The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
published 2011 chapter 6 set in the 1920s
[Hadley Richardson is travelling by train to Chicago to meet up with Ernest Hemingway. She is being seen off by her brother-in-law]
Then, as he was saying goodbye, he cocked his head to one side… and said, ‘You look beautiful, Hadley.’
‘I do?’ I felt suddenly shy with him and smoothed the skirt of my pale grey travelling suit.
‘You do. It just occurred to me you might not know this about yourself.’
‘Thank you.’ I leaned in to kiss him on the cheek, and then boarded my train, taking new pleasure in my travelling clothes – my soft wool hat and buttery gloves, my tan suede t-strap shoes. The seats and couches were plush and inviting… This was the Midnight Special, and as darkness fell, I tucked myself into my Pullman berth, behind deep green curtains… When I arrived at Union Station the next morning, I was well rested and only slightly nervous until I saw Ernest on the platform…
observations: Hadley is to be the first wife of Ernest Hemingway, and will be dumped by him after a short marriage (the first of his four). As a rule we are second to none in our feminist championing of the undersold women of the past, the badly-treated wives, the inspirational women whose contribution has been forgotten, and basically anyone who gets ditched by a bad man. But this fictionalized version of Hadley’s life had a most peculiar and unexpected effect: from fairly early on we were rooting for Ernest (not someone we ever had a lot of time for in other contexts) and were merely surprised he didn’t leave her earlier. Could she not have got a job? What did she do all day? She does not come over well (surely this cannot be the author’s intention?) and by the time she had lost all his manuscripts and ‘got herself’ pregnant – well, sympathy was strangely lacking. It’s a readable enough book, for sure, though with that clunking feeling of the familiar Paris cast appearing on cue – here is Zelda smiling strangely, Ernest is talking about Italian troubadors with Ezra, over there Scott is being poured into a taxi, and Gertrude is being wonderfully frank. It doesn’t seem to add much to the general sum of knowledge. And Ernest and Hadley call each other stupid names, lots of different ones throughout the book, which presumably is fully accurate, but rather repels the reader. Hemingway’s own version of events will feature in the blog soon.
Links up with: Same era as the Great Gatsby, here and here, and Fitzerald features in the book. The heroine of Possession dresses in 1920s style.
The picture is of musical star Marilyn Miller – a fascinating figure who inspired Marilyn Monroe’s name, and was the subject of one of those splendid biopics (Look for the Silver Lining, 1949) that has you reading between the lines for her real story, and contains some great tap dancing.