The Paris Wife

By Paula McLain


Welcome to the fascinating world of The Paris Wife by Paula McLain! 📚✨ Set against the backdrop of the roaring 1920s in Paris, this engaging novel offers a glimpse into the life of Hadley Richardson, the first wife of the famous American author Ernest Hemingway. McLain, known for her ability to weave historical facts with compelling narrative, dives deep into the complexities of love, ambition, and betrayal that marked this iconic literary relationship.

Paula McLain brings to life the Jazz Age Paris, where the Hemingways found themselves among other literary giants like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. This novel, falling under the genre of historical fiction, not only transports readers to a time of artistic fervor but also exposes the intimate struggles of a woman navigating her place beside a burgeoning literary star. McLain’s meticulous research and vibrant storytelling make The Paris Wife a must-read for fans of Hemingway, historical fiction enthusiasts, and anyone intrigued by the tumultuousness of love and art. Let’s dive into the captivating journey of Hadley Richardson and her tumultuous marriage with one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century! 🎨💔

Plot Summary

The Paris Wife intricately unfolds the story of Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway, from their whirlwind romance to the unraveling of their marriage amidst the vibrant yet volatile backdrop of Paris in the 1920s.

Exposition: The novel begins with Hadley Richardson, a quiet and conventional woman, who feels her life takes a dramatic turn when she meets the charismatic and aspiring writer, Ernest Hemingway, in Chicago. Despite the difference in their ages and personalities, they share an immediate connection, leading to a swift marriage.

Rising Action: The newlyweds move to Paris, where they immerse themselves in the expatriate scene, mingling with other notable figures of the Lost Generation, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. This period is marked by Ernest struggling to find his voice as a writer, while Hadley tries to maintain her sense of self amidst the intoxicating and often overwhelming life of jazz, alcohol, and the burgeoning literary fame of her husband.

Climax: The tension in their marriage reaches a peak when Hadley loses a suitcase containing all of Ernest’s manuscripts at a train station. This incident, alongside Ernest’s relentless ambition and his affair with Pauline Pfeiffer, one of their close friends, creates an irreparable rift between the couple.

Falling Action: Despite their efforts to reconcile and maintain their marriage, including relocating to different countries and trying to adapt to each other’s needs, the damage proves too profound. Ernest’s relationship with Pauline becomes more public and serious, further alienating Hadley.

Resolution: The novel culminates in Hadley making the heart-wrenching decision to divorce Ernest, recognizing that their love could not withstand the external pressures and Ernest’s infidelity. The story closes with Hadley reflecting on their time together, acknowledging the depth of their love but accepting the necessity of moving on for the sake of her own happiness and the well-being of their son, Bumby.

Through the lens of The Paris Wife, Paula McLain presents a poignant exploration of love, loyalty, and the personal sacrifices entailed in living alongside great artistic ambition.

Character Analysis

The Paris Wife offers a deep dive into its characters, revealing their complexities, motivations, and the changes they undergo throughout the narrative. Here, we analyze the main characters of the novel:

Hadley Richardson: Initially portrayed as a shy and conventional woman, Hadley emerges as a resilient and deeply compassionate character. Despite her initial hesitations, she throws herself into the bohemian lifestyle of Paris with Ernest. Her unwavering support for Ernest’s career highlights her selflessness. However, as the story progresses, Hadley’s growth is evident in her gradual assertion of independence and her decision to prioritize her own well-being and that of their son, Bumby, over her tumultuous marriage.

Ernest Hemingway: Ernest is ambitious, charismatic, and deeply insecure about his writing. His passion for his craft and his desire to carve out a name for himself drive much of the plot’s tension. While deeply loving Hadley, his restlessness and infidelity strain their relationship. Ernest’s character is a study in contrasts: he is both vulnerable and brash, craving both fame and the authenticity of his early work.

Pauline Pfeiffer: Pauline initially appears as a friend to both Hadley and Ernest, but her role becomes more complicated as she becomes Ernest’s lover. Her character is often seen as the catalyst for the disintegration of the Hemingways’ marriage. However, Pauline is also portrayed as a woman caught in the throes of her desires, challenging societal norms for love.

