Ernest Hemingway: The Young Years
The years 1916 to 1923 were the formative ones for Ernest Hemingway, and his development as a young writer is the substance of a forthright, illuminating book by CHARLES A. FENTON, from which the Atlantic has selected three telling installments. The first, depicting Hemingway’s education in the high school of Oak Park, Illinois, and his journalistic training on the Kansas City Star, appeared in our March issue. In this present installment WE follow Hemingway through his war experiences and on to his friendship with Sherwood Anderson. Mr. Fenton, an Instructor of English at Yale University, served in the Royal Canadian Air Force, took his Ph.D. at New Haven in 1953, and is note correcting proofs of his book, The Apprenticeship of Ernest Hemingway, which will be published by Farrar, Straus & Young in May.
by CHARLES A. FENTON
HEMINGWAY had been taught a great deal in his months on the Kansas City Star. Now he was ready to move on. The war was still very much on his mind. Although he had been turned down twelve times by the medical examiners of various units because of delective eyesight, he suddenly got the break he had been hoping for. It was a Star friendship which led Hemingway into the war. Ted Brumback was the son of a socially prominent Kansas City family. An undergraduate at Cornell from 1913 through 1915, he had left college for a year after a golfing accident that cost him an eye. Then, despite his vision, he was accepted by the American Field Service as an ambulance driver and served with the Chasseurs Alpins in France from July until November of 1917. His enlistment up, he returned to Kansas City and obtained a cub reporter’s job on the Star. Hemingway, a dynamo of furious energy at an office typewriter, attracted Brumback’s attention on his first day in the city room.
“Every tenth letter or so,” Brumback wrote later, “would print above the type line. He didn’t seem to mind. Nor did he mind when the two keys would jam.” Hemingway finished abruptly and called for a copy boy. He turned to Brumback. “That’s rotten looking copy,”Hemingway said. “When I get a little excited this damn type mill goes hay wire on me.”He got up and held out his hand. “My name’s Hemingway,” he told Brumback. “Ernest Hemingway. You’re a new man, aren’t you?” when he
The two became close friends. In 1936, when he wrote for the Star a brief memoir of his friendship with Hemingway, Brumback described him in much the same terms as his other Kansas City contemporaries did. “He was a big, handsome kid,” Brumback wrote, “bubbling over with energy. And this energy was really remarkable. He could turn out more copy than any two reporters.”Brumback told Hemingway, of course, about his experiences in France, and so as early as Christmas, 1917, Hemingway was talking about joining some sort of ambulance unit. In April the opportunity finally presented itself. They were able to capitalize on it, appropriately, because of their connection with the Star. The legend was that when one day a wire service story came to the telegraph desk, dealing with the Red Cross’s need for volunteers with the Italian Army, the two young men cabled applications before the paper used the item.
From Kansas City Hemingway took with him not only the lessons he had learned about writing but also a trained reporter’s eye which would enable him to profit considerably more from his Italian experiences than if, for example, he had been able to enlist directly from high school the previous June. He took with him too a reservoir of material upon which he could draw when he began his serious writing in 1919. The two harshly moving short stories, “A Pursuit Race” and “God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen,” are the memorable harvest of his Star assignments. Prior to their publication in 1927 and 1933 he had written what he later called “some good stories about Kansas City" which were lost, without carbons, in the late fall of 1922. Even in 1952, when he was asked about his memories of Kansas City, Hemingway was still planning to go back to the period for material. “I was always going to write about Kansas City myself,”he said, “I know it just as it was then.”
BY the second week of May, Hemingway and Brumback were in New York, waiting for a ship to Europe. The Red Cross issued their uniforms on May 12 and a week later the unit was part of a Fifth Avenue parade —marching downtown from 82nd Street to the Battery — and was reviewed by President and Mrs. Wilson. Hemingway acted as right guide for the first platoon. He was jubilant about finally getting into the war; Brumback remembered him as “delirious with excitement.”
