Ernest Hemingway, ‘A Moveable Feast’ – Review Part II

PART TWO: for part 1 of this critique, click HERE

Fitzgerald invites him to accompany him on a trip to Lyon to collect the open-top car that he and Zelda had been forced to abandon there because of the bad weather; Zelda had bizarrely insisted the car remain a makeshift convertible after the original roof had been damaged and removed.  Fitzgerald misses the train, probably because he was drunk, and Hemingway is furious with him.  When he eventually shows up at Hemingway’s hotel in Lyon, they spend a strange evening in which Hemingway unwisely (maliciously?) plies him with alcohol.  Soon Fitzgerald insists he’s dying; Hemingway is unsympathetic; he’s probably right in thinking he’s just drunk – but he had already developed the opinion that Fitzgerald was both a heavy drinker and unable to hold his drink.

There’s a great deal of warm humour in his account of this scene: when Fitzgerald insists they send out for a thermometer to check his temperature, room service returns with an enormous device not intended for clinical use, and Fitzgerald wonders with some trepidation into which orifice his friend intends inserting it.  This good humour pervades much of the book, making it an enjoyable read for the most part, despite the swaggering self-aggrandisement Hemingway indulges in, and the generally rancorous portrayal of Fitzgerald, whose talent he clearly envies.

Gertrude Stein with Bumby (John) Hemingway in Paris (WikiCommons)

Gertrude Stein with Bumby (John) Hemingway in Paris (WikiCommons)

There’s warmth too in most of the other portraits of the writers he encountered in Paris.  He’d gone there in the first place partly because it was a cheap place to live, but mostly because he shrewdly gauged that he was more likely to advance his literary career in the city that was at the heart of world artistic creativity at the time.  He is generously mentored by the guru of modernism in Paris, Gertrude Stein, who is the subject of several early chapters.  Mostly his account of her and her salon is grateful and fond in tone (she was always ‘friendly’ and ‘affectionate’ towards him, at first anyway): he recounts how he learned a lot from her about technique, such as using rhythm and repetition – both of which became characteristic features of his own prose.   He gleefully tells of her opinionated, often acerbic gossip about famous writers and artists like Sherwood Anderson, Picasso and Apollinaire.   But it’s apparent towards the end of their friendship that they fell out seriously.  And he can’t resist mentioning several times that Gertrude excluded Hadley from all their conversations (he doesn’t mention making any attempt to do something about that at the time).

Ezra Pound's head, by Romanian artist Gaudier-Brzeska, a piece that Hemingway admired when he saw it in Pound's apartment in Paris (WikiCommons)

Ezra Pound’s head, by Romanian artist Gaudier-Brzeska, a piece that Hemingway admired when he saw it in Pound’s apartment in Paris (WikiCommons)

Ezra Pound was the other most notable modernist writer in Paris at the time, and he also took great interest in the ambitious young Hemingway’s precocious talent, and helped him considerably.  Nevertheless Hemingway frequently portrays himself as a superior masculine figure, for example teaching Pound to box, and finding him a poor pupil.

He’s a bit of an expat snob, too.  He haunts the Closerie des Lilas, the nearest ‘good café’ when he and Hadley lived above a sawmill (in central Paris!) at the rue Notre-Dame des Champs; he does much of his writing in this café, whereas earlier he’d rented a room to work in.  He doesn’t try to conceal his scorn for posers:

 

People from the Dome and the Rotonde never came to the Lilas.  There was no one there they knew, and no one would have stared at them if they came.  In those days many people went to the cafés at the corner of the Boulevard Montparnasse and the Boulevard Raspail to be seen publicly.

 

The Lilas was a former haunt of poets, but the only one he ever sees there is Blaise Cendrars, who Hemingway doesn’t mention had abandoned writing modernist poetry in 1925 and became a famous avant-garde novelist.

In an amusing passage which is perhaps intended as self-deprecatingly ironic in its

vLa Closerie des Lilas in 1909 (WikiCommons)
La Closerie des Lilas in 1909 (WikiCommons)

depiction of his bad-tempered reception of interlopers who pester him when he’s trying to work there, he recreates a scene in which a second-rate writer has the gall to criticise his prose style as ‘too stark’.

‘Too bad,’ I said.

‘Hem, it’s too stripped, too lean.’

‘Bad luck.’

‘Hem, too stripped, too lean, too sinewy’.

I felt the rabbit’s foot in my pocket guiltily.  ‘I’ll try to fatten it up a little.’

‘Mind, I don’t want it obese.’