F. Scott Fitzgerald & Zelda Fitzgerald: While not as centrally focused, the Fitzgeralds represent the allure and pitfalls of fame within the expatriate community in Paris. Scott’s friendship with Ernest offers a mirror to Ernest’s own ambitions and insecurities, while Zelda’s tumultuous relationship with Scott parallels the strains seen in the Hemingways’ marriage.

Below is a summary table of the character analysis:

CharacterPersonality TraitsMotivationsCharacter Development
Hadley RichardsonShy, conventional, compassionate, resilientSupport Ernest, maintain family unityGains independence, prioritizes personal well-being
Ernest HemingwayAmbitious, charismatic, insecure, restlessAchieve literary fame, find personal satisfactionStruggles with infidelity, personal insecurities
Pauline PfeifferComplex, determined, passionatePursue love, challenge societal normsBecomes a divisive figure in the Hemingways’ marriage
F. Scott & Zelda FitzgeraldCharismatic, troubled, reflective of fame’s allure and costAchieve and maintain fame, navigate personal strugglesOffer a comparative lens to the Hemingways

This analysis reveals the depth and complexity of McLain’s characters, showcasing their evolution throughout the narrative against the vibrant backdrop of 1920s Paris.

Themes and Symbols

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain is rich with themes and symbols that delve into the complexities of love, ambition, identity, and the artistic spirit of the 1920s. Here’s a look at the major themes and symbols and their significance in the novel:

Love and Sacrifice: At the heart of the novel is the intense, yet ultimately doomed, love story between Hadley and Ernest. Their relationship is a testament to the sacrifices made in the name of love, and how these sacrifices can both sustain and erode the foundation of a relationship. Hadley’s willingness to support Ernest’s career at the cost of her own happiness underscores the theme of personal sacrifice in love.

The Lost Generation: The novel encapsulates the disillusionment and aimlessness of the post-World War I generation, famously dubbed “the Lost Generation” by Gertrude Stein. Through the expatriate community in Paris, McLain explores how the war’s aftermath left a void in the lives of those who survived, driving them to seek meaning in art, literature, and often, in escapism.

Artistic Ambition and Integrity: Ernest’s journey as a writer, from a hungry young talent to a celebrated author, reflects the theme of artistic ambition. The novel questions the cost of artistic success and the struggle to maintain one’s integrity amidst fame and external pressures. The suitcase of lost manuscripts symbolizes the fragility of art and the personal sacrifices made in its pursuit.

Identity and Independence: Hadley’s struggle to maintain her identity within her marriage to Ernest and the broader expatriate community mirrors the broader quest for personal independence. Her journey from a supportive spouse to an independent individual highlights the theme of self-discovery and the importance of asserting one’s identity.

Paris as a Symbol of Freedom and Escape: The city of Paris itself is a vibrant symbol in the novel, representing a place of freedom, artistic expression, and escape from the conventions of American society. For Hadley, Ernest, and their circle, Paris is both a haven and a battleground where their personal and artistic ambitions are tested.

The Suitcase of Lost Manuscripts: This symbolizes the fragility of artistic creation and the profound impact of loss on personal relationships and creative ambition. The loss of Ernest’s manuscripts is a turning point in the novel, underscoring the themes of sacrifice, betrayal, and the impermanence of art.

These themes and symbols weave together to form a complex tapestry that captures the essence of the Lost Generation’s search for meaning in a post-war world, the sacrifices made in the name of love and art, and the personal journeys of identity and independence. Through The Paris Wife, McLain provides a deeply moving exploration of these timeless human experiences.

Writing Style and Tone

Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife is distinguished by its evocative writing style and tone, which play pivotal roles in bringing the story of Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway to life. Here’s an analysis of the key aspects of McLain’s writing style and the tone of the novel:

Intimate and Reflective Tone: McLain adopts an intimate tone that offers a deep dive into Hadley’s perspective, allowing readers to experience her joys, sorrows, and innermost thoughts firsthand. This reflective tone invites readers to empathize with Hadley, feeling the weight of her sacrifices and the sting of her heartbreaks as if they were their own.

