The Paris Wife

I am missing book club this month, making it a streak of 300 months in a row.  I do read the books but the dates/times of the meet up just never end up working and I particularly liked this book so rather then just waste my talking points I’m putting them here and will talk to you (feel free to talk back).

I originally was not going to do a plot summery but when I just looked for one to link to they all pretty much stink. Wait, this one on good reads is decent.   In a nutshell it is a flawed love story based on the courtship and married life of Hadley and Ernest Hemingway in the 1920’s.  They meet and fall in love quickly and the romance is conducted via post and I feel that was very appropriate to how Ernest expressed himself best – via writing.  They live a crazy itinerant life, living first in Chicago then in 3 different Paris apartments, 1 apartment in Toronto (for the birth of their son) and practically living in Spain and Switzerland for months at a time in rented hotel space.  They meet many other intellectual writers in Paris, famous ones like F Scott Fitzgereld, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound.  The world is crazy and the people they are surround by are redefining acceptable and after a while Ernest falls into the notion that he can cheat – that he is entitled to it – that maybe they can all be a family? (no…).  Hadley leaves him and while she is sad and she is strong and overall changed for the better by the years.  She goes on to have a traditional and long relationship, he continues down his path to wife #2, #3 and then #4 and then suicide.  The voice of the book is Hadley and to see Ernest through her eyes humanizes him.  She tells the story of how he learns to write and how he condensed real life into vivid yet simple fiction.  The Hemingway way of ‘living life’ was obvious in the book and I personally love how it discusses real works of his and where they were coming from.  The book is apparently as accurate as possible based on many diaries and news of the time so I trust it more then a random novel about the 20s.

Here are a few passages that I wanted to bring up ‘book club’ style;

“To marry was to say you believed in the future and in the past, too—that history and tradition and hope could stay knit together to hold you up”.    I love this description of marriage.  In the book it is retrospective in a way because the world was moving away from tradition post WWI that was full of death and destruction.  People would come together but they would not stay because staying was too much of a statement that there would be a future.  I think this phrase is still applicable to today; to marry is to say you believe there will be something to be together for in the future.  Many marriages fail because people stop working on keeping them working.  As we grow up together, and our family change,s Lars and I have to adjust how we are as a couple and tradition and the past are part of what helps give shape to the next step when sometimes you are not sure quite what to do next.

Why couldn’t I be happy? And just what was happiness anyway? Could you fake it,” This is something Hadley says about her burgeoning relationship with Ernst.  She can’t quite let herself believe that it was not going to burst into flames at any second.  The nature of happiness is funny; there are days that I know I make myself sad and dwell on the worst and days where I can do the opposite.  Sometimes it is easy to change my mood, sometimes not, but over the past 30 years I think I’ve figured out that it is more me then the world that creates my mood and outlook.  To answer Hadleys question; no, you can’t fake happiness but you can push yourself in a happy direction and soon you will be there for real.  What is happiness?  Hard to say but I think a big part is being positive about where you are no matter where that is.  In the book I believe she finds a way to create her own happiness.

” I worked for the Red Cross over in Italy, as an ambulance driver.”  I LOVE when books reference other books and this is Hemmingway referencing the main character he creates in Farewell to Arms.  It was awesome hearing the ‘real’ story behind the story.

“No is the easiest word there is. Children learn to talk by saying no.”  This phrase is early in the book but it could easily be inspiration for an essay on how children know right from wrong far better then adults in some ways.  I personally like it because at the moment Fiona is queen of “No!”.  In a twisted view, sometimes a no is really a no-but-convince-me and there was quite a bit of that going on in the book too.  I’m very glad that in the end Hadley stuck to her guns and said “No”.

She said she hoped I’d forgive her someday.”
“You haven’t.”
“No. Not really.”

This exchange is about the nurse he loves in Italy and the ‘real’ story behind Farewell to Arms.  He very much does not ever seem to forgive her because the nurse meets a pretty bad end in the book.  I guess thats what you get for breaking a young Hemingway’s heart.  ** I also think the man had some deep fears about childbirth, it is also a recurring theme and based on my quick research none of his wives ever had a very bad delivery…

“Being in Rome with Ernest had to be different.”  I hear Hadley here.  I’ve traveled and thought the exact same thing; I wish Lars was here.  Experiencing the world with different people just makes it different.  This is another good one to talk about because I’ve been to the same place many time with different people and had very different experiences – I’m different in each scenario too.  For example driving from NY to MN with my mom is pretty different then with Lars – the same road and car just different drivers makes it different.

