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Join Paula McLain to talk about our February Book of the Month, THE PARIS WIFE, Tuesday 28th February 9-10pm

(142 Posts)
TillyBookClub Wed 01-Feb-12 12:29:08

Anyone happen to see Midnight In Paris, Woody Allen's most recent (and hurrah, at last! enjoyable) film? Essentially Owen Wilson looking confused and cute and exploring his 'golden era', the historical moment that you would most like to live in. Which means drinking all night in Twenties Paris with Picasso, Matisse, Gertrude Stein, Dali, Duff Cooper, Scott Fitzgerald. But he discovers that not all those gilded free spirits are so keen to be there.

February's book also takes that golden era and flips it over. THE PARIS WIFE is the story of Hadley, aka Mrs Ernest Hemingway (the first one, the 'Paris one'), who first meets the handsome, energetic, vulnerable Nesto in Prohibition-era Chicago. Several parties, fights and a proposal later, and they find themselves penniless in the city of lights, amidst the glittering crowd of artists and writers that congregate in its cafes and bars. Ernest's career finally begins to take off, and Hadley, kept at home with their baby son, begins to be pushed further and further into the sidelines. As she watches the fault lines in her marriage crack ever wider, her desperation to hold onto her love only grows stronger...until she realises there is another ready to take her place.

Read more about the book at our book of the month page, or browse pictures of Hadley and Ernest on Paula's website

Virago are offering 50 copies of The Paris Wife to Mumsnetters. To bag your copy before they run out, please go to the book of the month page and fill in your details.

We'll post on this thread once the copies have all been sent out but if you're not lucky enough to bag a free copy, don't forget you can get your paperback or Kindle version here

We are delighted that Paula will be joining us at the end of February for the live webchat - we will confirm the exact date in the next few days. Look forward to seeing you all there, and do keep posting your thoughts and any advance questions on this thread...

elkiedee Wed 29-Feb-12 22:09:15

I'm sorry to have missed the discussion, mainly because I was very tired and had curled up on the sofa! I read The Paris Wife a little while ago and really enjoyed it. Others who liked The Paris Wife or even didn't, but want to see his version, might find A Moveable Feast interesting - it was written near the end of his life and published after his death. I'm planning to read the first volume of his collected letters very soon, which goes up to 1922 so presumably includes letters to Hadley - it's a review copy, it's a rather beautiful hardback but a bit heavy to cart around in the bookbag I lug to work and back every day.

Hullygully Wed 29-Feb-12 13:44:46

Here it is (a bit late)

Paris, absinthe, infidelity, egotism, bull(s)


Have ordered the next.

MamaMary Wed 29-Feb-12 13:17:27

Thanks for answering the questions Paula! smile Very interesting.

TillyBookClub Wed 29-Feb-12 11:52:33

I missed you Hully. I wanted to hear your digested read, digested.

March's book is Lucky Break by Esther Freud. Chat with Esther is on Tues 27 March. Hope you can make it...

Hullygully Wed 29-Feb-12 09:05:43

Oh bum...completely forgot this!

Nevergarglebrandybutter Tue 28-Feb-12 22:44:02

Thanks Paula, A great book.

PaulaMcLain Tue 28-Feb-12 22:41:33

Thanks for your remarks, Carrie. I used the historical facts on record to provide the framework or scaffolding of the book. They sailed to Paris on such and such a date, etc. Everywhere they lived and traveled, who they met, the significance of their circle. What I couldn't know was their inner lives, what they said to one another, what they fought about. I had to project myself imaginatively into that space and invent a truth for them.


Yet again I've read the book of the month and then am out on book club night <sigh>
Anyway just wanted to say I really enjoyed it - had just seen midnight in Paris so imagined Hemingway as the actor in that all the way through and felt v much steeped in the era. The bit I found hardest was the betrayal by the friend and the reaction of Hadley to that, just made me so sad, even though you could see it coming and had indeed been warned all the way through that the ending wasn't happy.

I immediately wanted to go away and read more about the real Hadley/ Hemingway relationship, and my question and it's a tricky one is how much is fact and how much is fiction and how do you decide where to allow poetic license? Would you choose another "real life" event or person again for a novel or has this made you want to do a complete fictional work next time. Sorry two questions. Thanks so much for coming on Mn and for a great book. Have a great evening all.