Historical Authenticity with a Modern Sensibility: McLain meticulously blends historical facts with fiction, capturing the essence of the 1920s Parisian expatriate scene while making it accessible to contemporary readers. This blend imbues the narrative with authenticity, transporting readers to the Jazz Age Paris, while the emotional depth and complexities of the characters resonate with modern sensibilities about love, identity, and ambition.

Lyrical and Descriptive Language: The prose is marked by lyrical beauty and vivid descriptions, from the bustling cafes of Paris to the serene landscapes of Pamplona. McLain’s use of descriptive language not only paints a rich backdrop for the story but also amplifies the emotional intensity of key moments, making the settings almost characters in their own right.

Seamless Integration of Real and Imagined Dialogues: The dialogue in the novel strikes a balance between historical accuracy and creative embellishment. McLain skillfully incorporates conversations that might have taken place between real-life figures, such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald, giving readers a sense of authenticity while also exploring the deeper emotional undercurrents of these interactions.

Exploration of Themes through Subtle Symbolism: McLain employs symbolism in a subtle yet impactful way, using objects, such as the lost suitcase of manuscripts, and settings, like the vibrant city of Paris, to deepen the exploration of themes like artistic integrity, love, loss, and self-discovery.

Emotional Complexity and Nuance: The novel’s tone navigates the complexities of human emotions with nuance, avoiding simplistic portrayals of love and ambition. McLain delves into the shades of grey in her characters’ relationships, presenting their triumphs and failings without judgment, which encourages readers to ponder the intricacies of human connections.

The combination of these elements in McLain’s writing style and tone contributes to the immersive and emotionally resonant experience of reading The Paris Wife. Through her vivid storytelling, McLain not only brings the story of Hadley and Ernest Hemingway to life but also offers a window into the soul of an era marked by its artistic fervor and existential quests.

Literary Devices used in The Paris Wife

Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife showcases a masterful use of literary devices that enrich the narrative, deepen the emotional impact, and illuminate the novel’s themes. Here’s an examination of the top 10 literary devices used in the book:

  1. Foreshadowing — McLain uses foreshadowing to hint at future events, creating a sense of anticipation and tension. The opening lines suggest a journey filled with love and loss, preparing readers for the emotional depth of Hadley and Ernest’s story.
  2. Metaphor — The Paris Wife is rich in metaphors, such as comparing Paris to a beacon of hope and freedom for the post-war generation. This device helps convey the emotional and symbolic significance of the setting and the characters’ experiences.
  3. Simile — McLain’s use of simile, such as comparing the Hemingways’ marriage to a delicate piece of art, enhances the narrative’s descriptive quality and helps readers visualize the complexities and beauty of their relationship.
  4. Imagery — Vivid imagery is a hallmark of McLain’s style, particularly in descriptions of Paris and its vibrant expatriate community. This device immerses readers in the setting, evoking sensory responses that make the world of the novel feel palpably real.
  5. Symbolism — Objects and events, like the lost suitcase of manuscripts, serve as symbols that reflect deeper themes of loss, creativity, and the fragile nature of human relationships.
  6. Personification — McLain personifies elements of nature and settings, imbuing them with human qualities to reflect the characters’ emotions and the atmospheric mood of the novel’s various locales.
  7. Irony — The novel employs irony, particularly situational irony, as seen in the contrast between the Hemingways’ hopeful beginnings and the unraveling of their marriage, highlighting the unpredictability of life and love.
  8. Allusion — References to real-life historical figures and literary works of the time serve as allusions, enriching the narrative with layers of historical and cultural context.
  9. Stream of Consciousness — While not pervasive, moments of stream of consciousness provide insight into Hadley’s inner thoughts and feelings, offering a deeper understanding of her character and her perspective on her relationship with Ernest.
  10. Dialogue — The dialogue in The Paris Wife not only captures the voices of the era and the real-life characters but also serves as a vehicle for revealing character dynamics, conflicts, and moments of intimacy or estrangement.

