Hemingway, ‘Cat in the Rain’: a correction

I’ve received a comment from John Beall pointing out an error in my post of Oct. 7 2013 on the Ernest Hemingway story ‘Cat in the Rain’. I wrote there originally that it was first published in Paris in a collection called in our time in 1924, and subsequently in New York the following year. Had I read the Wikipedia entries on Hemingway, the story and its publication history more attentively I’d have avoided this mistake; ‘Cat’ did not appear in the Paris edition. Here’s the first paragraph of the Wikipedia entry on the story collection (I’ve removed hyperlinks and footnotes, and amended the wording slightly):

In Our Time is the first collection of short stories written by Ernest Hemingway, published by Boni & Liveright in New York in 1925. A[n] earlier edition titled in our time (without capitals), had been published a year earlier in Paris, in 1924. The Parisian edition consisted of only 32 pages, printed in a small print-run of 170 copies, [and] contained vignettes that Hemingway would use as interchapters for the expanded 1925 New York edition of In Our Time. He rewrote two of the earlier vignettes, “A Very Short Story” and “The Revolutionist, into short stories for the New York collection.

The entry goes on (I’ve amended and abridged it slightly, as indicated):

Publication history

Bill Bird’s Parisian high-end printing company, Three Mountains Press, founded in the early 1920s, employed Pound as editor who sought to “keep the series strictly modern”.Their aim was to publish well-produced limited private editions by a handful of modern authors, including Pound himself, and Joyce, in small print-runs. Hemingway, who was unpublished, gave Bird the manuscript of vignettes that Hemingway titled Blank, which he later titled in our time from the Book of Common Prayer. When American editors queried him about the lower-case title, Hemingway said it was “silly and affected”.

 

The book was first published in Paris in 1924…in a 38-page volume. A printing mistake ruined many of the copies so only 170 of the 300 printed were released for sale…The volume included 18 vignettes written the year before, presented as untitled chapters. Because the pieces were meant to convey a sense of journalism or news, Bird designed a distinctive dust-jacket showing a collage of newspaper articles…

 

The American edition of In Our Time was to include a collection of short stories as well as the vignettes printed in the Parisian edition. Most of the stories were written in 1924. Sixteen of the vignettes from the earlier Parisian edition were kept as numbered interchapter sketches; two had been published in his first book “Three Stories and 10 poems”; two were from in our time; six had been published in literary magazines. Four had never been published before… Boni & Liveright published the book in 1925, with a print-run of 1335 copies, costing $2 each…

 

The volume as originally published began with two stories linked thematically, set in Michigan, introducing young Nick Adams: “Indian Camp” and “The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife”. “The End of Something” is a story about Nick as a teenager breaking up with a girl; the next story, “Three-Day Blow”, has Nick and a friend Bill spending three days at a lake, drinking and talking. In “The Battler”, as he returns home from WWI, Nick meets a prize-fighter. This is followed by “A Very Short Story”, a WWI love story set in Italy; “Soldier’s Home” is set in Kansas; and “The Revolutionist” again is set in Italy. Three marriage stories follow: “Mr. and Mrs. Elliot”, “Cat in the Rain” and “Out of Season”…

My thanks to John for pointing out this inaccuracy. I shall amend the original post and remove the error.

Paula McLain, ‘The Paris Wife’ – a critique

Paula McLain, The Paris Wife (Virago Press, 2012, paperback; first published 2011)

 

Hadley and Ernest on their wedding day, 1921

Hadley and Ernest on their wedding day, 1921

The Paris Wife is a fictionalised account of the life of Hadley and Ernest Hemingway from the time they first met in 1920 to their separation and divorce in 1926.  Most of that time they spent in Paris, where they lived on Hadley’s small trust fund and the erratic sums Ernest was paid for his journalism.

The first 90 pages cover the period before they reached Paris, and this section is pretty heavy going.  Hadley is presented as unworldly, gauche, socially inept and lacking in confidence.  She’d had a sickly childhood in which she had some damaging experiences: accidents, the death of a sister, her father’s suicide in 1903; as a consequence her mother over-protected her and she became painfully shy.  Soon after her mother died in 1920 Hadley went to visit her old college room-mate in Chicago and there met the dashing Ernest – he was 21, she was 28, but immature.