The Red Cross ambulance corps in Italy was modeled on the American Field Service. All the original personnel in Italy, for whom Hemingway’s group had been signed on as replacements, had been recruited in Paris from men who had served with the Field Service Sections in France. The structure and atmosphere of the American Field Service, with its heroic record of work with the French, dominated this new world into which Hemingway was being initiated, and its history clarifies the Italian milieu. Section One of the Field Service went on duty in Alsace in April, 1915. By 1916, at the time of the Verdun attack, the unit was operating one hundred and twenty-five ambulances, donated by American philanthropy and manned by American drivers. The enlistment of almost exclusively undergraduate or recently graduated personnel was already well established. Hemingway’s own Section in Italy contained a high proportion of college men, from institutions as diverse as Stanford, Princeton, Boston University, Illinois, the University of California, Dartmouth, and Pennsylvania State College. The camaraderie was intensified by the nature of the work and the organization of the corps. The Red Cross ambulance unit in Italy was divided into five Sections. The Sections were small enough —less than fifty men, in the case of Hemingway’s Section IV so that real intimacy naturally developed.
The job was difficult, responsible, and frequently dangerous. When the work was light, the shift was the traditional military one of twenty-four hours on, twenty-four off. In the ease of night at lacks, the cars were driven without lights and worked without letup. In their letters and diaries the drivers expressed again and again their horror when, at the end of a long drive, under shelling, they discovered they had been driving not an ambulance but a hearse. Of his own memories of Italy, Hemingway later recalled: —
I thought . . . about what a great advantage an experience of war was to a writer. It was one of the major subjects and certainly one of the hardest to write truly of and those writers who had not seen it were always very jealous and tried to make it seem unimportant, or abnormal, or a disease as a subject, while, really, it was just something quite irreplaceable that they had missed.
Hemingway, crossing the Atlantic in late May of 1918 to join this atmosphere of adventure and Service, in which he would take his first lessons in war, made the most of whatever excitement there was. He arrived in Paris in the midst of the first shelling of the city by the new, long-range German gun, Big Bertha. At the Gare du Nord Hemingway gave Brumback his instructions. “Tell the taxi,”he commanded his friend, “to drive up where those shells are falling. We’ll get a story for the Star that’ll make their eyes pop out back in Kansas City.” A heavy tip to the driver allowed them to begin what Brumback called, with restraint, “one of the strangest taxi drives I shall probably ever experience.” They spent over an hour driving through Paris trying to catch up with the burst. Finally they succeeded. “The shell hit the facade of the Madeleine,”Brumback wrote, “chipping off a foot or so of stone.” Perhaps by design, or perhaps merely by virtue of his own Star training, Brumback described the incident in 1936 in a facsimile of Hemingway’s own prose. “No one was hurt. We heard the projectile rush overhead. It sounded as if it were going to land right in the taxi with us. It was quite exciting.”
Paris, after they had exhausted the possibilities of Big Bertha, soon became monotonous. “ This is getting to be a bore,” Hemingway told Brumback. “I wish they’d hurry and ship us off to the front.” A day or two later, they did leave for Italy; by the middle of June Hemingway was sending excited postcards to Kansas City. From Milan they were hurried by truck on an emergency basis to a scene of complete devastation outside the city. “Having a wonderful time!!!" Hemingway wrote back to a friend on the Star. “Had my baptism of fire my first day here, when an entire munition plant exploded. We carried them in, like at the General Hospital, Kansas City.”
The scene made a deep impression on him, so vivid that he returned to it fourteen years later in his angry, antiwar story, “A Natural History of the Dead.” His 1932 memory of the impressions of the 1918 scene was harsh and specific. “Regarding the sex of the dead,”he wrote, “it is a fact that one becomes so accustomed to the sight of all the dead being men that the sight of a dead woman is quite shocking. I first saw inversion of the usual sex of the dead after the explosion of a munition factory which had been situated in the countryside near Milan, Italy. . . . I remember that after we had searched quite thoroughly for the complete dead we collected fragments. . . . Many fragments we found a considerable distance away in the fields, they being carried farther by their own weight.”
Not yet nineteen years old. Hemingway’s primary concern was to find more of the same. “I go to the front tomorrow,” he wrote back to Kansas City. “Oh, Boy!!! I’m glad I’m in it.” From Milan the entire contingent of twenty-two drivers moved on to Schio, ninety miles to the east, where they joined Section IV and relieved those men whose enlistments had expired. Almost immediately the Austrians violated an unwritten pledge by which each side had refrained from shelling certain towns. Schio had been such a town. Hemingway was as excited as he had been in Paris. “We set. off,” Brumback remembered, “running for the [railway] station to get there before the next shell arrived.” The bombardment was over by the time they reached the target, but Hemingway consoled himself with the certainty of Italian revenge. “Visiting team’s started playing dirty ball,”Hemingway told his friend. “We’ll hear from the home team on that.”
