Ernest Hemingway, of Oak Park, Illinois, and Hadley Richardson, of St. Louis, Missouri, both had mothers that “took no prisoners,” according to Ms. McLain. They both had fathers that were quiet and passionate and both killed themselves with guns, Hadley’s previously to their meeting and Hemingway’s later. Because of their parents’ marriages with very dominant women, Ms. McLain said that Ernest and Hadley both wanted a marriage that had more equality. This was after Hemingway had survived World War I and was still probably shell-shocked from the whole experience (including his failed relationship with nurse Agnes von Kurowsky). Ms. McLain told how Kate Smith (later the wife of John Dos Passos) invited Hadley to visit her and her friends in Chicago and there Hadley met the strapping 6′ 1″ Hemingway on her first night in town.
–Ernest and Hadley from jfklibrary.org
Ms. McLain then took some time to read from her well written and researched book about the first meeting of Hadley and Ernest. I liked her writing style as she used different descriptions all throughout from Hadley’s viewpoint such as “this beautiful boy’s knee,” and “trash copy for Firestone tires,” and “Kate’s green eyes,” as Kate Smith was still harboring feelings for Hemingway that were not reciprocated.
Hemingway actually proposed to Hadley via a letter. Hemingway kept much of his correspondence during his lifetime, but Hadley burned all her letters from Hemingway after they were divorced.
Ms. McLain told of how she was visited Oak Park and at a talk she was giving she met the current owner of Hadley and Ernest’s first apartment in Chicago on North Dearborn and the man invited her to to see the place and she did. This was the apartment where the Hemingways had invited Sherwood Anderson and his wife for dinner and told them their plans of going to Rome to live. Anderson convinced them that Paris was the place to go and gave him introductory letters to expatriates already there such as Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein.
Ms. McLain talked a little bit about growing up in foster care, which she wrote about in her first book entitled Like Family. Reading and books, of course, were a great escape for her growing up. She wrote her first draft of The Paris Wife at the Starbucks near her house. She had never written a novel of historical fiction and is now having trouble moving on.
At 19, Ms. McLain sent a poem in to Cosmopolitan magazine and they published it and paid her for it. She did a lot of creative writing in the 70’s and spent 7 years in undergraduate studies. She then went to graduate school at the University of Michigan.
After the talk and reading, Ms. McLain spent a great deal of time answering some questions from the audience. I found it interesting that Kate Smith Dos Passos and Hadley never were in contact again after the divorce. Someone asked if Hemingway was really as romantic as Ms. McLain portrays him. When Hemingway died, papers from his manuscript of A Moveable Feast were still in his typewriter. So, some of his last thoughts might have been about his Paris wife. The writing speaks for itself: “I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.”