The prose is often both stodgy and breathlessly romantic to the point of cliché; here’s how their meeting is described –

The very first thing he does is fix me with those wonderfully brown eyes …It’s October 1920 and jazz is everywhere.  I don’t know any jazz, so I’m playing Rachmaninoff.  I can feel a flush beginning in my cheeks from the hard cider my dear pal Kate Smith has stuffed down me so I’ll relax.  I’m getting there, second by second.

To paraphrase the critique of Mozart’s music in the film Amadeus, too many words.  And where else would a flush begin but in the cheeks?

Hadley and Ernest, winter 1922

Hadley and Ernest, winter 1922

In the next chapter this ham-fisted establishment of character continues:

I was only twenty-eight, and yet I’d been living like a spinster on the second floor of my older sister Fonnie’s house…Somehow I’d gotten stuck along the way…and I didn’t know how to free myself exactly.

Redundant or unnecessary adverbials and adjectives and intrusive biographical research details clog the narrative.  When we get to the whirlwind romance the register becomes more romantic and slushy.  They dance:

Ernest Hemingway was still very much a stranger to me, but he seemed to do happiness all the way up and through.  There wasn’t any fear in him that I could see, just intensity and aliveness.  His eyes sparked all over everything, all over me as he leaned back on his heel and spun me toward him.

‘Aliveness’?  Again there’s that intensifying ‘very’,  which McLain overuses.  Although she’s trying to convey the awkward frumpishness and naivety of Hadley Richardson here, (‘I was closer to a Victorian holdout than a flapper’ she thinks, whatever a ‘holdout’ is, as she forlornly regards all his fashionable admirers at the party), and contrast it with Ernest’s suave confidence and dash, the effect is more embarrassing than electrifying.  His seduction of her and her grateful adoration of him comes across as borderline creepy:

‘I’ll never lie to you,’ I said.

He nodded into my hair.  ‘Let’s always tell each other the truth.  We can choose that, can’t we?’

McLain is partial to these awkward foreshadowings of the divorce and Ernest’s betrayal of Hadley with the woman she thought was her friend, Pauline Pfeiffer.  When she tells her friend Kate that she and Ernest are engaged, this is the response:

‘You’re going to regret this.  You know you will.  He’s so young and impulsive.’

‘And I’m what?  A sedate little spinster?’

‘No, just naive.  You give him too much credit.’

Hadley loses her virginity to Ernest.  Afterwards he tells her he needs her to be able to write, and he hopes they’ll grow old together:

‘I’d love to look like you,’ I said. ‘I’d love to be you.’

I’d never said anything truer.  I’d gladly have climbed out of my skin and into his that night, because I believed that was what love meant.  Hadn’t I just felt us collapsing into one another, until there was no difference between us?

It would be the hardest lesson of my marriage, discovering the flaw in this thinking.  I couldn’t reach into every part of Ernest and he didn’t want me to.  He needed me to make him feel safe and backed up, yes, the same way I needed him.  But he also liked that he could disappear into his work, away from me.  And come back when he wanted to.

There’s some psychological insight here, but again there’s an awkward blend of intelligent perception and adolescent romanticism, with an extra element of self-pity.  The fact that Ernest’s character is always seen only from Hadley’s perspective results in a sense that her view of him is distorted by what subsequently happened, while her own role is rose-tinted and innocent.  As a consequence he becomes something of a priapic villain to her quivering ingénue victim.

Before this piece becomes too long let’s deal rapidly with the rest of the book.  The Paris section is much more readable, but even this is badly flawed.  There’s a constant repetition of scenes of boozing, bacchanalia laced through with Hadley’s growing estrangement from Ernest and his circle as he becomes more successful in his literary career, and less dependant on her.  One feels pity for her, but also that Hadley almost willed her own rejection.  And the self-deprecatory image McLain presents of Hadley as a sweet innocent abroad is hard to reconcile with the way she’s shown boozing with the fast set and alone with Ernest and apparently enjoying getting drunk and reckless.

The snobbish sense of superiority Ernest emanates is also shared by Hadley; he scorns the expatriates of Paris who ‘preened and talked rot and drank themselves sick.  Ernest felt disgusted by them.’  Then he and Hadley drink until they both vomit.

