In the middle of reading Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife, I experienced a strange meta moment.
I was reading a fictional account of a real-life trip to the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona that inspired the fictional masterpiece, The Sun Also Rises.
Has there ever been a vacation written about from so many viewpoints in fictional, autobiographical and biographical tomes? What happens in Pamplona apparently doesn’t stay in Pamplona. All kidding aside though, The Paris Wife is a romanticized account of Hadley Hemingway that at times is a re-hashing of material that has been examined from nearly every perspective. Hadley is portrayed as the good wife, loving and true, who eventually loses Ernest to a younger and more cultured Pauline.
For those who have read A Moveable Feast or watched the documentary Hemingway: Wrestling with Life, you know the terrain about to be covered. Ernest and Hadley marry and move to Paris, where Ernest struggles to learn his craft. They meet other expatriate writers. Ernest writes. Ernest and Hadley drink. They travel to San Fermin with other expats, where events inspire Ernest’s first novel. Ernest gets published and falls in love with Pauline, eventually leaving Hadley.
As I mentioned, McLain’s version of Hadley is romanticized, but we feel her pain when she loses three years of Ernest’s manuscripts. We sense Hadley’s conflicted feelings when she reads the manuscript for The Sun Also Rises and realizes the story is based on real events though she has been basically erased out of every scene. For me, the novel picks up towards the end, with the tension that arises when Pauline wedges her way in between Ernest and Hadley. In that sense, the novel is a tragic love story, though not as tragic as my favorite Hemingway novel, A Farewell To Arms.
For those who are interested in the Hemingway story, this is an entertaining read. I also recommend reading A Moveable Feast and watching Hemingway: Wrestling with Life.