Schio itself, in addition to the charm of its lost immunity, had a special interest for two former reporters; Section IV was publishing its own monthly newspaper, Ciao, Italian for “good-by.” Ciao’s four pages were in format and treatment a duplication of an American high school paper. “All the hysterics of Section IV,” the front page promised. Its “Weather Report” was in the same style: “clear; with bombing moon, possibility of sky becoming overcast before morning with planes, with resulting hail.”
The June issue included a store by Hemingway in the Lardnerian manner he had last used in the Trapeze in 1917. His article — “Al Receives Another Letter” — was the longest single item in the paper and was organized with a coherence that stemmed directly from the severe city room discipline of Kansas City.
Well Al we are here in this old Italy and now that I am here I am not going to leave it. Not at all if any. And that is not no New Years revolution Al but the truth. Well Al I am now an officer and if you would meet me you have to salute me. What I am is a provisional acting second lieutenant without a commission but the trouble is that all the other fellows are too. There aint no privates in our army Al and the Captain is called a chef. But he don’t look to me as tho he could cook a damn bit. And the next highest officer he is called a sou chef. And the reason that they call him that is that he is chef of the jitneys and has to cook for the 4ds. But he has a soft job Al because there are only one 4d. lefts.
The story was an excellent one, about eight hundred words long, and as technically finished as anything Hemingway had yet written. “Do you remember that fellow Pease Al that I wrote you about what was our captain? Well he is a p.s.l.A.w.a.c. now just like the rest of us and he speaks to me pretty regular now and yesterday he darn near called me by first name. But what are we fighting for anyway except to make the world safe for the Democrats?” The satire established Hemingway firmly in the minds of his companions, several of whom not only recalled the story, many years later, but also remembered the delight with which he had written it.
“Al Receives Another Letter” was the extent of Hemingway’s published work during the war, although he persistently thought of himself as a writer and, indeed, continued to write a good deal during the late summer of 1918. The necessary opportunity and leisure to write were given to him very shortly. He was seriously wounded on July 8, 1918, and spent the next three months in the American Red Cross Hospital at Milan.
HEMINGWAY was one of the few casualties among the American drivers in Italy. The way in which he was wounded was an indication both of his eagerness for action and his genuine desire to serve the Allied cause. Section IV was assigned to an area enviously designated by the other Sections as the Schio Country Club. The men were quartered on the second floor of an abandoned woolen mill. In front of the mill was a flat meadow where the drivers played baseball. Beside the mill was the stream from which it had previously drawn its power. The young Americans swam and sun-bathed there. Hemingway’s reaction to this routine, broken only by relatively uneventful ambulance runs, was a natural one. The front was near enough so that he was highly conscious of it, and yet for the moment it was as inaccessible as if he were once again spending the summer at Horton Bay. The Italian command to which Section IV was attached was apparently dug into the mountains for an indefinite time. There was no indication that the Austrians would ever attempt to dislodge it.
“I’m fed up,” Hemingway said after a week of baseball and swimming. “There’s nothing here but scenery and too damn much of that.” He thought of getting out of the ambulance corps altogether, “to see,” he told Brumback, “if I can’t find out where the war is.” If that failed, he hoped that he might at least be able to get transferred to a sector on the Piave River. “They play ball down there,” Hemingway announced bitterly. While he waited for an opportunity to get in the game, he had to be content with his duties in the mountains. Section IV was equipped largely with Fiats, and he was detailed to an Italian ambulance. There were hairpin turns that were banked by thousand-foot drops. The road from Schio up Monte Pasubio to the advance line dressing posts was a well-made one, but so narrow that the barbed wire on either side almost touched the fenders.
Hemingway’s ultimate solution was a blend of the two alternatives he had discussed with Brumback. He left the ambulance corps, though not the Red Cross, and wangled his way further east to the more active Piave front. With several others from Section IV he volunteered for duly with the Red Cross Canteen. He obtained the new assignment at the moment when the Italians were making their counter offensive all along the Piave, attempting to push the Austrians back across the river. The new job was in every way a forward area operation. The canteens were operated at seventeen points along the front, some in the mountains, some — like Hemingway’s - in the plains, but none of them more than a few kilometers back of the trenches. Each canteen served hot coffee, chocolate, jam, and soup. The soldiers brought their own bread. There were also rations of candy and tobacco. The room contained writing tables, Red Cross postcards and letterheads, and reading material. The walls were decorated with flags and patriotic inscriptions. The canteen was thus a kind of soldier’s club, available both to passing troops and to men from the command which was fighting in the nearby trenches. The officers allowed their troops to leave the trenches three or four times a week to come back to the canteen. Hemingway took charge of such a canteen in late June of 1918.