There are some vivid portraits of inter-war Paris – Poiret and Chanel couture, shingle-bob hairstyles, painted nails and decadence (‘but that wasn’t me’, Hadley ruefully adds) – but they never fully come to life, and retain a whiff of library research.

Paula McLain (photo from Random House website)

Paula McLain (photo from Random House website)

McLain does give a clear sense of Ernest’s devotion to developing the pared-down literary technique and style of ‘omission’ for which he became famous; she’s also good at the painful deterioration in the marital relationship brought to a head by Hadley’s losing all of Ernest’s manuscripts in a valise on a train, then on her telling him she’d fallen pregnant.  He wasn’t ready to be a parent, and could never trust her again.   I’ve written about this in my previous few posts on Hemingway.

Ford Madox Ford, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and John Quinn outside Pound's Paris studio in Rue des Champs, 1923

Ford Madox Ford, Ezra Pound, James Joyce and John Quinn outside Pound’s Paris studio in Rue des Champs, 1923

There are some successful scenes with the modernist innovators of Paris in the twenties: Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Scott Fitzgerald and others; I wrote about these, too, in my recent pieces on Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast.  Some, however, come across as literary tourism.

Ultimately, then, I wouldn’t recommend this novel for anyone looking for insight into the characters of Hadley or Ernest Hemingway, or for a sense of what Paris in the twenties was really like; this can be found more vividly and entertainingly in Hemingway’s memoir.  The one aspect missing from A Moveable Feast is what The Paris Wife does provide: Hadley’s deep pain and bitterness at the shameful way that Ernest succumbed to Pauline’s single-minded pursuit of him.

Ernest and Pauline Hemingway,Paris,1927

Ernest and Pauline Hemingway, Paris,1927

Pauline had befriended her, if this account is accurate, with half a mind to steal him away from her dowdy friend.  Hadley didn’t stand a chance against this sleek otter – Pauline is more chic, sophisticated and intelligent.  She can talk to Ernest on equal terms about literature; her praise of his work (he always needed to be flattered) was more valuable to him because she had a far more literary sensibility than dear, devoted Hadley.  Pauline’s nickname for her is ‘Dulla’ – a cruelty to which Hadley at first seems unaware.

In none of these texts that I’ve examined over the past few weeks does Ernest emerge as anything other than a first-class louse.  But one capable of writing beautiful, lucid prose.

Virago edition of 'The Paris Wife' (Waterstones website)cover photo of the novel: Waterstones website; all pictures unless otherwise stated from the public domain via WikiCommons.

Ernest Hemingway, ‘Cat in the Rain’ critique Pt II

Part Two, continued: for pt one of this critique, click here

The ‘American wife’’s prattling, repetitive list of wants now becomes a reiterated ‘want a cat’, culminating in a foot-stamping, petulant ‘ now’.  Then the maid knocks and enters their hotel room holding ‘a big tortoiseshell cat’ against her body.  She announces, in the last line of the story, that the padrone had asked her to ‘bring this for the Signora’.

So what’s the hidden part of this iceberg of a story?  It’s been suggested that the woman’s childlike mantra of repetitions about how much she wants a ‘kitty’ to pet and care for is an indication, as I’ve suggested in the first part of this critique, that she longs to have a child, or may even be pregnant already.

Gertrude Stein with John 'Bumby' Hemingway in Paris, 1924, soon after this story was written

Gertrude Stein with John ‘Bumby’ Hemingway in Paris, 1924, soon after this story was written

This is certainly the way Paula McLain relates a similar scene in her novelised version of Hadley’s life with Ernest, The Paris Wife, which I reviewed here.  (Its title could be seen as derived indirectly from this story’s ‘the American wife’.  Hemingway’s favourite nickname for Hadley was ‘Cat’ or ‘Kitty’.)

Her much-repeated insistence that she wants a cat and other things can be seen then as an indirect, even symbolic representation of her longing for a baby, stated obliquely perhaps because she fears her husband’s response will be as brutish and insensitive as McLain depicts it was in the Hemingways’ real life.  Unfortunately this causes her to sound like a spoilt little girl, thereby increasing George’s heedless, selfish absorption in his own world of books.  The fact that the cat brought in by the maid sounds like a different one from the ‘little kitty’ seen earlier by the wife further reinforces the notion that this ‘girl’ is to be indulged only so far, and certainly not by a husband who is reluctant to engage with her at any but the most superficial emotional level.  He likes her looks, maybe even desires her, but he doesn’t seem to want to make any other commitment to her than a limited and sexual one.

