The Paris Wife


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Historical fiction - my favorite genre!  But connected to Ernest Hemingway - one of my least favorite authors?
The verdict - a very enjoyable read.  I didn't realize until I was setting up this page that the author, Paula McClain, also wrote "Circling the Sun" which my book club has also read.  Now I can see the similarities between the two books, especially chronicling the party set from the perspective of a strong woman, but, of the two, I much prefer "The Paris Wife".

Maybe it was too much eye strain trying to stay awake when I read "The Sun Also Rises" or the much worse "The Old Man and the Sea" AND Thor Heyerdahl's "Kon Tiki", but in the interest of future eye conservation for the 100+ books I still want to read, I often choose the Large Print version of a book when it is convenient.  All page references below are for the LP version - I think they are supposed to be the same as regular print but I mention it and often refer to Chapter locations just in case there is a difference.


On a scale of 1 - 5 (5 being a lot of examples/instances):

Sex: 2

Religion: 1

Gruesome: 0

Suspense: 2

Morality: 2

Traditional: 3

Sex - pre-marital (end Ch. 8) descriptive but not graphic.  Early Ch. 16, p. 163 - very mild.  Minimal extra-marital affair while Ernest is on a field assignment.  Ch. 23, p. 209 - minor, spousal.  An extra-marital affair happens behind closed doors except one time when it is in the same room as the wife! (end Ch. 41, p. 426)

Religion - p. 211 - Keeping track of a woman's cycle as well as pharmaceutical birth control.

Gruesome -

Suspense - some suspense regarding what Ernest would decide to do regarding his relationship with Hadley at various points throughout the novel.  The lost valise was suspenseful in Chapter 21. (Also a situation with confirmation on the internet.)  I was very curious to see who would end up with whom.

Morality - while on a difficult field assignment Ernest hooks up with a girl and then possibly feels remorse about it.  There is a reference to Ezra Pound being fired from an Indiana college for inappropriate behavior. (Ch. 20, p. 193) An internet search confirms the situation.  Hemingway and his set were like a pre-cursor to the Hollywood brat pack - bad behavior was a way of life.  In this book it is known and mentioned but not dwelled on or glorified.

Traditional - there are marriages, children, affairs, divorces - probably reasonably in proportion to real life.  There is at least one same-sex couple.

Chapter 9 is the first chapter entirely in italics.  At first I thought it was a dream but then realized it was Ernest's viewpoint but he is referred to in the third person.  There are a few other italicized chapters throughout the book.

Discussion Questions

The book begins with two quotes.  Discuss how the quotes apply to the novel.
"It is not what France gave you but what it did not take from you that was important." - Gertrude Stein
"There's no one thing that's true.  It's all true." - Ernest Hemingway

At the end of Chapter Eight, Hadley forecasts what would become "the hardest lesson of [her] marriage".  (p. 97)  What was yours?

In Chapter Eleven (p. 111) Hadley wonders if everyone has a bit of suicidal tendencies in them.  If so, do we survive them "by chance alone"?  In Chapter Forty, Ernest has his own musings about suicide.  Consider discussing an aspect of suicide with your book club.  (I do not say this lightly, but with some position of experience, as I am a "survivor" of suicide - that is to say, in 2000 my spouse committed suicide and left me and our two children behind to survive.  Even so, I would not have any problem discussing the topic but others, for whom the wound is more raw, may find it difficult.)

Ernest thought art "[distilled] places and people and objects to their essential qualities". (Ch. 12, p. 123)  What do you think?

Dorothy (Ezra Pound's wife) quoted Shakespeare, "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."  (Ch. 13, p. 133)  Do you agree or disagree?  Discuss.

Pound and Stein advise Ernest to write simply.  "Don't tell the readers what to think.  Let the action speak for itself." and let a hawk be a hawk - no symbolism. (end Ch. 13, p. 140) Did Hemingway ultimately stay true to this advice?  As a reader, do you want to be told or do you prefer to make your own assumptions?  Ernest thought writing should be true to the action and not include his feelings.  He tried not to think about himself and only focus on what really happened. (Ch. 25, p. 245)  Did he maintain this style?

Describe a time when you re-visited somewhere and found a great discrepancy between your memory and reality. (Ch. 15)

"It's one of the things war does to you.  Everything you see works to replace moments and people from your life before, until you can't remember why any of it mattered." (p. 183)  Discuss personal experiences that refute or support this idea.  Does the war justify Ernest's actions with the girl in Chapter 18?

In the second part of Chapter 23 (p. 221) Hadley makes observations and conjectures about marriage. 
Are there some types, like artists, for whom monogamy really isn't possible?

Ernest said he wanted to write what he really knew "in [his] bones and in [his] gut".  (p. 267) 
Hadley said for he that would be Ernest and Bumby.  What would it be for you?

When Don walks Hadley home he says he misses "good old-fashioned honorable people, just trying to make something of life.  Simply, without hurting anyone else." (Ch.31, p. 321)  Does this seem to be a pattern throughout history?  For example, people today watch shows like "Andy Griffith" and long for simpler times.

Theme Ideas

Serve Sauternes or brandy and seltzer like Ernest drank after a good day of writing. (p. 11)

Hadley and Ernest's first dinner out was Greek:  roasted lamb and a cucumber salad with lemon and olives.

Serve Pernod with water and sugar and coq au vin like they got at the cafe when they went out a few days before Christmas to beat home sickness. (Ch. 12, p. 120)

Serve tea and cakes like Gertrude Stein did the first time the Hemingway's went over. (Ch. 13, p. 137)

Serve the foods of Hadley's cravings at the beginning of Ch. 25 (p. 244): muskmelons (cantaloupe), really nice cheese, coffee, good jam, and waffles.

Serve "very nice champagne...teacake, dried fruit, and sugared almonds" like at the Christening. (Ch. 27, p. 265)

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