Sisley, The Seine at Argenteuil.  Hemingway enjoyed taking meals at the Pêche Miraculeuse overlooking a Seine vista that reminded him of this artist's riverscapes (WikiCommons)
Sisley, The Seine at Argenteuil. Hemingway enjoyed taking meals at the Pêche Miraculeuse, an open-air restaurant overlooking a Seine vista that reminded him of this artist’s riverscapes (WikiCommons)

He’s joined there on one occasion by Ford Madox Ford, about whom he’s quite rude(but about the Vorticist painter and writer Wyndham Lewis he’s venomous, finding him ‘evil’): he says that Ford gloats after claiming he’s just ‘cut’ Hilaire Belloc, and recalls that Pound had advised him never to be rude to Ford for ‘he only lied when he was tired’, and that he was a good writer with ‘domestic troubles’.  Hemingway tries hard to remember this, he says, but the ‘heavy, wheezing ignoble presence of Ford himself…made it difficult.’  Maybe he just doesn’t get Ford’s English mentality; in a hilarious Wildean exchange that follows, when Ford explains that it’s necessary as a gentleman to cut a ‘cad’, Hemingway asks if one should also cut ‘a bounder’.  ‘It would be impossible for a gentleman to know a bounder’, Ford retorts.  ‘Is Ezra a gentleman?’ Hemingway asks.  ‘Of course not,’ Ford said.  ‘He’s an American.’ What about Henry James?  ‘Very nearly’, replies Ford.  And Hemingway himself?  ‘”You might be considered a gentleman in Italy,” Ford said magnanimously.’

Despite the macho posturing, then, this is an amiable book, charming at times, often very funny, though one learns very little that is trustworthy about Hemingway himself or his relationship with Hadley – though he writes of her with passion and affection.  This makes his subsequent abandonment of her at the end all the more difficult to understand, and the unflattering, ungallant way in which he tells of the affair with Pauline and ensuing separation and divorce is hard to stomach; he talks nastily of the ways he was innocently beguiled by rich people, one of whom must be Pauline, who he says used ‘the oldest trick there is’:

It is that an unmarried young woman becomes the temporary best friend of another young woman who is married, goes to live with the husband and wife and then unknowingly, innocently and unrelentingly sets out to marry the husband.  When the husband is a writer and doing difficult work so that he is occupied much of the time and is not a good companion or partner to his wife for a big part of the day, the arrangement has advantages until you know how it works out.  The husband has two attractive girls around when he has finished work.

Having begun the affair with Pauline he returns to Austria from Paris, where he’d been with her on his own, having left Hadley and Bumby in Schruns, and describes seeing Hadley waiting for him on the station platform; this passage seems both lyrically fine but also mealy-mouthed : ‘She was smiling, the sun on her lovely face tanned by the snow and sun, beautifully built, her hair red gold in the sun, grown out all winter awkwardly and beautifully…’

Notre Dame from the east (WikiCommons)

Notre Dame from the east (WikiCommons)

And so he leaves Paris, to which he says there is ‘never any ending’, and ‘the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other.’

Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it.  But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.

 

For my review of Paula McLain’s novel based on the marriage of Hemingway and Hadley, and its demise – The Paris Wife – click HERE

Bee

Photo: Wiki Commons

Photo: Wiki Commons

I was enjoying the late summer sunshine in my front garden, sitting on the driveway in our fancy new double seat with a table in its middle, when I noticed a bee crouching on the tarmac a few metres away.  It was as big as a mouse.  A small mouse.  Its body was a beautiful deep tawny colour, with a black band across the middle, like a unistripe tiger.  It seemed sluggish, unwilling or unable to move.  I was concerned that our visitors, due to arrive any time, would run it over when they drove through the gates.

I returned to the Guardian, and a curiously tedious piece by Jonathan Franzen on Karl Kraus, which seemed to be more about Franzen.  I remembered the bee, and it was no longer there.  I looked around – it had moved down the drive and was just by the open front door, examining a fallen dead leaf.

It crawled slowly on to the leaf, and relaxed there.  It looked like a life-raft.  The bee turned around and tucked its head under the curled edge of the leaf.  It seemed to fall asleep.  My wife returned from her bike-ride into town and I showed her the bee.  She wondered if it was ill or dying; maybe it had stung somebody, she suggested, and was moribund.  It was certainly not very vivacious.

