Sunday, January 31, 2016

Hadley Richardson

Ernest, Hadley, Jack, Austria 1925
Though I have loved Ernest Hemingway’s writing since I was a young person, I have never been able to see any of his female characters as exemplary. I am not sure he was interested in them. It has become clear, however, that the female character he made the most of was Hadley, his first wife. She emerges in A Moveable Feast [1964], the posthumously published story of Hemingway’s early years in Paris. Recently the reality of Hadley has slipped out beyond the mythology, into a history of her own.

Hadley Richardson was born in 1891, eight years ahead of Hemingway, whom she married in 1921. With Hadley’s small inheritance and money from Hemingway’s journalism, the couple moved to Paris almost immediately. The iconic stories of their meetings with other expatriates, their expeditions into the mountains skiing, into Spain and Italy for fishing and bullfighting and Hemingway’s determination to forge an American style of writing form the background of their early years together. “We liked the hurly and burly and it was the best time I had in my life, no comparison,” Hadley told Alice Sokoloff.

Hemingway began to be courted by those who saw his great charisma and the possibility of his fame. Pauline Pfeiffer became obsessed with him. Pauline was aggressive, joining the Hemingways in the mountains and on the Rivera. She was the opposite of Hadley, but Hemingway enjoyed her style and her money. He felt he was in love with both of them. Hemingway’s breakout novel The Sun Also Rises about a trip to Pamplona they all shared in 1925 was written under the influence of this complex love.

After a year of trying to accommodate a difficult ménage a trois, Hadley requested a separation and, in the fall of 1926, a divorce. She was given custody of their son Jack, whom she took back to visit relatives in the United States in the summer of 1927. In accounts of the summer, Hadley said she felt “free as air,” after the previous miserable one. Living with Hemingway was a “great responsibility,” and she was tired of the intensity. “I was not fit for competition,” she says.

Hadley returned to Paris and her many friends, among whom were Julia Child and the journalist and poet Paul Mowrer. She married Mowrer in 1933 in London. During the Second World War, her son Jack Hemingway served with honor and became a prisoner of war. Hadley and Paul went back and forth between Europe and America, but when he retired from journalism in 1949, they lived in New Hampshire where Hadley worked as a part-time librarian.

As he looked back and deconstructed his life, Hemingway believed Hadley had been the love of his life. His idolization of her in A Moveable Feast has recently been confirmed in a book published by A.E. Hotchner, Hemingway in Love, His Own Story. Hemingway tells Hotchner he once ran into Hadley in Paris, telling her, “You’ll be the true part of any woman I write about. I’ll spend the rest of my life looking for you.” His last words to Hotchner, who leaves him in a hospital room in Rochester, Minnesota, weeks before his death are: “How does a young man know when he falls in love for the very first time, how can he know that it will be the only true love of his life?”

Hadley Richardson looked back at things differently. Asked if she would have gone back if she could have, Hadley says “No, I think I wanted something real.” Paul Mowrer made her very happy, she says. The series of interviews conducted by Alice Sokoloff in 1971 and 1972, in which one can hear Hadley’s own voice, are available in clips here.

To me, Hadley Richardson exemplifies the kind of femininity which is a whole-hearted response to the life which comes to her. Sheltered by her family, she is timid when she gets to Paris, but “I was ready to go. I was a very excited young woman. I discovered that I was alive,” she tells Alice Sokoloff. The grace with which she left Hemingway, slipping into the background and a life of her own, also illustrates her fine character. She continued to love Hemingway in her way and was grateful to him for the life they had shared in Paris. As she looks back at her own memories, she hasn’t a bad word for anyone.

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