The canteens were frequently in the range of shellfire; one American lieutenant was killed only a few weeks before Hemingway himself was wounded. Several of the canteens were destroyed or damaged by Austrian fire. Hemingway, however, was no less restless than he had been in Kansas City on the Federal Building beat. He had not come to Italy to supervise the pouring of hot coffee or the distribution of patriotic literature. He resumed his single-minded campaign for more action.
He bad made friends immediately with the Italian officers in the trench units, and now he persuaded the local commander to allow him to come up to the trenches themselves. Every day thereafter Hemingway mounted his bicycle at the canteen and rode to the front, “laden down,”Brumback wrote to Hemingway’s father, “with chocolate, cigars, cigarets, and postcards.”Hemingway followed this routine for six days. He had achieved his goal; he was in the war. He became a familiar and welcome figure; the Italian soldiers were always asking for the giovane Americano. He threw himself into the front-line atmosphere with the same intensity, heightened here by conviction and dedication, which he had shown in high school and in Kansas City. With his gifts for absorbing a new world he saturated himself in the sensations of trench life. Out of those six days, and the abbreviated seventh, supplemented by a few more weeks with the infantry in October, Hemingway would create during the next fifteen years not only A Farewell to Arms but also several fine short stories. “I learned about people,”he said later of this period, “under stress and before and after it. . . . Also,”Hemingway added drily, “learned considerable about myself.”Even the letters he wrote home showed his concentration on the reality around him in the trenches.
You know they say there isn’t anything funny about this war, and there isn’t. I wouldn’t say that it was hell, because that’s been a bit over-worked since General Sherman’s time, but there have been about eight times when I would have welcomed hell, just on a chance that it couldn’t come up to the phase of war I was experiencing.
For example, in the trenches, during an attack, when a shell makes a direct hit in a group where you’re standing. Shells aren’t bad except direct hits; you just take chances on the fragments of the bursts. But when there is a direct hit, your pals get spattered all over you; spattered is literal.
He was already regarded by the Italians as having a charmed life, but at midnight on July 8, near the tiny village of Fossalta, two weeks before his nineteenth birthday and seven days after his first trip to the trenches, he was struck by the exploding fragments of a trench mortar which landed a few feet from him. He was handing out chocolate to the Italian soldiers. According to the legend which developed in Section IV, however, testimony to his comrades’ recognition of his temperament, Hemingway was said to have been wounded a moment after he had seized an Italian rifle and begun firing toward the Austrian lines. An instant later, it was rumored, he saw an Italian sniper fall in no man’s land. As Hemingway went out to bring him in, the shell from the mortar exploded. In reality an Italian standing between him and the explosion was killed instantly; a second, standing a few feet away, had both legs blown off. A third soldier, another of those who bad been waiting for chocolate, was badly wounded. Hemingway, haying regained consciousness, “picked [him] up on his back" and carried him to a first-aid dugout.
The scene was forcefully recorded, with only minor variations, in A Farewell to Arms. Hemingway told Brumback he did not remember how he got to the dressing station, nor that he had carried in the Italian. An Italian officer described the events to him the next day. A few years later, when Hemingway’s early fiction was causing certain critics to identify him as merely a callous recorder, Hemingway told Max Perkins, his editor at Scribner’s, that he had “not been at all hardboiled since July 8, 1918 — on the night of which I discovered that that also was vanity.”
The fact of being wounded, and as seriously as he was, had immense psychological implications for Hemingway. His front-line service was brief and unmartial, but the wound qualified him as a combat man and deepened his absorption in war as a temporary arena for the study of men and the. practice of his creative energy. Because of the shock of the wound, and the three months of enforced idleness, Hemingway was able to evaluate, even if only in an elementary way, the experiences he had endured and observed. The brevity of his service, he later concluded, was an advantage to him as an artist. “Any experience of war,”he said in 1952, “is invaluable to a writer. But it is destructive if he has too much.”