Photo: RHS website

Photo: RHS website

I read the rest of the review section of the Guardian.  Twenty minutes must have passed.  I noticed the bee walking slowly back up the drive.  It stopped halfway up.  The wind had dropped and the sun was beating down warmly.  The bee seemed to bask.  It rubbed its furry body with a long black back leg.  After a few minutes it took off like a helicopter and flew vigorously away, sluggish no more.

bees

I looked them up online: it was possibly a bumblebee, judging by the images I found (as posted here).  I discovered the phenomenon of the ‘Zombee’: honey bees that have been parasitised by the Zombie Fly Apocephalus borealis.   They behave as if intoxicated, displaying zombie-like behaviour such as nocturnal departures from their hives on a ‘flight of the living dead’ (from a depressing website called ZomBee Watch).

I don’t think mine was a zombee, though I feared for his state of mind until he took off so brashly.

Townley’s dogs

Townley's dogs

Townley’s dogs

© Trustees of the British Museum: the Townley Collection – Wolfson Gallery, Room 84

This is a Roman marble statue of a pair of dogs – a bitch (probably a greyhound) caressing a dog, nibbling his ear, dating probably from the 2nd century.  I thought it rather charming when I came across it on the ‘explore’ feature of the British Museum website.

It was acquired by a certain Charles Townley (1737-1805; also spelt Towneley) in 1774 from the Scots dealer/agent, archaeologist and painter Gavin Hamilton (1723-98), who had carried out excavations at Monte Cagnolo, or Dog Mountain, near Civita Lavinia (modern name Lanuvia), Lazio in 1772-73.  Hamilton, who came from a prominent family after whom the town of Hamilton, Lanarkshire is named, recognised the significance of this archaeological site’s name, and found there other similar marble pieces, as well as a sphinx with the body of a dog, and two statues representing the tearing apart by hunting hounds of Actaeon; he supplied Townley with several other ancient pieces of artwork during his digs in the Lazio area.  Hamilton was a colleague of Piranesi, and advised the young sculptor Canova.

Bust of Townley by Joseph Nollekens, 1807. Wikimedia Commons

Bust of Townley by Joseph Nollekens, 1807. Wikimedia Commons

The British Museum also preserves a 13-page letter written by Hamilton to Townley (one of over 120 such examples written over a 25-year period), in which he describes these excavations – p.3 of that letter is displayed on the BM website.

Hamilton letter to Townley, BM website

Hamilton letter to Townley, BM website

In this letter Hamilton suggests that the site was the home of the emperor Antoninus Pius, who reigned AD 138-161, but this is now believed to be inaccurate, and the precise date of the statue’s creation is unknown.

Also on the BM website is Hamilton’s list of marbles found by him near Rome since 1769, many of which he indicates were acquired by Townley.

Townley was a wealthy English gentleman, with a country house (called Towneley Hall; Charles favoured the alternative spelling) near Burnley; he was an antiquarian and collector of antiquities, who made three Grand Tours to Italy.

Zoffani's portrayal of Townley's sculpture gallery, 1782

Zoffani’s portrayal of Townley’s sculpture gallery, 1782. Wikimedia Commons

 

Flaubert, Alcibiades, and Laelaps the dog

“Mastiff, greyhound, mongrel grim.” Shakespeare, King Lear (III.6)

ALCIBIADES – Famous on account of his dog’s tail. A kind of debauchee. Visited Aspasia. (Flaubert, Dictionary of Received Ideas, Oneworld Classics edition, 2010, from the Alma Classics website).

Flaubert made the notes for this ironically banal spoof of the platitudinous mentality of the bourgeoisie of the Second Empire in the 1870s; it remained unpublished until 1913. 

The Jennings Dog (also known as The Duncombe Dog or The Dog of Alcibiades) is a Roman sculpture of a dog with a docked tail.  Named after its first modern owner, Henry Jennings, it is a 2nd-century AD Roman copy of a Hellenistic bronze original, probably of the 2nd century BC.

The Jennings Dog at the British Museum

The Jennings Dog at the British Museum

Jennings (1731-1819) saw it in a pile of rubble in a workshop in Rome between 1753 and 1756, bought it and took it back to Britain.  The sculpture became famous on its arrival in Britain, and its importer became known as ‘Dog Jennings’.  The sculpture was praised by Horace Walpole; copies proliferated and were said to make “a most noble appearance in a gentleman’s hall”, according to Dr Johnson.

A story in Plutarch’s life of Alcibiades tells of the Athenian statesman, orator and general owning a large, handsome dog; he cut off its tail so as to invoke pity from the Athenians and distract them from his worse deeds. The broken tail of his sculpture led Jennings to link it to this story, calling it “the dog of Alcibiades”.

Under this title a pair of copies were installed by Robert Adam at Newby Hall, Yorkshire, about 1780, and in the later 19th century a pair was set in the gardens at Basildon Park, Bedfordshire.

