The Lost Generation

I’ve spent the last year reading the Modernist literature of Paris in the 1920s. This pared-down, often Cubist style of writing is inviting and it’s easy to appreciate the works of Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, Djuna Barnes and Henry Miller; since they affirm the connection between art and writing and inspiration. 

After reading the Sun Also Rises again I followed it with The Paris Wife  a recently published novel set in the same time period.  Being visual I wondered why the cover depicts the 1950s when the time period is actually the 1920s. But loving time period pieces, I dug in.

Writer Paula McLain follows Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson’s life in its real dimensions, yet it is not an authentic biography.  The characters or should I say people who move through her pages are real and not fictional.  Still there is much imagined in regard to conversations, interrelationships and feelings. McLain herself described the work as a novel in conversation with Hemingway.

However, its’ biggest flaw was our main character—she’s a pushover. Now that I think about it I don’t know if she was just a product of the times— old fashioned and doggedly determined to stay married even though her husband was a complete louse — or was she really so in awe over him that she had no voice and became pathetic? Ernest was a little boy; self absorbed, vain, inept as a husband, so I didn’t get a warm feeling about either of them.  I kept waiting for Hadley to find herself and stick up for herself or to lose her temper.  But she doesn’t and it disappoints, particularly when she finds out her best friend is sleeping with her husband. The betrayal is the crux of the story although it only occupies a few pages.  It was obvious that McLain invented the dialogue and has never lived through the emotional experience, because it’s a wound and rage that doesn’t get forgotten.

So The Paris Wife is actually a portrait of the rise and fall of a marriage but in my opinion, made a flat read.

What it did offer were rich glimpses into the cacophony of 1920s Paris—a city rife with ex-patriot notables such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound at a time filled with experimentation in the arts and a sketch of the Lost Generation’s dissonant world.


  1. As a fan of Hemmingway, I now must locate and read this book. I agree that Hemmingway was not the most upstanding person, but I am not familial with this writing. Thank you for the opportunity to read a new, old story involving Hemmingway.

  2. Thanks for your comment Michael. And while the story is told from a woman’s POV, it’s a reminder of how sexually liberating times (in this case, the roaring 20’s) reeked havoc and screwed people up (no pun intended). If they didn’t know what they wanted or who they were they were lost; as was Hemingway. When it comes to relationships and marriage the idiom rings true; two is company, three’s a crowd.

  3. This reminded me of the time I went to Paris with my husband, and he took off a morning alone to retrace the steps of Hemingway’s activities and to visit his haunts as illustrated in The Moveable Feast. I recall we did go for lunch afterward at Au Deux Magots and tried to envision where he might have sat and with whom.

  4. Excellent post. Many thanks for sharing this book report, it seems that you’ve put A LOT into this blog because it has me coming back time and time again.

  5. I also am a reading fan of Hemmingway but not of the way he handled his life. A read that might be of somewhat interest.

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