Saturday, June 1, 2013
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
Book 2 of the Literary Wives Series
The pace of this book definitely picked up for me after the first 125 pages or so. Hadley was not a very exciting person on her own, in fact, that was her main attraction to Ernest--his excitement and exciting behaviors! I particularly appreciated the details McLain included about some of the authors of that time period in Paris. For example, I had no idea Ezra Pound had actually taught (and been dismissed from) a small private college in Indiana, my home state! That prompted some research on my part!
I was so much reminded of James Redfield's theory of "marriage"; that such relationships are truly "spiritual" and should continue only so long as each person is receiving the spiritual nourishment and foundation they need from the relationship. Once that is gone, this "spiritual relationship" should be dissolved. I thought perhaps this was how Ernest felt; although he needed the "grounding" Hadley provided, he was now "moving on and up" and felt he needed someone who could better provide a more "social" partnership among the "partying' couples with whom he now associated. Though once I learned Pauline planned to move him to Piggot, Arkansas, that illusion was banished! I seriously doubt the same type of social scene was available anywhere in Arkansas as in Paris! I kept wondering what spiritual gain Hadley ever received; it appeared to me little to none, overall.
Then we get to the real shocker for me--polygamy! Yes, Ernest heartily believed his life would be complete if all of them lived together, and although Hadley allowed this for a short time, she finally made the decision to divorce herself from Ernest's life. I sometimes wonder if males are just hard-wired differently from females. I cannot imagine being one of multiple females in a relationship with one male; polygamy just isn't a valid workable concept for me, and rather implies that none of the females/"wives" could possibly be fulfilled by such an arrangement, rather only sublimated to minor roles in making certain the male is fulfilled. Personally, just one relationship at a time for me! I personally believe multiple partners in my life would make me feel duplicitous and dishonest. Although Hadley had played that type of role from the beginning with Ernest, she was unwilling to share her man, child, and daily life with another woman. Finally something made her realize just how insignificant she really was to Ernest, and that she deserved better! Although Ernest did give her some financial security by assigning royalties from The Sun Also Rises to her. I can only hope her second marriage proved to be much happier. It was not lost on me, however, that Pauline was more than capable financially, and with her money, Ernest wouldn’t have to work to meet living expenses (as he had with Hadley), but could devote himself totally to writing.
I felt Ernest exemplified what I consider to be a truly "creative" personality: a roamer, always traveling, moving around, exploring, etc. It seems many artistic people find it difficult to "put down roots," as they say... Perhaps that is how they maintain a high level of creativity, by never feeling stuck... Although if it hadn’t been for Hadley’s inheritance, Ernest might never have made it to Paris in the first place!
I am glad I read this book and I appreciated the insights I gained about Hemingway and his first/"Paris" wife. I am anxious to learn more by reading Therese Anne Fowler's Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald. I have been reading Fitzgerald’s novels and short stories and now will begin to read Hemingway's works also.
If you're interested in the Literary Wives online discussion, four bloggers are hosting this: Angela (http://persephonewrites.wordpress.com/2013/06/01/literary-wives-book-2-the-paris-wife-a-literary-love-affair), Ariel (http://onelittlelibrary.com/2013/06/01/literary-wives-part-two-the-paris-wife/), Audra (http://unabridged-expression.blogspot.com/?m=1), and Emily (http://emilyjanuary.wordpress.com/2013/06/01/literary-wives-series-the-starter-wife-in-paris/). Read the book and join in!
There are 4 books chosen: (1) May: American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld, (2) June: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, (3) July: A Reliable Wife by Richard Goolrick, (4) August: The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin. Everyone who wishes to read these books and join the discussion is invited to do so.
The questions to consider:
Question 1: What does this book say about wives or about the experience of being a wife?
Question 2: In what way does this woman define "wife" -- or in what way is she defined by "wife"?
I definitely felt Hadley believed her role as wife was to be supportive and provide care and unconditional love to her husband. There was no real belief that she should develop her own talent(s) beyond caring for Ernest, and then Bumby once he was born. At one point Ernest explains that in order to write he must be alone, but then that he must "...leave that place and come back here and talk to you. That makes it all stick." Hadley responds that she "thinks" she "gets it," but Ernest responds, "Maybe no one can know how it is for anyone else." I would agree that no one person can ever know exactly how another person feels/thinks all the time, let alone understand. Though I don't believe it was ever possible for Ernest to feel truly understood; most likely an outgrowth of his family's lack of acknowledgement and/or understanding; I doubt any one person truly satisfied him for long. However, he does note in his last letter to Hadley, “You’ve changed me more than you know, and will always be a part of everything I am. That’s one thing I’ve learned from this. No one you love is ever truly lost.” So again, as with Alice in American Wife I felt Hadley completely buried herself and her needs in submitting to Ernest, whatever he wanted, needed, etc. He definitely called the shots. Though Hadley did at least continue playing the piano, so she got some fulfillment, unlike Alice.
Hadley had never been in a serious relationship before Ernest and I truly felt many times that given their age difference (8 years, as I recall), she rather felt that nurturing was the role of a wife, especially with Ernest. There were times I almost believed she was "mothering" him and that he would definitely resent Hadley ever diverting some of her attention from him to raise a child. As Ezra Pound warned her, "I think it would be a terrible mistake if you tried to utterly domesticate him," believing the baby would change everything, her expectations, etc. She admits that "about this one thing he had been dead right." While Hadley felt she could be both a mother and Ernest's wife, I believe that Ernest felt undivided attention to him was necessary, though only when he desired it, heedless of the many hours of “alone time” Hadley had to fill.Overall, I had more respect for Hadley than I had for Alice.