The Basildon Park dogs

For 150 years the sculpture stood guard in the entrance hall of Duncombe Park, the family mansion in Yorkshire of its next English owner.  It remained there until 1925, when the Duncombes rented out the hall to a girls’ school, whose pupils were rumoured to feed the dog unwanted sandwiches.  It was acquired by the British Museum in 2001, where it was identified as a Molossian guard dog, so it is assumed to have been associated with some civic monument in Epirus, and to have been brought to Rome.

The Molossian hound, according to Nicander (quoted by Pollux, Onomasticon, XXXIX) was a descendant of a dog (Laelaps, “Whirlwind” or “Tempest”) forged in bronze by Hephaestus and given to Zeus.

In Greek mythology the Teumessian fox or Cadmean vixen was a gigantic animal that was impossible to catch.  It was one of the offspring of Echidna, a draikana– a female dragon with the face and torso of a beautiful woman and the body of a snake. This fox was said to have been sent by the gods to punish the people of Thebes for some crime.  Creon, the ruler of Thebes, assigned Amphityron the impossible task of destroying this animal. He called upon the services of the magical dog Laelaps.

This prodigious hound was said to have been a gift from Zeus to Europa.  He was passed down to Europa’s son, King Minos of Crete, and then to Procris, whose husband, Cephalus, had been seduced by Eos the goddess of dawn while he was out hunting.  She handed him back to his wife after an interval of eight years because he was pining for her so much – but made disparaging comments about Procris’ lack of fidelity as she did so.  Once reunited with Procris, Cephalus tested her by returning from the hunt and seducing her while in disguise.  Procris fled in shame to the forest to hunt.  On her return, Procris brought two propitiatory magical gifts, a spear that never missed its target, and Laelaps, who never failed to catch his quarry.

Piero di Cosimo, Death of Procris, with Laelaps and faun

Piero di Cosimo, Death of Procris, with Laelaps and faun

Zeus, faced with a paradox in the mutually cancelling qualities of Laelaps and the fox, turned the two animals into stone so that the one might not catch the uncatchable and the other not escape the inescapable. The pair were petrified and cast into the heavens as stars.

The Molossus (Μολοσσὸς) is a breed of dog that is now extinct, but which gave its name to the modern group of dogs known as Molosser, solidly built, large dog breeds that all descend from the same common ancestor.

From the Encyclopedia Romana: “The Molossian is mentioned in the literature more often than any other breed…[including] Aristophanes (Thesmophoriazusae, 416), where it frightens off adulterers; Aristotle (The History of Animals, IX.1), where as a sheep-dog, it is considered superior to other breeds in size and courage; Plautus (Captivi, 86), where the parasite is like a greyhound (venaticus) when business is put aside and a Molossian when it recommences; Statius (Thebaid, III.203), where the maddened hounds do not recognize Actaeon, their master; Lucretius (De Rerum Natura, V.1063ff), where the dog growls and bays, fawns over its pups, howls when left alone, and whimpers when threatened with the whip; Horace (Satires, VI), where the country mouse has his fill of the city when the house resounds with the barking of Molossians. 

The Molossian hound may have similarities to the Alaunt, the dog of the Alans- a group of nomads of the first millennium AD.  The Alans were known as superb warriors, herdsmen, and breeders of horses and dogs.

The Ayran Flock Guardian or Sage Koochi Asian steppe breed was used to domesticate the horse and control and defend large livestock preceded these types. The steppe nomads, such as the Kurgan, introduced the use of the horse and chariot, as well as the Mastiff-Alaunt war dogs.

J. del Sallai, Alaunt sheep guard

J. del Sallai, Alaunt sheep guard

The Molossus reached Epirus in about 1200 BC.  They differed from the Mastiff prototype, having a long nose of a narrow type, and a long mane. Varro, however, described a herding dog of Epirus which was white and large headed, used to defend sheep and goats.  Molossis of Epirus is located in Southern Albania. It is most plausible the Alaunt gave rise to the fighting dogs of the Molossi, which were introduced to Britain by Roman Invasion in 55BC. The Alans provided cavalry for Rome and in 50AD, 5,500 Alans were sent to Britain to guard Hadrian’s Wall.  In this way the Alaunt  were probably the genetic ancestors of the British Pugnances, fighting dogs which English Mastiffs and Bulldogs descend from.

Mastiffs are often referred to as Molossus dogs or Molossers. It is one of the best-known ancient breeds; however, its physical characteristics and function are questionable. Though the Molossus breed no longer exists in its original form, it is noted as being instrumental in the development of modern breeds such as the St Bernard, Rottweiler, Great Dane and Newfoundland. (Some of this text is derived and adapted from Wikipedia).

