'The Paris Wife' Dives Into Hemingway's First Big Love Paula McLain's new novel, The Paris Wife, tells the story of Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway's first wife and companion during his Paris years. Hemingway and Richardson were blissfully in love — until he left her for her best friend.
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'The Paris Wife' Dives Into Hemingway's First Big Love

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'The Paris Wife' Dives Into Hemingway's First Big Love

'The Paris Wife' Dives Into Hemingway's First Big Love

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.


In the '20s, Hemingway shared his life as a poor, unknown writer in Paris with a pretty but unglamorous Midwesterner named Hadley Richardson. As NPR's Lynn Neary tells us, their story has been fictionalized in a new novel, "The Paris Wife."

LYNN NEARY: Hadley Richardson appears here and there in Hemingway's book about his Paris years, "A Moveable Feast." These glimpses of Hemingway's first wife caught the eye of writer Paula McLain. They made her curious about this woman that Hemingway seemed to idealize in the memoir he wrote toward the end of his life.

NORRIS: And this one line really stood out to me when I was re-reading it. And it's, you know: I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.

U: (Reading) I loved her, and I loved no one else, and we had a lovely, magic time while we were alone. I worked well, and we made great trips, and I thought we were invulnerable again.

NEARY: McLain was also keenly aware that Hemingway himself had written of those years in "A Moveable Feast," and she didn't want to feel she was competing with him.

NORRIS: I think the way that I - it occurred to me at the time, and perhaps I was fooling myself, was that I was in conversation with that book. And that I was inserting my version of Hadley into that time and talking about their places and their experiences from her point of view and giving her an opportunity to kind of step into the light for a moment, you know, out of the fringes of literary history.

NEARY: Richardson was 28 when a friend introduced her to Hemingway. She was a gifted musician but had spent most of her 20s taking care of her sick mother. The handsome, charming Hemingway opened up a whole new world for her. When he told her he wanted to move to Paris so he could write full-time, McLain says she was eager to go.

NORRIS: And yet, I think there was some playing catch-up that needed to be done. Think about how intimidating it must have been to be in these salons, you know, to be at the foot of Gertrude Stein or Ezra Pound, these incredibly opinionated tastemakers.

NEARY: Richardson wasn't always taken seriously by these greats; she was just the wife. Still, the Hemingways were seen as something of a golden couple, a fresh, unspoiled contrast to the more sophisticated and perhaps more cynical people who surrounded them. Paris was theirs for the taking.

NORRIS: (Reading) We called Paris the great good place then, and it was. We invented it, after all. We made it with our longing and cigarettes and rum St. James. We made it with smoke and smart and savage conversation, and we dared anyone to say it wasn't ours. Together, we made everything, and then we busted it apart again.

NEARY: Finally, Hemingway began having an affair with one of Richardson's friends, a glamorous young journalist named Pauline Pfeiffer.

NORRIS: During the time she was pursuing Ernest and never losing her position, never sort of losing this sort of - this pretense that she was Hadley's best friend at the same time, she was sending letters to them both. And the letters to Ernest were, you know, as one might imagine, letters to a lover. And the letters to Hadley were sort of eerily asking for approval.

NEARY: Many years later, Richardson, who by then had been happily remarried for many years, told an interviewer how glad she was when the marriage finally ended.


NORRIS: It was the greatest relief. I didn't expect it would be, but it was because Ernest was a terrific responsibility. And when he was not happy, when he was leading a double life and everything, it was just awfully hard.

NEARY: But Richardson also told the interviewer she still cared for Hemingway and thought he was a great man. For his part, McLain says, Hemingway seemed to regret what happened to their marriage.

NORRIS: And I think he did believe that he ruined something good. Things were so simple and pure and clear to him then, and he lost sight of himself or lost sight of sort of what he once thought was so admirable and good.

NEARY: Lynn Neary, NPR News, Washington.

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