Book Club: Reading Hemingway in Paris


One of the greatest perks of being on vacation— all the free time and mental space to read like crazy! I knew I wanted to take two books with me to Paris (one to read fully and one to start). I decided on a Hemingway theme because, of course, I'm cheesy like that. A Movable Feast was the first obvious choice because it's about the Paris years. Then I chose The Paris Wife: A Novel, by Paula McLain. It's fiction, but written in the style of a memoir by Hemmingway's first wife, Hadley.

Having already read some Hemingway (The Sun Also Rises, The Old Man and the Sea), I cracked open The Paris Wife first, which turned out to be very engaging. Having some idea of how it would end (yes, it follows their timeline accurately) actually informed my experience in a positive way. Kind of like reading Romeo & Juliet, having that initial sense of tragedy makes moments of intimacy all the more significant. 

Getting croissant crumbs in between all the pages of your book? Worth it. 

Getting croissant crumbs in between all the pages of your book? Worth it. 

I enjoyed getting a more substantial perspective from one of Hemingway's female counterparts— not something he usually provides in his novels. McLain depicts Hadley's upbringing, which is dampened by a severe disconnect in her parent's marriage and a crippling sense of her own paralysis. Hadley subtly blames her suffrage-minded mother for her father's depression and overtly blames her for undermining her attempts for independence in her adult life. 

On the surface, it's easy to dismiss Hadley as naive, attempting to live out her romantic fantasies despite obvious pitfalls in her marriage to Hemingway. She throws her effort into nurturing his literary career, absorbing his fear and self-doubt until her identity almost disappears into his. Hadley does this despite her struggle with loneliness and displacement and Hemingway's prioritization of his writing over their marriage. 

However, it seems like there are more complex motivations than romance and naiveté at work here. Jumping into a relationship with Hemingway that is more traditionally structured (she supports his career and doesn't have her own) may be Hadley's way of rejecting the type of relationship her parents modeled. Furthermore, the support role she plays for Hemingway allows her to disprove her mother's idea that she is somehow weak or incapable. 

While I don't really think that Hadley is an empowered character, by any means, I would argue that her choices have some intention behind them— and I really enjoyed getting to know a Hemingway heroine well enough to think about her motivations in the first place!

Did you read The Paris Wife or a movable feast? what did you think? if you read both, did either of them inform your experience of the other?