West Maui Book Club Comparison Read Discussion Questions:


1               If ever there were a “he said, she said” opportunity, reading and comparing these two novels would surely be a fine example.  Both fictions cover the same early to mid-1920’s era.  Both books pertain to the same people.  And, both books leave us with impressions as to how people lived, loved, survived, aspired or did not aspire, while living in Paris during a time of great literary expansion.   I underlined and italicized the word “fiction” to underscore the significance of this to both writers. 


Hemingway had several false starts with his AMF introduction in the 1964 version but in “The Restored Edition” of 2009, Hemingway’s introduction was removed. Instead, Sean Hemingway wrote one, however, in the “Fragments” section, the editor et el did include many of the statements Hemingway was trying to write in his introduction:  “This book is fiction…This book is all fiction…It was necessary to write as fiction rather than fact…”  There are more on file at the JFK Library in Boston.


McLain also wrote her book as a work of historical fiction based on actual letters, etc. but states well that “apart from the well-known actual people, events, and locales that figure in the narrative, all names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously…”. 


Was it easier to see why both writers chose to do literary fiction verses nonfiction?  And while reading both fictions, did you ever loose sight of this fact? 


2               Would you agree that both novels are first and foremost love stories?  McLain writes in her “A Note On Sources” that “The true story of the Hemingway’s marriage is so dramatic and compelling, and has been so beautifully treated by Ernest Hemingway himself in A Moveable Feast, that my intention became to push deeper into the emotional lives of the characters and bring new insight to historical events, while staying faithful to the facts.” 


3               Both novels elaborate on the lost suitcase of manuscripts, stories and carbons that Hadley was bringing to Ernest.  How do the two accounts compare?  Who suffered more as a result?  And, did you feel McLain or Hemingway thought it was damaging or constructive to his rewrite?


4               The Paris Wife is a story more about their personal account as husband/wife and how it all ended; while A Moveable Feast is more about the times, people, and actions of the day.  Assuming you read the more personal account first, were you able to insert McLain’s view point into the accounts Hemingway gave in certain stories like, “Hawks Do Not Share”, a story written about the Fitzgerald’s and he mentions Pauline’s name for the very first time and without reference as to who she is and how she came to be mentioned?  However, if you read A Moveable Feast first, did you wonder whom Pauline was?  Do you think if the order of the stories were different, you would then have better known who she was?


5               Both novels talk of Gertrude Stein but the experiences Hadley and Hemingway shared with her were dynamically different.  Hadley – the wife – sat and spoke with Stein’s life partner, Alice Toklas, while Hemingway mentored brilliantly under Stein.  Both novels share the two accounts but do they do so on equal terms? How did Hadley feel by way of McLain’s take on it and how did Hemingway express his feelings when he wrote about it?


6               Hemingway, a most noted writer of his time, lived and worked on AMF until 1961, leaving it unfinished.  It was posthumously published by his 4th wife Mary Hemingway in 1964 and then restored in 2009.  McLain published TPW in 2011.  Do you think each novel complimented the other, or not?  Do you think one novel over the other paid more or less tribute to Hadley over Hemingway? If so, whose version of the accounts do you better accept?  Consider especially Hemingway’s chapters ”The Pilot Fish and the Rich” and “Nada y Pues Nada” (Nothing is for nothing….that was part of his original introduction in the 1964 publication of AMF) and where he generally blames Pauline for the breakup and not himself. 


7               Did reading and comparing both novels provide a better reading experience for you?  Did it indeed give you that “he said, she said” experience?  Would you want to do more comparison readings?  If so, what would they be?

Ex: The Grapes of Wrath vs The Worst Hard Times

                               To Kill A Mockingbird vs The Help







Discussion questions from

1. What do you make of Hemingway's remark in his Preface:  If the reader prefers, this may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact.  What is he saying? Is he suggesting little of none of his memoir is true? (Don't worry if you're not sure: no one is—the line is a bit of a puzzle.)


2. Given his later renown and personal excesses (alcoholism, braggadocio and bluster, womanizing, meanness), what do you make of this young Hemingway? How would you describe him? Is he a likable? Admirable?


3. What was the relationship between Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, as described in A Moveable Feast? Where do you see the fault lines of their marriage? What part did horse racing play? Some have surmised that Hadley was the one woman (wife) he truly loved. What happened?


4. Talk about Hemingway's depictions of the famous literary characters in his Paris circle of friends. Whom do you find most interesting? What does he say, for instance, about F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald? Some readers have found his observations (even his treatment) cruel; others see Hemingway as honest if acerbic. What do you think?


5. Which episodes do you find particularly funny—perhaps the luncheon incident with Ford Madox Ford? Or Ezra Pound? Or the trip to Lyons with Fitzgerald?


6. Writing from a distance of some 30 years, Hemingway paints a beauty, even glamour, in being poor and that moment. Why does this seem to have been such a happy time for him? What lends this work its twilight nostalgia?


7. Talk about the writing ritual Hemingway describes when he was struggling to write his first volume of short stories and his first novel, The Sun Also Rises. What kind of discipline and commitment does it take to persevere when his stories were returned by the publishers. In his final years Hemingway's talent had fallen off, and he found himself unable to create a great novel. Does that knowledge affect how you view his vigor during those early years?


8. In the last chapter of A Moveable Feast, Hemingway refuses to accept responsibility for the failure of his marriage, painting himself almost as a victim of Pauline's machinations. How do you feel about Hemingway's explanation?