In The Paris Wife McLain imagines a scene in which, on holiday together in Chamby, near Lake Geneva (he had initially gone to Switzerland to cover a Peace Conference for a newspaper), shortly before they left for Rapallo, Hemingway is incensed to discover that Hadley had forgotten to bring her prophylactic diaphragm.

Hemingways with Bumby, Shruns, Austria, 1925

Hemingways with Bumby, Shruns, Austria, 1925. JFK Library

He tracks her monthly fertility cycle meticulously in a notebook so they ‘could have unprotected intercourse as often as possible.’  He knew better than Hadley which days were ‘safe’, and we are clearly meant to infer that he takes these steps for the benefit of his own sexual gratification and terror of Hadley’s becoming pregnant.  They have a sex code which involves his asking if she has made ‘the necessary arrangements’ to which Hadley is expected to reply, “Yes, sir” as if she were ‘his secretary’.  When on this occasion in Chamby she confesses she’s left the diaphragm in Paris his reaction is fierce: ‘Your timing stinks’, he spits, red-faced and ‘very angry’.  He demands to know what else she’s been keeping from him.  When she admits that she would like a baby he’s furious.  He says they’d ‘agreed’ to wait until his writing career had taken off: ‘Do you really want to ruin it for me?’   Bitterly she points out that at thirty-one she ‘doesn’t have all the time in the world’.  Neither does he, is his selfish, challenging riposte.  The time isn’t right, he tells his ‘little cat’.

When they reach Rapallo, McLain tells us, Hadley was charmed by the town; ‘Ernest disliked it on sight.’  But it’s also his writer’s block that’s causing his irascible behaviour.  His frustration is perhaps reflected in George’s gruff manner with his wife.  In The Paris Wife there’s a scene that’s surely based on ‘Cat in the Rain’.  Hadley stands gazing out of the hotel window looking at the rain, worrying about the growing tension in the marriage; she ponders the moral laxity in their artistic set in Paris and talks about it with Ernest, who lies reading on his bed, barely looking up at her.  He speaks airily about marital infidelity and sexual promiscuity (their friend Pound openly had an affair and made no attempt to conceal it from his wife or anyone else), and claims not to think it ‘means anything’.

Pound photographed by A.L. Coburn in 1913

Pound photographed by A.L. Coburn in 1913

She’s shocked, and wonders if it means something when ‘everyone finally gets smashed to bits’ – prophetic words, given that their marriage lasted only three more years, when her friend Pauline Pfeiffer stole him away from her and became the second Mrs Hemingway.

Soon afterwards she tells him she’s pregnant.  His reaction is once again angry – he feels trapped, tricked and creatively thwarted.  Their quarrel simmers for days, until she asks him if he thinks she’s ‘done this on purpose’.  ‘What, lost the manuscripts?’ he replies.  She feels like he’s slapped her.  Later she’s mortified to realise he’s ‘tangling up the lost manuscripts with the coming baby in his mind’, and partly believes she’s ‘sabotaged’ his work doubly: first when she lost the valise containing all his manuscripts on the train en route to Switzerland, then by falling pregnant:

Broken trust could rarely be repaired, I knew, particularly for Ernest.  Once you were tarnished for him, he could never see you any other way.

He had fallen in love with Hadley because she was so unworldly, even a little dull – but she provided the undivided attention and loyal, adoring support he needed.  From this point their marriage is doomed.  Maybe she lost the manuscripts and became pregnant out of more than carelessness, he suspects; maybe she wanted to sabotage his literary career out of jealousy, a desire to keep him all to herself.

‘Cat in the Rain’ can be seen, perhaps, as his half-conscious recognition of a relationship that was foundering.  It’s interesting to consider how well he realised the portrayal of George was so unflattering to him, if George is meant to be some kind of representation of himself.  Even though he portrays neither character as capable of showing much empathy to the other, it’s hard to believe that he would knowingly place the anguish of ‘the American wife’ centre stage and make George appear so totally self-centred.  Unless, of course, a part of him was feeling guilty already about his ungenerous treatment of the woman who’d given up pretty much all she knew back home to tend to his needs and immense ego as his ‘Paris wife’. It’s also possible, I suppose, that his portrayal of the ‘American wife’ in this story was intended to show her as annoyingly whimsical, immature and egotistical, and that George’s breezy insularity was totally understandable.  If that was his intention it surely doesn’t entirely succeed.