“I actually took it to mean that if I could take care of her—you, that is—I’d worry less about myself. But maybe it works both ways.”  More on the nature of marriage.  Ernst wanted a wife to keep the terrors of war away by giving him someone to focus on but from Hadley’s point of view, Ernst needs someone to buoy him up and believe in him or he falls into a pit of his own making.  Given his end, I think she is right.  In my world I tend to agree that taking care of someone can be so all encompassing and satisfying that you don’t have time/reason to dwell on other things outside the bubble of your life.  When my MiL died Lars and his brother were both very sad, but, they also had families to go back to.  Families who needed them and who would prop them up when they needed it.  His sister had nobody truly to go home to and she has been lost ever since.  Given the exploration of the nature of a married commitment I think this phrase speaks to the value of long term commitment where partners take turns being the strong one or the one who needs strength.

“What do you think about Pound’s theory about symbolism?” he asked her. “You know, that a hawk should first and foremost be a hawk?”  I will never forget a dear friend from school saying “sometimes the only word for windowsill is windowsill”.  There can be symbolism in everything, but, things should not JUST be symbols.  I want the hawk to be important as a hawk and let me discover if it means more… just like a certain fish in my least favorite Hemingway book…. I think the man was straying from Mr Pound’s theory here because it was one dull dull dull story if it was just about a fish.  Maybe that is why it is force fed to us in 9th grade english.

“A second trip is never the first.”  more of the same from the previous travel thought.  You can’t repeat an experience exactly, trying will only set you up to be disappointing.  Go look for something new in the same place and your far more likely to be satisfied.

“but I was proud and felt changed by the honor.”  A random phrase about a bulls ear, but, much more overall.  The strangest things change you, even if you are just along for the ride you never know when your life will take a left turn.  I think this (second) trip to spain was when the Hemingways started to truly divide.

“She knows what she likes, and more than that, she knows why. That’s very rare, particularly these days, when everyone’s more and more full of hot air.”   This is toward the end and is actually about the mistress, but, I like that it was said in general because it was a nod to the fact that the majority of the people were making it up as they went along.  It is a pet peeve of mine when people blindly like or dislike something for no real reason.  Feel whatever you want, just have a rational thought of your own behind it.  Possibly that is as rare now as it was then…

I ended up reading the last quarter of the book semi sick so I stopped noting passages but the one that sticks in my mind is “I got the best of him” from Hadley on the demise of the marriage.  I think she is correct, she got the excited and young and idealistic Ernest and he helped her become a risk-taking, adventuring woman of the world.  She says she goes back to Paris after a year in the US post divorce because she loves it there, not because it was easy or where she had family etc.  The Ernest  she left was becoming very macho and even more self centered and I do think she got the best of him.  I looked at the lengths of his marriages and his 2nd marriage was much longer, but, he was away in WWII for a large chunk of it so I think absence might have prolonged

I can’t imagine the life they led, it was just so different.  Very few ‘things’, very little money, no plan, no saving, moving and visiting and basically creating the bohemian life of eating and drinking and living in bed.  I talked to my grandmother, who was very young at that time, and she remembers that people wanted to experience as much as possible.  With the internet now I think the curiosity is more easily satisfied but there still is  something romantic about just picking up and going.

It is probably good I’m not going to this bookclub because I would talk too much.  This is just the tip of the iceberg because for each quote I think I could easily write 1000 words.  It is a sad thing that I note quotes like this as I go but I do, a habit built in school dies hard and now with kindle it is 100X easier to note a phrase.

I think I might need to go read The Sun Also Rises since it was the book he was writing ‘during’ this book and I have not read that one.  I like Farewell to Arms much better after this, I see more of the intention behind it and how Hemingway truly did invent a writing style.  He was probably an awesome journalist, definitely a great writer, a poor friend and a very mixed bag of a husband.

This has taken all day so I need to just publish already.  For the record, my father in law died yesterday and when in the future I try and remember the date I will turn to this first so I have to put it down even if it does not fit in.  Today was a flurry of figuring out the details of travel.  I’m not going, just Lars, and one of these days I’ll write something proper for Russ but not today.  However, he was as devoted a husband as Hemingway was a devoted writer and if I had to choose between great author or husband I think husband is the obvious choice.

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