Gioia Diliberto On Hemingway’s First Wife, Hadley

Journalist and novelist Gioia Dilberto discusses the new edition of her biography of Hadley Richardson Hemingway, the legendary writer’s first wife, which brings to life the couple’s passionate Chicago courtship.

The peripatetic 1920s marriage of Ernest Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley Richardson Hemingway, is most closely associated with the cafes of Paris, the bullrings of Spain, and the ski slopes of the Alps. But as Gioia Diliberto (the wife of former Chicago magazine editor-in-chief Richard Babcock) reveals in Paris Without End: The True Story of Hemingway’s First Wife, the couple’s passionate courtship actually unfolded in Chicago.

At this weekend’s Printers Row Lit Fest, I will sit down with Diliberto to talk about her book, a new and updated edition of Hadley, the beautifully crafted, rigorously researched, and absolutely heartbreaking biography she published in 1992. Our conversation takes place Sunday, June 5th, at 3 p.m. in the University Center at 525 South State Street. You can get more information at chicagotribune.com/printersrowlitfest.

To whet your appetite, here’s a quick itinerary of the Near North Side sites associated with the blossoming love affair of one of the most storied couples in American literature. All the original buildings are long gone, but Diliberto’s book restores the Chicago settings—and the beautiful young couple at their center—back to vivid life. (Unless identified otherwise, all quotes are from Paris Without End.)

• 100 East Chicago Avenue: “A small, gray stone apartment house in the heart of an artists’ bohemia,” this is where 28-year-old Hadley, a St. Louis native in town to visit a friend, first met the already “vivid [and] glamorous” 21-year old Ernest Hemingway in October 1920. By both their accounts, it was love at first sight. Years later, Hadley would remember their meeting as her “explosion into life.”

• 1230 North State Street: Hemingway shared a third-floor room with a friend here as he embarked on his romance with Hadley and his career as a writer. Eventually he’d move on to the elegant, old Belleville Hotel (63 East Division Street), where he shared a seven-room apartment with another friend. For a time he supported himself with a $40-a-week job at a slick-if-shady monthly magazine called Cooperative Commonwealth. “I got the job there as a manageing [sic] editor by answering a want ad in the Chicago Tribune,” he wrote a would-be biographer in 1945. “Worked until I was convinced it was crooked; stayed on a little while thinking I could write and expose it and then decided to just rack it up as experience and the hell with it. I was writing my own stuff all the time.”

• Hadley spent three weeks in Chicago before returning to St. Louis in November 1920. But the romance thrived, “founded,” as Diliberto writes, “on writing.” Ernest and Hadley “began a passionate correspondence” that comprised hundreds of letters  “in which [they] poured out their hearts to each other. . . . Words were their caresses.” Those epistolary embraces were punctuated by Hadley’s occasional return visits to Chicago. While visiting Ernest in March 1921, she stayed at the Plaza Hotel (1553 North Clark Street), and the following August, she stayed at the sumptuous Virginia Hotel (at the northwest corner of Rush and Ohio Streets). Here, a few weeks before their wedding day, the couple made love for the first time; in her old age, Hadley described the hotel as the place “where I really got to know Ernest.”

• Ernest and Hadley were married September 3, 1921, at Horton Bay, Michigan; his family owned a nearby cottage (where Ernest had spent most of his summers), and the region became the setting for many of Hemingway’s greatest short stories. Following their honeymoon, the couple returned to Chicago and lived at 1239 North Dearborn. They inhabited a “cramped, shabby apartment in a poor neighborhood. The grimy, top-floor walk-up was . . . in a run-down section of [Chicago]. Hadley found the tiny rooms and ugly, broken-down furniture depressing, and she tried to be away from the apartment as much as possible.”

Ernest, too, had grown disenchanted with the city and his writing prospect, and encouraged by the writer Sherwood Anderson, the couple decamped for Paris in December 1921. Their liveliest and loveliest days lay ahead—but they would always have Chicago.

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