PS was I the only one who wondered what the AIBU posts might have been like if Hem and Hadley had had MN...
AIBU to expect my wife not to lose my entire life's work on a train?
AIBU to expect my best friend not to steal my dh while on a jolly ski trip and wearing my best slippers
AIBU to expect to waltz off for weeks on end and leave my toddler with a French cleaner?
... it's Ok I'll stop now...

PaulaMcLain Tue 28-Feb-12 22:28:36

It was a shocking amount of work--yes! And thank goodness I didn't know there were all these Hemingway experts out there, ready to pounce if I got anything wrong!


This wasn't the kind of book I would normally buy, and usually anything with "deeply romantic" on the back cover would have me running for the hills. I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed it. I'm also secretly in awe of how much work must have gone into researching it all.

PaulaMcLain Tue 28-Feb-12 22:26:34

I DID in fact have to tread carefully, as I didn't have permission to quote him verbatim. What he says in the book, then, is what he MIGHT say given what I know from his letters, work, biographies, etc.

And yes, I think Hadley may well have lived a very restricted life in St. Louis if not for Ernest. The mature Hadley once said, "When I decided to hook my star to Ernest's, I exploded into life." For better or worse, her life does become richer for her marriage.


Thank you - I like those answers very much. I adore Charlotte's Web, rather fancy having RadiantPig as my Mumsnet login.

Now for my specifically Paris Wife q's:

Are some of Ernest's phrases in the book (for example, when he says 'One story for everything I know. Really know, in my bones and in my gut') actually taken from real life? Did you have to tread quite carefully in terms of what you could conjure up and what you might want to take verbatim from letters, memoirs etc?

What do you think Hadley would have done if she hadn't married Ernest? Stayed a maiden aunt, drinking tea with Ruth and Bertha? Or married a very boring type from St Louis just to avoid spinsterhood? Or do you think she had a spark in her that would have led to a unusual life no matter what?

TillyBookClub Tue 28-Feb-12 22:20:07

And lastly, for those wondering what's in store for next month, we'll be chatting to the delightful Esther Freud on Tuesday 27 March. March Book of the Month goes live just before midday tomorrow - and there's 100 copies of LUCKY BREAK, Esther's latest novel, to giveaway so keep your eyes peeled...

As always, thanks to everyone for making this such a lively and thoughtful chat. Hope to see y'all in a few weeks.

TillyBookClub Tue 28-Feb-12 22:11:46

I've been struggling too - my computer froze on me for 15 minutes...

Paula, thank you very very much indeed for all your thoughtful and insightful answers. It has been such a pleasure to have you here, and such a pleasure to read your excellent novel. And even more brilliant of you to fit this chat in just before kids supper...

if you get a chance to answer the remaining questions then that would be wonderful and hugely appreciated, but absolutely no worries if you can't.

Looking forward to seeing what you write next, and good luck with it all.

Many thanks again, it's been a great evening.

tiddleypompom Tue 28-Feb-12 22:04:00

My son has become Bumby in dedication grin

PaulaMcLain Tue 28-Feb-12 22:03:11

Thanks so much to all of you for signing in, and for reading. I'm chagrined that because of my computer troubles, it wasn't so much a discussion as my staggering along after the discussion, but I promise to get to all of your questions as soon as I'm able! Now off to make dinner for my not-so-patient children. All the best to all of you!!

PaulaMcLain Tue 28-Feb-12 22:00:49

No worries--and yes, he dedicated The Sun Also Rises to her and to Bumby--and gave her the royalties, too!


Yes. She was given a dedication though wasn't she? Apologies I can't recall if you actually quoted this in your novel?

StewieGriffinsMom Tue 28-Feb-12 22:00:13

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

PaulaMcLain Tue 28-Feb-12 21:59:48

I think Hadley did her absolute best, and then walked away when she had to.

As for my particular Golden Era, I might have liked to live in turn of the century New York, in the pages of an Edith Wharton novel!!