For a link to my review of The Paris Wife click HERE

Note: all photographs are from WikiCommons and are in the public domain.

Ernest Hemingway, ‘Cat in the Rain’ – a critique

Ernest Hemingway’s story ‘Cat in the Rain’ was first published in New York in 1925 in the collection In Our Time.  Hemingway dedicated the book to his wife Hadley.  It was inspired by a visit he made with his wife to Rapallo in 1923, where their friends Ezra Pound and his wife Dorothy rented a villa.  The Hemingways were in the second year of their marriage and of being based in Paris.

The story begins:  ‘They were the only two Americans stopping at the hotel.’  They don’t know any of the other guests; the narrative emphasises, that is, their isolation – they have only each other.  Their hotel room faces a scene described with Hemingway’s typically unadorned style; objects are singled out with minimal comment : ‘There were big palms and green benches in the public garden.’  The sentences are mostly simple in structure, usually just one or two phrases or clauses, tacked together with the conjunction ‘and’.   Adjectives are rare, and when used are usually monosyllabic and plain, even banal: ‘big’, ‘green’,‘bright’.   The atmosphere created is therefore neutral, even uninviting: ‘Artists liked the way the palms grew and the bright colors of the hotels facing the gardens and the sea.’

 

Rapallo (photo: D. Papalini via WikiC)

Rapallo (photo: D. Papalini via WikiC)

Rapallo is never named, but it’s clearly an Italian seaside resort very like it, for ‘Italians came from a long way off to look at the war monument’, which was ‘made of bronze and glistened in the rain.’  This is the only noun so far that is out of the ordinary, and even this ‘monument’ is presented unemphatically.  Its significance seems to be to highlight the seriousness with which the Italians took their recent history, and to show how committed they were to honouring the memory of those who’d died in World War I (they don’t just come to ‘look at’ the monument – they ‘look up at it).  This commitment contrasts with the presentation of the two self-obsessed American characters, who now appear.

The style in these opening three paragraphs reflects what Hemingway had been developing in his work, further encouraged by his mentors in Paris for the past two years – Pound and Gertrude Stein in particular: pare everything down to its essence in prose with rhythmic syntactic patterns and frequent repetition.  This involved striving for what he described in his memoir of the Paris years, A Moveable Feast (which I reviewed here recently): ‘Write the truest sentence that you know’ and ‘not describe’.  He elaborated this ‘theory’ thus:

[Y]ou could omit anything if you knew that you omitted and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood.

in paragraph three, then, the word ‘rain’ (also used in the story’s title) or ‘raining’ appears five times, and it recurs five more times in the rest of this story which contains just over 1100 words in total.  Other words from this semantic field resonate throughout the story: ‘dripping’, ‘wet’, ‘umbrella’, and so on.  Many other carefully selected words and phrases are repeated in these opening paragraphs: ‘room’, ‘sea’, ‘public garden’, ‘war monument’; several reappear later.  Hemingway is intent on foregrounding the few solid things that are significant; everything else is omitted, and there are few abstract nouns.  This is his famous ‘iceberg’ method, where what is visible and solid in the story is considerably less substantial than what lies beneath the surface.

The other most-repeated expressions indicate where the symbolic and emotional focus in the story lies:  ‘cat’ is used in the title and twelve times in the story; the childish diminutive ‘kitty’ is used by the wife seven times.

Photo: Cindy2 via WikiC

Photo: Cindy2 via WikiC

She is referred to anonymously as ‘the American wife’ or ‘his wife’ seven times and even more patronisingly as ‘(the American) girl’ four times, whereas George is named eight times, only being called ‘the husband’ twice; his inertia is emphasised through being repeatedly described as lying on the bed – ‘read’ or ‘reading’ appears seven times, ‘book’ twice, ‘bed’ five times.  Only the wife physically moves about, which she does frequently and restlessly; George’s most strenuous act is to put his book down briefly and to ‘shift his position in the bed’.