In the hospital at Milan he talked to men who had also survived the front. From a young English officer he first heard, and adopted as “a permanent protecting talisman,”the lines from Henry W: “By my troth, I care not; a man can die but once; we owe God a death . . . and let it go which way it will, he that dies this year is quit for the next.” Four years later there occurred his second major lesson in war, when he covered the Greco-Turk lighting as a correspondent. Hemingway summed up the experience of war many years later.
When you go to war as a boy you have a great illusion of immortality. Other people get killed; not you. . . . Then when you are badly wounded the first time you lose that illusion and you know it can happen to you. After being severely wounded . . . I had a bad time until I figured it out that nothing could happen to me that had not happened to all men before me. Whatever I had to do men had always done.
He paid a heavy price for insight. He received two hundred and twenty-seven separate wounds from the mortar and was hit simultaneously in the leg by a machine gun round. “My feet,” he wrote his family from Milan, “felt like I had rubber boots full of water on (hot water), and my knee cap was acting queer. The machine gun bullet just felt like a sharp smack on the leg with an icy snow ball.”After he regained consciousness the second time he was carried three kilometers by stretcher. The road was being shelled and the bearers — as in A Farewell to Arms — dropped him frequently. The dressing station had been evacuated during the attack; he lay for two hours in a stable waiting for an ambulance. An Italian ambulance ultimately moved him to another dressing station. “I had a lot of pals among the medical officers,” he told his family. Twenty-eight shell fragments were then removed from his legs. He drew pictures, in his letter home, to indicate to his family the size of the fragments.
Hemingway spent five days in a field hospital before he was fit to be moved to the base hospital in Milan. He had another operation there, and another, and then another; he had a dozen operations in all. His right leg was in a plaster splint for some weeks. “I wouldn’t really he comfortable now,”he wrote after six weeks in the hospital, “unless I had some pain.” His closing sentences wore boyishly ironic. “As Ma Pettingill says, ‘Leave us keep the home fires burning.’ ”
A few weeks after his convalescent leave ended in the early fall, Hemingway managed to get himself assigned as an acting lieutenant to the Italian infantry. He served with them during October and until the Armistice in November. Thus, when the war ended, he was a bona fide fighting man. He was recommended for the silver medal of valor for his conduct at Fossalta; and because he earned the medal the hard way he has always had a combal soldier’s sensitivity to both the significance and limitations of ribbons.
HEMINGWAY was discharged by the Red Cross on January 4, 1919. A few days later he sailed for New York on the steamship Giuseppe Verdi. Immediately on landing he received the first of many attentions from the press. The New York Sun carried a five-hundred-word story on page eight about his war record and wounds. He was described as the first wounded American to arrive home from the Italian front, “with probably more scars than any other man, in or out of uniform, who defied the shrapnel of the Central Powers.”Manhattan had not yet become bored with its returning heroes, and Hemingway was an excellent subject; the vividness of the Sun’s phrases about his wounds clearly came from him.
He went home to Oak Park for a brief visit. His effect on the community, and on his own generation in particular, was spectacular. “I remember him distinctly,” a contemporary recalled in 1940, “walking up the street in his blue uniform, and limping, with a cane.” He was invited to speak at the high school. In the assembly hall he discussed his experiences and, one of his audience later reported, “held up a pair of shrapnel-riddled trousers for the students to see.” He told them that it was the first speech he had ever made, and that he intended it to be his last, but he discussed the war in lucid terms.
There were several things which modified the pleasant triumph. There was another operation on his leg, and there was the familiar disenchantment with suburbia. He did a good deal of restless walking around the village, and he developed a cynical manner toward the girls whom he occasionally took out. He told an older friend one day that he was deeply in love. “A great temporary happiness,” he explained, “has overcome me.” There were stories about his presence in the Italian saloons of Chicago, and gossip about a party he went to with some ensigns from the Great Lakes Naval Station. Finally he went to Northern Michigan and stayed there a long time, fishing, writing, reading. He came back to Chicago several times, and in the summer of 1919 he located Ted Brumback, who was working there on the old Journal. “He looked the same,” said Brumback, who had last seen him in the Milan hospital a year before, “but he limped.”Hemingway persuaded Brumback to come up to Michigan. At night, as they sat around the campfire after a trout dinner, Hemingway outlined his plans. He intended to get a job on a newspaper and write in his spare time. As soon as he could make a living from his fiction, he would devote all his time to it. He was buoyant and confident with Brumback, telling him that he expected to be able to support himself as a fiction writer after “a short time.”