9.Continuing with Question #8: This original account of Hemingway's betrayal was heavily edited by his fourth wife, Mary, who some surmise may have had a reason for the particular shape the chapter took.


But a newly expanded and altered edition was issued in 2009 by Hemingway's grandson. In the new version the final chapter differs—Hemingway admits his culpability in betraying Hadley. Does knowing this change things, does it alter your answer to Question #8?


10. Have you read any of Hemingway's novels or short stories (which some scholars consider his finest writing)? If so, does reading A Moveable Feast affect how you read his fiction? If you have not other Hemingway works, does this book inspire you to do so?


(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)






Discussion questions from



  1. In many ways, Hadley's girlhood in St. Louis was a difficult and repressive experience. How do her early years prepare her to meet and fall in love with Ernest? What does life with Ernest offer her that she hasn't encountered before? What are the risks?


  1. Hadley and Ernest don't get a lot of encouragement from their friends and family when they decided to marry. What seems to draw the two together? What are some of the strengths of their initial attraction and partnership? The challenges?


  1. The Ernest Hemingway we meet in THE PARIS WIFE—through Hadley's eyes—is in many ways different from the ways we imagine him when faced with the largeness of his later persona. What do you see as his character strengths? Can you see what Hadley saw in him?


  1. The Hemingways spontaneously opt for Paris over Rome when the get key advice from Sherwood Anderson. What was life like for them when they first arrived? How did Hadley's initial feelings about Paris differ from Ernest's and why?


  1. Throughout THE PARIS WIFE, Hadley refers to herself as "Victorian" as opposed to "modern." What are some of the ways she doesn't feel like she fits into life in bohemian Paris? How does this impact her relationship with Ernest? Her self-esteem? What are some of the ways Hadley's "old-fashioned" quality can be seen as a strength and not a weakness?


  1. Hadley and Ernest's marriage survived for many years in Jazz-Age Paris, an environment that had very little patience for monogamy and other traditional values. What in their relationship seems to sustain them? How does their marriage differ from those around them? Pound's and Shakespeare's? Scott and Zelda's?


  1. Most of THE PARIS WIFE is written in Hadley's voice, but a few select passages come to us from Ernest's point of view. What impact does getting Ernest's perspective have on our understanding of their marriage? How does it affect your ability to understand him and his motivations in general?


  1. What was the role of literary spouses in 1920's Paris? How is Hadley challenged and restricted by her gender? Would those restrictions have changed if she had been an artist and not merely a "wife"?


  1. At one point, Ezra Pound warns Hadley that it would be a dire mistake to let parenthood change Ernest. Is there a nugget of truth behind his concern? What are some of the ways Ernest is changed by Bumby's birth? What about Hadley? What does motherhood bring to her life, for better or worse?


  1. One of the most wrenching scenes in the book is when Hadley loses a valise containing all of Ernest's work to date. What kind of turning point does this mark for the Hemingway's marriage? Do you think Ernest ever forgives her?


  1. When the couple moves to Toronto to have Bumby, Ernest tries his best to stick it out with a regular "nine-to-five" reporter's job, and yet he ultimately finds this impossible. Why is life in Toronto so difficult for Ernest? Why does Hadley agree to go back to Paris earlier than they planned, even though she doesn't know how they'll make it financially? How does she benefit from supporting his decision to make a go at writing only fiction?


  1. Hadley and Ernest had similar upbringings in many ways. What are the parallels, and how do these affect the choices Hadley makes as a wife and mother?


  1. In THE PARIS WIFE, when Ernest receives his contract for In Our Time, Hadley says, "He would never again be unknown. We would never again be this happy." How did fame affect Ernest and his relationship with Hadley?


  1. The Sun Also Rises is drawn from the Hemingways' real-life experiences with bullfighting in Spain. Ernest and his friends are clearly present in the book, but Hadley is not. Why? In what ways do you think Hadley is instrumental to the book regardless, and to Ernest's career in general?


  1. How does the time and place—Paris in the 20's—affect Ernest and Hadley's marriage? What impact does the war, for instance, have on the choices and behavior of the expatriate artists surrounding the Hemingways? Do you see Ernest changing in response to the world around him? How, and how does Hadley feel about those changes?


  1. What was the nature of the relationship between Hadley and Pauline Pfeiffer? Were they legitimately friends? How do you see Pauline taking advantage of her intimate position in the Hemingway's life? Do you think Hadley is naēve for not suspecting Pauline of having designs on Ernest earlier? Why or why not?


  1. It seems as if Ernest tries to make his marriage work even after Pauline arrives on the scene. What would Hadley it have cost Hadley to stick it out with Ernest no matter what? Is there a way she could have fought harder for her marriage?


  1. In many ways, Hadley is a very different person at the end of the novel than the girl who encounters Ernest by chance at a party. How do you understand her trajectory and transformation? Are there any ways she essentially doesn't change?


  1. When Hemingway's biographer Carlos Baker interviewed Hadley Richardson near the end of her life, he expected her to be bitter, and yet she persisted in describing Ernest as a "prince." How can she have continued to love and admire him after the way he hurt her?


  1. Ernest Hemingway spent the last months of his life tenderly reliving his first marriage in the pages his memoir, A Moveable Feast. In fact, it was the last thing he wrote before his death. Do you think he realized what he'd truly lost with Hadley?