Book Review: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (Plus Book-Club Questions)

What a page-turner! I couldn’t put this book down!
Based on a true story. A lovely story told through the eyes, of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson. From the two of them meeting at a mutual friend’s party, their courtship, wedding, Hemingway’s struggle to become a writer, his missing manuscripts, his mentors’ in Paris (where they had moved to), living in Toronto (where their son was born), while Hemingway worked for the Toronto Star, his affair with a woman (who becomes his second wife), his divorce, and lastly his novel The Sun Also Rises being published in 1926., and the inspiration that he had obtained A book he rightfully dedicated to Hadley and their son.

This book was thoroughly and incredibly researched by McLain. What one may not have known, is who Hemingway was a boy and man. You do get a glimpse into who his character was. One thing that was made clear, is that Ernest Hemingway, was a selfish man, who like a typical artist of his time, who had an artisan temperament, was cynical about his past, and optimistic about the future.

It is overall, a compelling read. I was contemplating on whether or not I should read it. I just wasn’t sure how realistic the story would be or what it’d be like. I do walk away gaining insight on how Ernest Hemingway became this successful writer.

When the book was finished, I liked how it ended, almost the same way as it had begun. It was a feel-good type of ending.

I will say, I didn’t anything about Ernest Hemingway, other than he is this famous writer, and I didn’t know anything about him, except my assumptions of artists at that time. Hadley was correct though. Hemingway didn’t luck out in love. Every affair turned into a marriage, but before it did, his marriages that originated as just the two of them, with Hadley, became a marriage of the three of them, until the wife left him. By the time his second marriage had begun, it ended the same way it began, a new relationship with a new woman was formed, a marriage of three, I wouldn’t call it a throuple per se. It was just Hemingway with his wife and girlfriend in an open marriage. How he got his wives to be onboard with this until they weren’t, is crazy.

The Sun Also Rises, is loosely based on a true story of his time away in Spain, with his and Hadley’s friends, and with an incident that had occured. The characters’ names in the book had eventually been changed from their real names. That was his inspiration. Something taken from a real-life event, or events.


The Paris Wife is a 2011 historical fiction novel by Paula McLain which became a New York Times Bestseller. It is a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway’s marriage to the first of his four wives, Hadley Richardson. McLain decided to write from Hadley’s perspective after reading A Moveable Feast, Hemingway’s 1964 posthumously published account of his early years in Paris. McLain researched their biographies, letters, and Hemingway’s novels. The Sun Also Rises is dedicated to Hadley and their son.

Book Club Questions

1. In many ways, Hadley’s girlhood in St. Louis was a difficult and repressive experience. How do her early years prepare her to meet and fall in love with Ernest? What does life with Ernest offer her that she hasn’t encountered before? What are the risks?

2. Hadley and Ernest don’t get a lot of encouragement from their friends and family when they decide to marry. What seems to draw the two together? What are some of the strengths of their initial attraction and partnership? The challenges?

3. The Ernest Hemingway we meet in The Paris Wife—through Hadley’s eyes—is in many ways different from the ways we imagine him when faced with the largeness of his later persona. What do you see as his character strengths? Can you see what Hadley saw in him?

4. Throughout The Paris Wife, Hadley refers to herself as “Victorian” as opposed to “modern.” What are some of the ways she doesn’t feel like she fits into life in bohemian Paris? How does this impact her relationship with Ernest? Her self-esteem? What are some of the ways Hadley’s “old-fashioned” quality can be seen as a strength and not a weakness?

5. Hadley and Ernest’s marriage survived for many years in Jazz-Age Paris, an environment that had very little patience for monogamy and other traditional values. What in their relationship seems to sustain them? How does their marriage differ from those around them? Pound and Shakespear’s? Scott and Zelda’s?

6. Most of The Paris Wife is written in Hadley’s voice, but a few ­select passages come to us from Ernest’s point of view. What ­impact does getting Ernest’s perspective have on our understanding of their marriage? How does it affect your ability to understand him and his motivations in general?

7. How is Hadley challenged and restricted by her gender? Would those restrictions have changed if she had been an artist and not “merely” a wife?

8. One of the most wrenching scenes in the book is when Hadley loses a valise containing all of Ernest’s work to date. What kind of turning point does this mark for the Hemingway’s marriage? Do you think Ernest ever forgives her?

9. Hadley and Ernest had similar upbringings in many ways. What are the parallels, and how do these affect the choices Hadley makes as a wife and mother?

10. In The Paris Wife, when Ernest receives his contract for In Our Time, Hadley says, “He would never again be unknown. We would never again be this happy” (page 195). How did fame ­affect Ernest and his relationship with Hadley?

11. How does the time and place—Paris in the twenties—affect Ernest and Hadley’s marriage? What impact does the war, for instance, have on the choices and behavior of the expatriate artists surrounding the Hemingways? Do you see Ernest changing in response to the world around him? How, and how does Hadley feel about those changes?

12. What was the nature of the relationship between Hadley and Pauline Pfeiffer? Were they legitimately friends? How do you see Pauline taking advantage of her intimate position in the Hemingways’ life? Do you think Hadley is naïve for not suspecting Pauline of having designs on Ernest earlier? Why or why not?

13. It seems as if Ernest tries to make his marriage work even after Pauline arrives on the scene. What would it have cost Hadley to stick it out with Ernest no matter what? Is there a way she could have fought harder for her marriage?

14. In many ways, Hadley is a very different person at the end of the novel than the girl she was when she first encountered Ernest by chance at a party. How do you understand her ­trajectory and transformation? Are there any ways she essentially doesn’t change?

15. When Hemingway’s biographer Carlos Baker interviewed Had­ley Richardson near the end of her life, he expected her to be bitter, and yet she persisted in describing Ernest as a “prince.” How can she have continued to love and admire him after the way he hurt her?

16. Ernest Hemingway spent the last months of his life tenderly ­reliving his first marriage in the pages his memoir, A Moveable Feast. In fact, it was the last thing he wrote before his death. Do you think he realized what he’d truly lost with Hadley?

Happy Reading!


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