Alma Classics edition of Flaubert's 'Dictionary of Received Ideas'

Alma Classics edition of Flaubert’s ‘Dictionary of Received Ideas’

 

 

 

Rhyming Byron: Orioles and Eliot

 ‘I also like to dine on becaficas’: T.S. Eliot, epigraph to The Sacred Wood

In  Beppo (written in Venice in 1817) stanza 42 Byron’s narrator says he likes ‘on Autumn evenings to ride out’ without worrying too much whether the weather will be clement, for in Italy everything is less mundane than in England.  He goes on, in the next stanza, with further examples of why he finds Italy superior to England:

I also like to dine on becaficas,

To see the Sun set, sure he’ll rise tomorrow,

Not through a misty morning twinkling weak as

A drunken man’s dead eye in maudlin sorrow,

But with all Heaven t’himself: the day will break as

Beauteous as cloudless, nor be forced to borrow

That sort of farthing candlelight which glimmers

Where reeking London’s smoky Caldron simmers

We can still find genuine pleasure in the playful pararhymes in Byron’s verse; ‘becaficas’ clearly chimes visually as well as in a sonic sense with ‘weak as’ – the vowel sounds are identical if one adopts a vaguely Italian pronunciation for the ending of the first line, and the consonants are also symmetrical (although the sibilant Italian terminal ‘s’ clashes with the ‘z’ sound in ‘as’).  But this pattern is subverted when, according to the rhyme scheme, we expect line 5 to chime with lines 1 and 3; instead we get ‘break as’ – which only rhymes if we pronounce this already irregularly sounded word falsely, as if it were an ‘ee’ vowel, not ‘ay’.  It’s an eye-rhyme, a sonic corruption, and it thwarts the very pattern established by the preceding stanzas.

It’s this subversive teasing with words and sounds that is one of the reasons I enjoy Byron’s lighter poems: he refuses to take himself or anyone or anything else seriously; it’s the opposite of po-faced (‘smiling’?)  Here’s another delightful example (he’s writing about Venetian ladies’ pretty faces):

And like so many Venuses of Titian’s

(The best’s at Florence – see it if ye will),

They look when leaning over the balcony,

Or stepping from a picture by Giorgione’…

Once more he’s teasing his pretentious readers with their smug awareness that the Italian name ‘Giorgione’ is pronounced ‘George-oh-nay’, and that therefore one’s reading of ‘balcony’ renders the next line-ending problematic – he’s forcing us to consider pronouncing the artist’s name ‘GEORGE-oh-nee’, with the stress on the first syllable, to rhyme with ‘balcony’; or else we have to consider the ridiculous possibility of retracing our readerly steps and retrospectively re-pronouncing ‘balcony’ as ‘bal-CONE- y’, with the stress on the second syllable!  As the academic F.V. Bogel helpfully explains, this produces for the reader a ‘division…between visual and auditory modalities’ (The Difference Satire Makes: Rhetoric and Reading from Jonson to Byron [Cornell UP, 2001]).  While we’re looking at Beppo, here’s one of my favourite lines, a beautifully balanced and modulated artifact in words: the narrator is mockingly praising England – ‘Our cloudy climate, and our chilly women’.

So what on earth IS a ‘becafica’?  The OED spells it ‘beccafico’(although an ‘a’ ending is one of its variant forms), deriving from the Italian for ‘fig-pecker’:   ‘A name given in Italy to small migratory birds of the genus Sylvia, much esteemed as dainties in the autumn, when they have fattened on figs and grapes: they are identified with the British Pettychaps and Blackcaps’.  Marquez often writes about his characters eating such small fowl, maybe baked in pies.  Conrad Aiken in an essay about Eliot defines ‘becafica’ as a small bird, a warbler, a garden oriole, loosely termed by Italians as one of the ‘uccellini’.   He says that by using Byron’s line as an epigraph to this book published in 1920 Eliot was suggesting that he likes to ‘dine on song-birds’, apprizing us, ‘with a gleaming and slightly sinister politeness, that he is about to do so’.  He intends, that is, to be ‘severe to the point of destructiveness’ (‘The Scientific Critic’, in Freeman, 2, [2 March, 1921], pp. 593-94).

How fitting that Eliot should choose to head his collection of essays  about poetry, published in 1920, two years before The Waste Land, with this particularly ambiguous line; while delineating the modernist notions of technique, feeling and a  ‘tradition’ in poetry, (here we find his famous pronouncement: ‘Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality’) Eliot illuminates the text and prepares us for the bombshell of The Waste Land with jewel-like fragments like those ‘becaficas’, which fail to sate our appetite, but  charm us with their song.