The Paris Wife is a fascinating novel based on the life of Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley. I had read of some of the included events previously in Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. I completely despised Hemingway after reading that book, and I can’t say that my opinion of him improved at all after reading The Paris Wife.
In fact, I should admit up front that I deeply and viscerally loathe Ernest Hemingway (as a person that is, as a writer he’s great and all) based on reading these two books. He tried to make himself feel better about his failings by pretending that he didn’t have a choice and that the normal constraints of real life, morality, and basic concern for others didn’t apply to him because of his (presumed) genius. Give me a break.
I spent a bit of time thinking this over as I read, actually, because you can find all sorts of articles about how artists (writers particularly) are prone to megalomania and are awful to their loved ones and are suicidal and are outside of the norms of human behavior. Some would have you believe that this is a sign of artistic genius. My conclusion is that plenty of brilliant people through the ages have NOT been overcome by a supposed inability to function within society nor have they felt required to go about ruining other people’s lives. The question is not whether or not these people are geniuses, but rather whether or not they are grounded in any authority outside of themselves.
Artists (perhaps particularly writers) are people who look at life deeply and experience it deeply, this is true. And, it strikes me, engaging in a lot of that sort of thinking is pretty dangerous if you don’t have an externally oriented value system or heirarchy. With only yourself as your standard, it stands to reason that a lot of deep scrutiny of life could cause you to implode. As Nietsche famously discovered, if God is dead only nihilism remains. And if you’re really a nihilist, well, there isn’t anything to live for really.
Musings about literary madness and hating Hemingway aside, I really did enjoy most of The Paris Wife, at least until the end when things went sour. It’s certainly far, far more enjoyable than A Moveable Feast. I can’t quite decide if I recommend it, but if you’re interested in the interwar literary scene or Bohemian Paris I think you’d like the book.
If you’ve read The Paris Wife, what did you think? If you read that and A Moveable Feast, which did you like better?
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