Each of these literary devices plays a crucial role in shaping the narrative of The Paris Wife, allowing Paula McLain to weave a richly textured story that is both historically grounded and deeply emotive.

Literary Devices Examples

Let’s explore examples and explanations for each of the top 10 literary devices used in The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, presented in separate tables for clarity.


Early mentions of Ernest’s restlessness and Hadley’s concerns about their futureSets the stage for the challenges their marriage will face, hinting at Ernest’s eventual infidelity and the dissolution of their relationship.
The lost suitcase of manuscriptsSymbolizes not only the tangible loss of Ernest’s early work but also foreshadows the deeper losses and betrayals to come in their marriage.
Discussions about the fickleness of love and fame in the expatriate communityPrefigures the personal and professional tribulations that Hadley and Ernest will encounter, reflecting the transient nature of relationships and success.


Paris as a beacon of hope and freedomRepresents the city not just as a geographical location but as a symbol of new beginnings, artistic liberation, and the promise of the Lost Generation’s ideals.
Marriage to a delicate piece of artIllustrates the beauty and fragility of Hadley and Ernest’s relationship, suggesting that it is both precious and perilously susceptible to damage.


Comparing the Hemingways’ early love to a bright, untarnished coinEvokes the freshness and potential of their relationship at the beginning, highlighting its initial value and beauty before the wear of time and hardship.


Descriptions of the bustling cafes and dimly lit streets of ParisBrings the setting to life, allowing readers to vividly imagine the sights, sounds, and atmosphere of Paris in the 1920s, serving as a backdrop to the Hemingways’ lives.


The lost suitcase of manuscriptsRepresents the fragility of creativity and the personal, professional, and emotional losses that Hadley and Ernest endure throughout their marriage.


The Seine river reflecting the city’s moodGives the river a mood reflective quality, mirroring the characters’ emotions and the novel’s changing tones, from hopefulness to melancholy.


Hadley’s initial reluctance to immerse herself in the Parisian lifestyle juxtaposed with her later longing for a simpler lifeHighlights the ironic twist of Hadley’s journey, where her initial fears become a source of comfort as her life with Ernest grows increasingly complex and painful.


References to literary figures like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude SteinAnchors the narrative in its historical context, enriching the story with real-life personalities and their influence on the Hemingways.

Stream of Consciousness

Hadley’s inner reflections on her marriage and Ernest’s infidelityOffers intimate access to Hadley’s thoughts and emotions, illustrating her internal struggle and providing depth to her character.


Conversations between Hadley and Ernest about their hopes and fearsReveals the dynamics of their relationship, their individual personalities, and how they navigate the challenges they face together and apart.

These examples showcase how Paula McLain employs literary devices in The Paris Wife to create a rich, multi-layered narrative that captures the essence of the characters’ experiences and the atmospheric setting of 1920s Paris.

The Paris Wife – FAQs

Q: What is The Paris Wife about?
A: The Paris Wife, written by Paula McLain, is a historical fiction novel that focuses on the life of Hadley Richardson, the first wife of the famous American author Ernest Hemingway. Set mainly in Paris during the 1920s, the book explores their tumultuous relationship, the challenges of Hemingway’s rise to fame, and the impact of their personal struggles on their marriage.

Q: Who is the main character in The Paris Wife?
A: The main character is Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway’s first wife. The story is told largely from her perspective, providing insight into her experiences, emotions, and the complexities of her marriage to Hemingway.

Q: How does The Paris Wife portray Ernest Hemingway?
A: Ernest Hemingway is portrayed as a complex figure—charismatic, talented, and ambitious, yet also insecure, restless, and unfaithful. The novel delves into his personal and professional life, exploring his relationships with Hadley and other key figures of the Lost Generation in Paris.

Q: What are the major themes in The Paris Wife?
A: Major themes include love and sacrifice, the quest for artistic identity and integrity, the impacts of fame, and the challenges of personal growth and independence. The novel also touches on the disillusionment of the Lost Generation after World War I.

