Spoiler alert: I’m about to sum up what’s happened in the second quarter of the book, so if you haven’t reached this point, read no further. The second quarter finds Hem and Hadley newly in Paris. Practically upon arrival, it seems, they meet Ezra Pound and his wife, and Gertrude Stein and her companion. Hadley describes feeling left out—already—certainly a sign of things to come. Basically it’s the “artistes” in one room, the wives in another. Ernest also takes his first trip, on a writing assignment, away from Hadley, leaving her behind in Paris, where she feels very…alone.
But there are also happy times. Ernest and Hadley go off on their first of many trips together within Europe, to Geneva and later to Schio (where Ernest was stationed in Italy during the war) with Ernest’s war buddy Chink. Back in France, they go to the horse races in Auteuil. They get the thrill of betting a large sum of money on a horse who heartbreakingly shatters his legs running. Both Ernest and Hadley seem far more upset about what happens to the horse than what happened to their bet. You get the feeling that all these dramas are churning in Hem’s brain, becoming fodder for future stories.
Then, the Toronto Star sends Hem to cover the Grecco Turkish war. This is the couple’s second separation in their first year of marriage. Again, Hadley is distraught. While covering this grisly war, Ernest cheats on Hadley; and while cheating is inexcusable, it seems pretty obvious that he was just craving a bit of solace from a really ugly scene. He comes back happy to see Hadley, and redoubles his efforts on the novel he is writing (featuring Nick Adams, an Ernest-type character). Interestingly, Gertrude, critiquing the manuscript, is the one who advises him to strip down his language, which becomes Hemingway’s signature style.
The couple decide to spend their first anniversary in Lausanne; they travel separately as Ernest has some work matters to attend to first. While on her way to meet him, Hadley loses a valise full of Ernest’s writing. All of the novel is lost, as is any sample of his work. She is devastated, but he is forgiving, initially—though he does berate her for forgetting her diaphragm in Paris (he is adamantly against having children). Naturally, Hadley gets pregnant on the trip, which also includes a jaunt to Pamplona for the running of the bulls. Ernest starts to warm to the idea of children when in Pamplona—he suggests calling the baby Nicanor after one of the bullfighters. They also decide to move to Toronto to have the baby. Hadley gives birth while Ernest is on assignment, so he misses the birth, but when he sees his son, he softens immediately, and we’re led to believe that life will be good for the Hemingways, at least for a while.
I absolutely love the imagery in this book, the language, and the story, but then I’m a complete sucker for anything to do with Paris in the ’20s. I’m still completely fascinated with how accurate the story seems. Obviously the author didn’t actually hear the couple have the conversations they have in the book—how has she been able to re-create something that seems so plausible? Sure, a lot has been written about Hemingway’s life, but hearing it from the perspective of his first wife is incredibly insightful, especially if it is even remotely true. It has knocked Ernest down a peg or two in my mind. Not as a writer, but as a human. My favorite line in this quarter was: “In Paris, you couldn’t really turn around without seeing the result of lovers’ bad decisions.” Seems ominous.