The story proper starts with this ‘girl’ looking out of their window at the rain; presumably she’s bored, languid and listless – they’re trapped in the room by the weather, but we sense that her sense of entrapment goes deeper.  When she spots a ‘poor kitty’ cowering under a table outside,  sheltering from the rain, George offers half-heartedly to fetch it.  The wife goes, leaving him reading on his bed.   ‘Don’t get wet’, he says, unsympathetic, ungallant.

The hotel proprietor, by  way of contrast, is kind to her as she leaves the building.  The narrator repeats variants of the verb ‘liked’ seven times in quick succession– ‘She liked the way he wanted to serve her’; his generosity of spirit contrasts with George’s brusqueness and inattentiveness.  A maid appears, kindly sent by the proprietor, with an umbrella to shelter her as she searches in the downpour for the cat, but it has gone.  When she returns inside, ‘Something felt very small and tight inside the girl’ – possibly the first verbal hint at her true physical and emotional condition.  The proprietor bows to her and she feels strangely important.  There’s something childish about Hemingway’s depiction of her – and about George.

Back in their room they talk, or the wife does, in desultory fashion.

‘I wanted it so much,’ she said. ‘I don’t know why I wanted it so much. I wanted that poor kitty. It isn’t any fun to be a poor kitty out in the rain.’

George was reading again.

The wife turns her attention to her reflection in the mirror, and again is shown as immature through the language of the narrative; first she suggests that she should grow her hair so as to look less like ‘a boy’ (not ‘man’) – a look of which she repeatedly says she’s ‘tired’.  George says, seemingly sincerely, that she looks ‘pretty darn nice’; here again the language is hardly adult or sophisticated.  The wife’s tirade continues petulantly: she adds that she also ‘wants’ her own table to eat at with her own silver and candles.  She’s possibly craving the stability and security of a nest for a longed-for baby, but she also states this desire for tangible, domestic objects in the absence of warmth and affection from George – a factor he seems oblivious to.  She says that she wants it to be spring, to brush her hair and a ‘kitty’ (suddenly remembered again) and ‘some new clothes’, and she sounds (to George and to the reader) irritatingly pettish and girlish, but also discontented and frustrated.  His dismissive response, however, is to snap: ‘Oh, shut up and get something to read.’  And he returns to his own reading. End of Part One of this critique. 

Hemingway in Paris, 1924 (JFK Library, via WikiCommons)

Hemingway in Paris, 1924 (JFK Library, via WikiCommons)

Part Two of this critique is found here: it offers a closer look at how ‘Cat in the Rain’ might be interpreted, in the light of a parallel scene in Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife – her novel based on Hemingway and Hadley’s life in twenties Paris, my review of which is found here.

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

Ernest Hemingway, ‘A Moveable Feast’ – review part I

PART ONE (of two)

A Moveable Feast  (Vintage, London, 2000; first published
England and the US by Scribners, 1964) begins with this epigraph:

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.

Hemingway with his second wife Pauline, Paris 1927 (photo: WikiCommons)

Hemingway with his second wife Pauline, Paris 1927 (photo: WikiCommons)

The words were apparently addressed to Hemingway by his friend and biographer A.E. Hotchner.   The title has a Christian liturgical origin (Easter being the most notable example). Having converted to Catholicism shortly before marrying his second wife, Pauline, who came from an Arkansas Catholic family, Hemingway may have chosen this phrase because it resonates with her faith and his relationship with her – she appears only in the final few pages – rather than with his first wife, Hadley, who inhabits the rest of the story.  Given his tendency to abandon his wives before they dumped him (possibly a consequence of his painful experience of being dropped by Agnes von Kurowsky in Italy, 1919 – he based his character Catherine on her in his 1929 novel A Farewell to Arms) this seems a little disingenuous.

Hemingway (1899-1961) placed this epigraph at the head of A Moveable Feast, his memoir of life in Paris 1921-26 with Hadley.   In 1928 he had deposited many of his notebooks and papers containing his record of his sojourn in the city in two trunks in the basement of the Paris Ritz, and did not reclaim them until 1956.  According to a note in the text by his fourth wife Mary, who edited the manuscript after his death, he started work on what became A Moveable Feast in Cuba in late 1957, and continued working on it in America and Cuba again for two more years.  He finished it in 1960, but continued making revisions to the text.  It was published three years after his death in 1964 by Scribners of New York.  I have not yet read the revised edition published in 2009 by his grandson Sean.