Questions for Paula Mclain.
Do you think Hadley could have done anything differently to save their marriage?
Is 1920s Paris, you're own personal golden era? Where would woody allens church bells at midnight take you?
Which character do you indentify most with?

PaulaMcLain Tue 28-Feb-12 21:58:20

I also think it's hard for women of our generation to understand another way of being a woman, of being married. It's complicated, truly, but for a time, Hadley got exactly what she wanted in her marriage. It might not be what WE would want for her, but just the same...


Paula, you talk about admiring gumption, passion and commitment in writers and these qualities shone out for me in your depiction of the character of Hemingway in the book. His faith in his potential to produce great writing seems to almost justify his selfishness at times ( to him and those around him if not to modern women today!) Hadley seems to feel that when she married him, she signed up to his needs coming first - that was the deal. I think the comments describing her as drippy/stupid are failing to understand that. I really liked her as a character.

tiddleypompom Tue 28-Feb-12 21:57:47

Yes. She was given a dedication though wasn't she? Apologies I can't recall if you actually quoted this in your novel?

highlandcoo Tue 28-Feb-12 21:56:25

Thanks Paula. I really enjoyed the book, especially having just read For Whom the Bell Tolls with my book group at the local library. Will now be recommending The Paris Wife to them as an interesting linked read smile

PaulaMcLain Tue 28-Feb-12 21:55:18

Thank you! I've written another novel--though quite different--titled A Ticket to Ride, and also a memoir about growing up in foster care, which I did, titled Like Family. I also have two books of poetry, but I'm not sure anyone reads poetry these days!!


Thanks for taking part in this discussion. I thoroughly enjoyed your style of writing and it has opened up a whole new genre to me. thanks.
my question - can you tell us about other books you have written, which of yours would you recommend next?

PaulaMcLain Tue 28-Feb-12 21:53:35

I think she was a muse for him--but more than this supported and bolstered his career--and his life. She was essential to his emotional makeup and stability. For that reason, I think she was quite hurt not to find herself in The Sun Also Rises. He was everything to her; wasn't she everything to him???


Do you believe that Hadley was indeed a 'muse' then? You used this term in response to a previous question. I was moved by how hurt she had been to read no mention of her in 'Sun' when she was given the first draft - almost as if she was not interesting enough to inspire recollection within his works (other than memoirs).

I have thoroughly enjoyed the book by the way.

PaulaMcLain Tue 28-Feb-12 21:49:25



Thanks Paula. It IS really sad when you think of it like that, especially as she had such good intentions. sad

PaulaMcLain Tue 28-Feb-12 21:46:55

They were hard to imagine--I'd certainly never seen a bullfight! But I liked thinking of her sitting ringside, feather stitching baby clothes--that play between softness and violence, feminine and masculine, life and death...


Thanks for your answer, Paula. Like Morgan, I'm planning to read A Moveable Feast now and will be interested to see it from EH's side!

Another controversial issue re Hemngway, abhorrent to so many people nowadays, is his passion for bullfighting, which I thought you conveyed very convincingly. Were these scenes difficult to write?

PaulaMcLain Tue 28-Feb-12 21:45:08

I think it was incredibly difficult for Hadley--this quiet Victorian girl--to find herself thrust into Bohemian Paris. All those huge egos! They were irritating, and hedonistic. I think of Hadley as a woman trapped between generations. She was surrounded by “modern” women in Paris, but she wasn’t that—wasn’t a flapper, wasn't at all like Zelda Fitzgerald, or sophisticated and cultured like Duff Twysden or Sara Murphy, or shrewd and self-confident like Pauline Pfeiffer. But she had her own kind of strength, and she did manage to hold her own in her marriage to Hemingway, although it doesn't always look that way from a distance.


I don't agree, Hullygully - Hadley is not a drip - maybe just a bit more prosaic than the bohemian types who surrounded her. smile I wonder, Paula, how did you feel about 'the lost generation' when you were doing your research? I found them quite irritating in their hedonism, snobbishness and immorality. Hadley was a refreshing contrast. I wonder did you mean this to come across, or is it just my reading?

kittysaysmiaow Tue 28-Feb-12 21:40:01

Thanks Paula. It IS really sad when you think of it like that, especially as she had such good intentions. sad

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