordinary man that I quite simply found really touching.
Although we pretty much all know how the story ends and there are few surprises in the story (…right back to your stereotypical man’s man; philandering, pipe-smoking Hemingway…) despite a few frustrating moments when I was saying to myself ‘just get out of there woman!’ or ‘slap him, slap her!’, I generally sympathised deeply with Hadley right up until the end. For a short time at a pivotal point in his career this unpretentious, genuine human being was his strength, support and inspiration and I was left wondering what kind of man, indeed what kind of author Hemingway would have morphed into had he kept it all tucked up safely in his pants (!) and stayed with her.
The only doubt I’ve ever had in the back of my mind about reading biographical fiction is the worry that any emotions you may end up having regarding the main protagonists may end up being quite false and unfair, almost akin to reading the lies the tabloids have to say about celebrities nowadays. The Paris Wife, however, is both well-researched and well-written enough to hold none of these unsavory, sensational elements.
Read this for a bit of romantic relief from your heavier tomes. A Moveable Feast will be the next on my list I think.