“The Paris Wife” meets at “Midnight in Paris”
© 2012 Ann Ivy Male
Three travelling clocks……Tick
On the mantelpiece………Comma
But the young man is starving.
Earnest Hemingway ,1921
Ever wonder what Paris was like in the twenties? We’ve all heard that it was a magical time for artists, writers and musicians. Every café, every street corner and every bar had its usual suspects scouring the joint for inspiration and intellectual stimulation. The music was lively, the champagne flowed and the extravagance of the “roaring twenties” seemed indulgent but with a price to be paid at the end of the decade. Wouldn’t it be intriguing to experience what that time period was really like? Well then it certainly was appropriate that both, director Woody Allan and author Paula McLain gave us just that opportunity in, respectively, the film- Midnight in Paris and the book –The Paris Wife.
In the movie, Midnight in Paris – Gil, a successful screen writer, finds himself in Paris with his fiancée, Inez, and her parents. He, like many writers, feels restless and uninspired. He’s writing a book but is protective of it and is unsure of how good it really is. His fiancée seems to be in her own pretentious world, oblivious to Gil’s aspirations. She is distracted by an old friend, the arrogant and scholarly, Paul. Understandable, Gil doesn’t connect with Paul and is quick to disengage himself from the group. One particular evening, Gil is lost and wanders the streets of Paris and as the clock strikes midnight, a vintage car pulls up beside him and a smartly dressed couple inside the car motion for Gil to hop in. Moments later, he finds himself in a confused yet exciting state of time travel when he’s at a bar and is introduced to the likes of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Cole Porter and Earnest Hemingway. Gil is baffled yet intensely intrigued by his fortunate situation.
In a casual conversation with Hemingway at the infamous restaurant, Le Polidor, Gil nervously talks about his book and invites Hemingway to critique it. In true “earnest” fashion, Hemingway is quick to turn down the offer stating -“If it’s bad, I’ll hate it. If it’s good, then I’ll be envious and hate it even more. You don’t want the opinion of another writer.” Instead he passes the book along to Gertrude Stein to read.
Now enter – The Paris Wife. Paula McLain wrote this beautiful historical fiction from the perspective of Hadley Hemingway, Earnest Hemingway’s first wife. The pair married in September,1921 and a few months later set sail for Paris, on the Leopoldina.
We are immediately immersed into Hadley’s world as the supportive and naïve lonely wife of the brilliant yet moody and insecure budding writer. “We fell into a routine, rising together each morning and washing without talking, because the work had already begun in his head. After breakfast, he’d go off in his worn jacket and the sneakers with the hole at the heel. He’d walk to his room and struggle all day with his sentences………I missed Earnest’s company , but he didn’t seem to miss mine, not while there was work to be done….” (The Paris Wife)
And as the story unfolds – Hadley’s life with Hemingway is filled with nights out at cafés and bars, socializing with the same ex-pats that Gil, from the movie, encounters in his time travel. Her days are simple and that of individual survival. She is sometimes resentful but strongly supports her husband’s desire to become an aspiring writer. The couple travel around Europe and even settle in Toronto temporarily, where Hemingway takes a job as a reporter for The Star and Hadley gives birth to their son, Bumby. As time moves on, Hadley continues to live in the shadows of the writer, often putting her own aspirations aside. Their relationship is compromised many times as they endure the dark journey the writer faces on his way to being respected and eventually accepted as a true artist and a writer for the common man.
Both The Paris Wife and Midnight in Paris are insightful, entertaining and thought-provoking stories. They offer a glimpse into the struggles and self-doubt that writers and other artists face when trying to create authentic work. Earnest Hemingway and Gil Pender eventually find their true calling in life however, in turn, they both lose something precious along that way. The saving grace for both men is that they shared a passion for Paris – the magical city that ignited inspiration, curiosity spontaneity, creative solace and a temporary escape from reality.