Hemingway, Hadley and Bumby in Schruns, Austria, 1925 or early 1926 (Wiki)

Hemingway, Hadley and Bumby in Schruns, Austria, 1925 or early 1926 – interesting body language (WikiCommons)

I don’t find Hemingway the most likeable of characters.  He enjoyed big-game hunting and fishing, bullfights, boxing and projected a macho image of himself.  This book is highly engaging, however, mostly for its gossipy anecdotes about the expat writers and artists of ‘the Lost Generation’ in post-war Paris, and his lucid descriptions of living in the poorer quarters with Hadley and baby John (always known as Bumby, who was born in 1923), as a struggling young writer: ‘Home in the rue Cardinal Lemoine was a two-room flat that had no hot water and no inside toilet facilities except an antiseptic container’.  ‘Hunger was a good discipline’ is the title of one chapter, in which he claims he often skipped meals, taking circuitous rambles along routes that deliberately avoided restaurants or food shops.  He tells how they struggled to afford firewood, which had to be carefully rationed, as their food was.

Hemingway in Paris, 1924 (JFK Library, via WikiCommons)

Hemingway in dashing bohemian pose, Paris, 1924 (JFK Library, via WikiCommons)

The picture of 20s Paris is delightful, if romantically fictionalised: goatherds drive their flocks through the city selling milk.   There’s an awful lot of description of meals taken on the rare occasions when they were in funds (often from winning after serious gambling at the horse race track), when they’d happily splurge in expensive restaurants.  But he paints a picture of life with Hadley in near squalor as happy and glowing in the warmth of their idyllic love, as this typically breathless sentence shows, with its characteristic paratactic syntax and patterned repetitions:

Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty, nor sudden money, not the moonlight, nor right and wrong, nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight.

All of this is cast away at the end of the book when Hemingway callously embarks on an affair with their mutual friend Pauline.  He and Hadley divorced in 1927.  I’ll return to this rather unedifying finale to the book in Part II of this review: link HERE. For a link to my review of Paula McLain’s fictional treatment of the marriage of Hemingway and Hadley, The Paris Wife, click here

Although the poverty he claims that he and Hadley endured during the period covered by the book has subsequently been questioned by scholars, it does make for a fascinating narrative of bohemian, artistic Latin Quarter life in the 20s, well told by a master craftsman.

Buffalo velodrome 1905
Buffalo velodrome 1905

 

The book is teeming with carefully observed details, like the vivid description of the Belgian cycling ace, Linart,  zooming round the banked track at the Stade Buffalo, the velodrome at Montrouge, ‘dropping his head to drink cherry brandy from a rubber tube that connected with a hot water bottle under his racing shirt when he needed it toward the end as he increased his savage speed.’

Fitzgerald's picture at the Bar Hemingway, Paris Ritz

Fitzgerald’s picture at the Bar Hemingway, Paris Ritz

There are twenty short chapters (the book is only 182 pages long), mostly of only three or four pages; several of the most intriguing feature F. Scott Fitzgerald, with whom he is presented as having a curious love-hate relationship.  In the longest chapter in the book we see the moment when they first met, in 1925, shortly after The Great Gatsby had been published – a novel Hemingway admired – in a café, of course (most of the narrative in this book takes place in cafés or restaurants; that’s where the artistic set lived, worked and socialised) – Hemingway reports how Fitzgerald abruptly asked him if he’d slept with his wife before marriage; with Hemingway’s usual tough-guy brevity and sardonic coolness he replies:

‘I don’t remember.’

‘But how can you not remember something of such importance?’

‘I don’t know,’ I said.  ‘It’s odd, isn’t it?’…

‘Don’t talk like some limey,’ he said.

Fitzgerald then turned deathly pale, and Hemingway had to help him home.  He’s convinced that Fitzgerald was as heavy a drinker as he was, but is typically scornful that he couldn’t hold his drink as well as Hemingway himself says he does.  He also upbraids Fitzgerald for ‘whoring’ his talent by shaping and revising his stories to suit the lucrative magazine market, and portrays himself in the rather flattering light he favours:

I said that I did not believe anyone could write any way except the very best he could write without destroying his talent…Since I had started to break down all my writing and get rid of all facility and try to make instead of describe, writing had been wonderful to do.

