The Paris Wife

Paula McLain

Though deeply in love, the Hemingways are ill prepared for the hard- drinking and fast-living life of Jazz Age Paris, which hardly values traditional notions of family and monogamy. Surrounded by beautiful women and competing egos, Ernest struggles to find the voice that will earn him a place in history, pouring all the richness and intensity of his life with Hadley and their circle of friends into the novel that will become The Sun Also Rises. Hadley, meanwhile, strives to hold on to her sense of self as the demands of life with Ernest grow costly and her roles as wife, friend, and muse become more challenging. Despite their extraordinary bond, they eventually find themselves facing the ultimate crisis of their marriage—a deception that will lead to the unravelling of everything they’ve fought so hard for.

A heartbreaking portrayal of love and torn loyalty, The Paris Wife is all the more poignant because we know that, in the end, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.

WHSmith Edition now contains Exclusive Bonus material including...

Author confessions about her childhood growing up in foster care

Suggested Reading Where to start for more Hemingway

Other Great Reads Find out more about the 1920's and Paris



For me, The Paris Wife is all the more poignant for the fact that, from the outset, we know this happiest of young marriages is doomed. Hadley herself is our narrator and issues a clear warning in the opening chapter. 'I don't want to say, Keep watch for the girl who will come along and ruin everything, but she's coming anyway, set on her course in a gorgeous chipmunk coat and fine shoes.' Oh dear.

But the strength and tenderness of the relationship, so beautifully described by McLain, conspires to almost make us forget that it is headed for disaster. And the descriptions of Paris in the early 1920s are marvellous. This was the sparkling dawn of the impossibly glamorous Jazz Age. The Hemingways are surrounded by legendary figures - F Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda; Gertrude Stein; Ezra Pound. Life is fuelled by gossip and alcohol and sex. All are in full flight from the terrible war, and the atmosphere is volatile.

Hadley has a son and begins to realise that a bohemian lifestyle with exotic, febrile friends is no basis for family life. She begins to lose her confidence and is plagued by jealousy. Meanwhile Hemingway's writing is reaching its fullest power and a terrible deception is imminent. This is a wonderful book and a fascinating insight into the early life of a literary giant. It also moved me to tears.


This is romantic fiction based on events in real-life: the deeply moving and heartbreaking story of novelist Ernest Hemingway's first marriage. He is in Chicago, back home from the Great War, and suffering from a mild version of what today we would call post- traumatic stress disorder. She is eight years older than the 20-year-old Hemingway. Hadley Richardson believes she is firmly on the shelf, and is quietly resigned to a spinster's life. She has no idea how captivating a woman she really is.

But then she and Hemingway meet, and their connection is electric. Hadley finds the handsome, quintessentially masculine young writer irresistible and he falls utterly in love with her.

Hemingway has yet to write his first masterpiece but Hadley has complete faith in him. Almost as soon as they are married, they quit Chicago for Paris, where they believe he will be inspired by the company of other ex-pat American artists and writers. They can live cheaply there, too, and sail for Europe full of hope. Paula McLain catches the very essence of young love and the huge optimism it inspires: we are a little in love ourselves with the dashing, confident young couple, especially as we know that theirs is a true story.

Reviews & Comments

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  • I can't believe I am the first to write a review, whats wrong with you all! I dithered a bit before choosing this book, not sure if I was interested in reading about Hemingway but I am so glad I did, this is a brilliant book, the author evokes the period beautifully and has obviously researched Hemingway and his first marriage well. There was never moment when I was tempted to skim pages, I wanted to devour every page. All the characters introduced fit so well and though i wanted Hadley to have more backbone at times, and that Hemingway wasn't such a selfish **** the writer showed their close relationship and what they had to lose so thoroughly, but as richard and Judy said it is all the more poignant because we know that, in the end, Hemingway wrote that he would rather have died than fallen in love with anyone but Hadley.

    Susan Evans

  • I really enjoyed this book, it captures the 1920s brilliantly. Loved the diversity of characters. I also felt that Hadley deserved better than Hemingway who was such a bigoted egotist.

    Karen L S

  • I wasn't expecting to enjoy this one. I don't particularly like Hemingway and I'm not a great lover of the era, but I was pleasantly surprised. It was a good read and not spoiled at all by the fact that I already knew the outcome of the marriage.


  • What a marvellous book. I was unable to put it down, how I loved hadley. How could Pauline and Earnest have been so cruel. I am now reading all books related to Hadley it is quite amazing how many there are.

    This book has inspired me more than any I have read for years. Thank you Paula, I aim to explore Paris in the fp footsteps of HADLEY.

    kate orford

  • I really loved this book and did not want it to end.The whole era totally sucked me in and had me gripped from the first page.Paris in the 1920s must have been a very bohemian place to be with all the interesting and creative people that lived there. I never felt that Hadley felt sorry for herself just resigned at the end that her marriage was over and even though i knew what the outcome was i still shed a tear at the end which i very rarely do wth a book. There is no doubt they were madly in love but what chance did she have with all that temptation around them. I think this book would make a really good film.


  • A fascinating read, of hedonistic, creative people in the 1920's. Written with such sensitivity & wonderful description of the lifestyle, places and events of the time. I'm going to Paris in April and intend retracing the cafes and areas mentioned in this book. The combination of fact & fiction is quite tantalizing & it made me google bits to find out more. Have to admit I was never interested in Hemingway before reading this, but my mind is changed!! Loved it!

    Susan-Jane Smith

  • Another great read. I loved the way this captured the lifestyle of the artists in the 1920s. Poor Hadley was given a very raw deal by Hem who comes across as a not very likeable character. Recommended.


  • Im still crying, "such sweet sorrow." Thankyou Paula, you enriched my life.


  • I am sorry to say that I was a bit disappointed with this book. I love Hemmingway's books but didn't know a lot about his personal life and I think that the author gave too much away about the way things were likely to turn out in the end since they kept implying that things were going to turn out badly for the couple. I did like the way that the author painted a picture of their lives though, the decadence of the jazz age, the excitement of "new" types of relationships, the characterisations of other popular authors of the time such as F Scott Fitzgerald and the zeightgeist of the whole era

    Clare Davies

  • Yet again a Richard and Judy book provide! I wasnt sure about this book as I hadnt read any Hemminway books and wasnt sure I would be that intertested, but I was proved wrong. I doubt I will ready a Hemmingway novel but loved this book. You really get a feel for the times and the characters. I loved Hadley and her early friends and journey, hated Pauline, and the verdict is out on Ernest. But mixed together makes a really good read. Im not one to critique prose, grammar etc. but want a book to keep me captivated and this book does. Its a gentle journey but you care about what happens

    Su Trinder

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