June 01, 1992 12:00 PM

by Gioia Diliberto

When Hadley Richardson was 28 and a shy, attractive red-haired virgin, she met and fell in love with a charming, brash, talented man eight years her junior. Unfortunately for Hadley, her handsome young beau was Ernest Hemingway.

But before Hemingway became a posturing caricature of Mr. Macho Author, these two midwesterners had a six-year marriage (1921—27) that was fulfilling both sexually and creatively, a son (Jack Hemingway, father of Margaux and Mariel) and some grand times as Americans in Paris when Paris was the place to be.

“Their love transformed them both,” writes Diliberto, a former assistant editor at PEOPLE and author of Debutante: The Story of Brenda Frazier, in this impressively researched and judiciously written biography. “Hadley went from being a weak, enervated spinster, melancholy and afraid of life, to a vibrant young woman, eager for new experiences…. With her, [Hemingway] discovered his artistic identity and developed the full range of his talents.”

Many years (and three wives) later, Hemingway came to realize just how good he had had it with Hadley. (His output during their marriage included the Nick Adams stories and The Sun Also Rises.) As he wrote in A Moveable Feast, his posthumously published memoir of their Paris years, “I wished I had died before I loved anyone but her.”

As for Hadley, after Hemingway ditched her for Pauline Pfeiffer, she married Paul Scott Mowrer, a journalist and poet, and as Diliberto puts it, “went on to lead a cheery, if somewhat tipsy, life.” She died at 87 in 1979, 18 years after Ernest’s grisly suicide.

Hadley credits its subject with helping to shape Hemingway without overexaggerating her influence or importance. “Hadley’s place in literary history,” Diliberto writes, “ended with her divorce from Ernest.” But Diliberto has made a lasting place for Hadley in readers’ hearts. (Ticknor & Fields, $24.95)

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