In an earlier chapter he says revealingly (if not exactly modestly) of his vocation: ‘All you have to do is write one true sentence.  Write the truest sentence you know.’  When Fitzgerald tells him Gatsby isn’t selling and that he has to write stories that will sell, Hemingway bluntly replies: ‘Write the best story that you can and write it as straight as you can.’

He puts this into practice in nearly all of his best writing, including in A Moveable Feast, saying how he’d throw away anything ‘elaborate’, any ‘scrollwork or ornament’.  He relates his ‘new theory’ for short story writing:

[Y]ou could omit anything if you knew that you omitted and the omitted part would strengthen the story and make people feel something more than they understood.

This book is also written in this trademark style: short, unadorned declarative sentences with few adjectives and largely simple vocabulary.  At their best these sentences are inimitably beautiful.  But what a shame Hem makes it so clear that he thinks so, too…

PART TWO link here: Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound and others

Gatsby, Boswell & Johnson, Hemingway

We’re going to see the new Baz Luhrman film ‘The Great Gatsby’ tonight (there’s a Guardian review of its opening screening at Cannes here, so finding myself in Waterstone’s this morning (I believe they’ve dropped the apostrophe, but never mind) I thought I’d buy another copy of the Fitzgerald novel, having lost, lent or mislaid my own some years ago; must be fifteen years or more since I read it, so it’s time for a revisit.  On display was a range of editions: the Penguin Modern Classics edition looked good, with fairly useful notes and a pleasant cover; then I noticed a bright paperback by Alma Classics (who have the uplifting motto on their website ‘clari in tenebris’; they announced on Tues. I think that they’d won the Booksellers Independent Publishers of the year award); they publish some out-of-the-way and non-mainstream literary work and I thought deserved preference, especially as the store had put one of those ‘buy one get one half-price’ stickers on the front – which also has an attractive design and nice old-fashioned folded-in covers (there must be a technical trade name for this: sort of like the dust jacket tuck of a hardback).  This posed a new selection problem: what to buy as a second book?  The contenders narrowed down to three: Paula McClain’s The Paris Wife (a fictional account of Hemingway’s life in 20s Paris with his then wife, Hadley Richardson, and of their crumbling marriage) – there’s an interview with her by Random House here; David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, which we saw a couple of weeks ago at the cinema, and quite enjoyed (but too ambitiously long, perhaps); and Ned Beauman’s The Teleportation Accident – review of the hardback edition in the Guardian last year here.  I ruled out the last one because I’m just finishing Javier Marias’s Dance and Dream, vol. 2 of his ‘Your Face Tomorrow’ trilogy, which although compelling and beautifully written is quite a challenge stylistically, structurally and in terms of content, and it moves at a glacial pace; will post more on him another time.  I thought one novel-film hookup was enough, so opted for the McClain, also on the basis that it looks to be a fairly light, not too demanding read – ideal for the long train journey I undertake next week to travel up-country to visit friends and go to see Colm Toibin talk about opera at a King’s College, London symposium on 22 May in their The Joy of Influence symposium (curated by Andrew O’Hagan), one of three such events on the theme of writers discussing other media of artistic inspiration – they all look intriguing: Sarah Hall on painting and Alan Warner on pop; apart from the Johnson-Boswell event noted below, there are others on Marx and one on ‘Literary Identities’.  Pity I shan’t be able to make it to them all.

Finally for today, I’m going to crave your indulgence as I experiment with something new: I’m attempting to embed a tweet about the 250th anniversary of the first meeting (in London) of Dr Johnson and the young Scotsman who became his close friend and biographer, James Boswell.  The TLS article from which it derives (ie the tweet; sorry about the tortuous syntax here – been reading too much Marias) points out, with an illustrative photo of John Sessions in period dress, that those literary heroes at King’s College, London are also behind an event today in their ‘Telling Lives’ series about this literary pair.  So here goes: let’s try to embed this tweet.  Apologies if goes pear-shaped…

http://t.co/renqCTY8rA

Hmm.  Don’t think that’s worked out as I anticipated.  Must try again, perhaps; fail better…But maybe it’ll be ok