“While McLain’s portrait of this impossible marriage can be harrowing, it can also be frustrating, for Hadley rarely emerges from her wistful cocoon…McLain has transformed Hadley into a Mrs. Gatsby not because Hadley is rich or powerful or corrupt but because she is the opposite of all these things. And that means she is hardly more than a stereotype, alas, caught in a world not of her own making.”
This is how Brenda Wineapple ends her review of THE PARIS WIFE in a piece that appeared in the New York Times back in March.
But I don’t think that assessment is quite right. I think that had Hadley actually been the stereotype that Ms. Wineapple complains about, she would have stayed in the marriage with Hemingway, and become the victimized wife, suffering through his numerous infidelities, his temper, and his drinking.
But that is not what Hadley did, and that is why I find her so interesting. Instead of being the stereotypical abused wife, Hadley left the relationship. And what is so remarkable about this is that Hemingway clearly expected her to stay and put up with his bad behavior.
There is no doubt that Hadley Richardson loved Ernest Hemingway deeply, so it is not because she fell out of love with him that she left. It is because she made herself look honestly at the situation he’d put her in, and decided that she wanted out.
And painful as it was, she left, moved on, and married another man who gave her the stability that she craved.
She was still married to this same person when Hemingway called her up over 30 years later to tell her about the book he was writing, about their lives in Paris together.
I do not see Hadley as a stereotype, but as an unexpectedly strong woman who grasped the nettle of disappointment, and decided to move on.
Image taken from Paula McLain’s book THE PARIS WIFE, shows Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway in the early 1920s.