Q: Does The Paris Wife include real historical figures other than Ernest Hemingway?
A: Yes, the novel features several real-life figures from the 1920s literary and artistic scene, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound, among others. These characters enrich the historical context of the novel and interact with the Hemingways in significant ways.

Q: How accurate is The Paris Wife historically?
A: While The Paris Wife is a work of fiction, Paula McLain conducted extensive research to accurately portray the time period, the settings, and the personalities of real historical figures. However, some liberties are taken for narrative purposes, blending factual events with imagined conversations and interactions.

Q: Is there a sequel to The Paris Wife?
A: As of my last update, Paula McLain has not published a sequel to The Paris Wife. However, she has written other historical fiction novels that explore different figures and time periods.

Q: How does The Paris Wife relate to Ernest Hemingway’s own works?
A: The Paris Wife offers a fictionalized look at the early years of Hemingway’s career and his first marriage, providing a backdrop to some of his later works. It gives readers insight into the experiences and relationships that influenced his writing, including his time in Paris, which he famously wrote about in A Moveable Feast.


QuestionsABCDCorrect Answer
What city is primarily set in The Paris Wife?LondonParisNew YorkRomeB
Who is the author of The Paris Wife?Paula McLainErnest HemingwayF. Scott FitzgeraldGertrude SteinA
What is the main theme of The Paris Wife?AdventureLove and SacrificeScience FictionComedyB
Which literary figure is NOT portrayed in The Paris Wife?Zelda FitzgeraldEzra PoundJames JoyceT.S. EliotD
What major event impacts the characters’ lives in The Paris Wife?The Great DepressionWorld War IThe French RevolutionWorld War IIB
How does Hadley Richardson feel about moving to Paris?Excited and hopefulIndifferentReluctant but supportiveCompletely opposedC
What significant loss do the Hemingways experience in the novel?Their home in a fireA suitcase containing manuscriptsTheir fortune in the stock market crashA close friend to illnessB
Who does Ernest Hemingway have an affair with?Gertrude SteinPauline PfeifferZelda FitzgeraldHadley RichardsonB
What genre does The Paris Wife belong to?MysteryScience FictionHistorical FictionFantasyC
What ultimately happens to Hadley and Ernest’s marriage?They happily relocate to AmericaThey open a bookstore in ParisThey divorceThey win a lotteryC

This quiz is designed to test your comprehension of The Paris Wife and offers a mix of questions about the plot, characters, themes, and historical context of the novel.


Identify the literary devices used in the following paragraph from The Paris Wife:

“In the golden light of the late afternoon, Paris seemed almost impossibly beautiful, a canvas painted with the softest and most delicate brushstrokes. The Seine flowed quietly beneath the bridges, whispering secrets of the city to those who cared to listen. Here, amid the bustling streets and vibrant cafés, life felt both immediate and timeless, a testament to the enduring spirit of the Lost Generation seeking solace in art and love amidst the shadows of the past.”


  1. Imagery — “In the golden light of the late afternoon, Paris seemed almost impossibly beautiful, a canvas painted with the softest and most delicate brushstrokes.” This sentence uses vivid visual descriptions to paint a picture of Paris in the reader’s mind, evoking the beauty and atmosphere of the city.
  2. Personification — “The Seine flowed quietly beneath the bridges, whispering secrets of the city to those who cared to listen.” The Seine River is given human qualities, as it ‘whispers secrets,’ suggesting a deeper connection and life within the city itself.
  3. Simile — “Paris seemed almost impossibly beautiful, a canvas painted with the softest and most delicate brushstrokes.” Comparing Paris to a carefully painted canvas highlights its artistic beauty and the careful balance of light and life within it.
  4. Metaphor — “Life felt both immediate and timeless, a testament to the enduring spirit of the Lost Generation.” This sentence metaphorically describes life in Paris as a testament, emphasizing the timeless and enduring nature of the city’s spirit and its inhabitants.
  5. Symbolism — The entire paragraph can be seen as symbolic of the Lost Generation’s search for meaning and beauty in a world that had been ravaged by war. Paris represents a place of refuge, artistic freedom, and the possibility of new beginnings.