Hemingway worked hard in Michigan and stayed on after his own family and the rest of the summer colony had gone home. “I put in a fall and half [a] winter writing up in Petoskey, Michigan, he said many years later, describing the extent of the preparation which preceded his first expatriate publication in 1923. It was a period of discouraging rejection. “ I worked and wrote,”he said on another occasion, “and couldn’t sell anything.”The chronology of rejection - which, except for his journalism, would continue until 1922— had begun, actually, during the war. From Milan Hemingway had mailed to a friend in Chicago a number of stories which she tried unsuccessfully to sell for him in the United States.
In retrospect, however, the period he spent in northern Michigan in 1919 was of great profit. With its associations and implications, it gave Hemingway the material fora large part of his earliest published fiction. One of his first stories, “Up in Michigan,” was drawn from it. Of the fifteen stories in In Our Time, the collection which in 1925 brought him his first important critical recognition, seven stemmed directly from the peninsula country he had fished and hunted since boyhood. The solitary weeks he spent there in 1919, coming as they did as an aftermath to his Italian experiences, allowed him a rich perspective. A number of his wartime friends came up to Michigan with him for short vacations that year, including Bill Horne and several others from the ambulance corps. “Hemingway, to my own certain knowledge,”Horne said many years later, “never threw off his experiences in the war.”
EARLY in 1920 another chapter in Hemingway’s apprenticeship began. He would be associated with the Toronto Star Weekly — as well as its parent paper, the Daily Star—for virtually the whole of the next four years. The late J. Herbert Cranston, editor of the Star Weekly in 1920, was a man of considerable literary interest and judgment. Immediately after the war, in Cranston’s own memory of the period, he “gradually built up a fine array of staff writers, and added one or two outstanding staff artists.” Shortly after Hemingway arrived in Toronto, Cranston began to alter the editorial point of view. “We now sought,” he recalled, “to give a larger number of entertainment features, and possibly fewer information articles. By that I mean humorous articles, Leacock, Lardner, and many others, some of them American syndicate, and encouraging humor wherever we could find it in Canada.” Hemingway thus became a contributor at the instant when the increasing circulation made Cranston’s appetite for young writers a sharp one.
Cranston encouraged Hemingway from the beginning by his willingness to buy whatever he submitted. At their first meeting they “chatted about the kind of thing the paper wanted,”Cranston recalled; after that “the ice was broken and from then on Hemingway’s name appeared regularly in the paper.” His affinity for dialogue, and his concern with its accurate use, was plainly evident in his work during this spring. He tended particularly to rely on it in these satiric articles. But he was not restricted to the humorous or satiric. There was another block of material substantial enough to illustrate other characteristics of this stage of his apprenticeship. Hemingway wrote for the Star Weekly five stories about fishing and camping. They were long and detailed. In wordage they exceeded the satiric group; they were also less impressive as prose.
The body of Hemingway’s work in 1920 convinced Cranston that he had located a writer of uncommon inventiveness. Orally as well as in prose, Hemingway evidently overwhelmed the editor. “There was nothing Hemingway would not do just for the sheer excitement of it,” Cranston maintained, “and he had eaten - or said he had — all kinds of things, slugs, earthworms, lizards, all the delicacies that the savage tribes of the world fancy, just to get their taste.”The editor recalled that whenever he “ran out of subjects on which Hemingway might write he was always able to pull a good one out of his adventurous past.”
By 1923, when Hemingway completed four concentrated years of feature writing and reporting, his compulsion toward fiction was breaking through the restrictions of the Star Weekly formula. Certain final articles, in the late fall of 1923, were transition pieces between the feature and the short story. Even in 1920 Hemingway’s instinct toward exposition through dialogue and action was a powerful one. For the issue of June 5 Hemingway wrote a full-column survey of the role which Canadians and Canadian liquor were playing in the violation of American prohibition. The story was notable for its compact, imaginative style, and illustrated his denunciation of ambiguous Canadian laws with an effective vignette.
I saw a slack lipped, white faced kid being supported on either side by two seared looking boys of his own age in an alley outside a theatre in Detroit. His face was pasty and his eyes stared unseeingly. He was deathly sick, his arms hanging loosely.
“Where’d he get it?” I asked one of the scared kids.
“Blew in his week’s pay for a quart of Canuck bootlegged.” The two boys hauled him up the alley.
“Come on, we got to get him out of here before the cops see him.”
Crime and violence had a special fascination for Hemingway, and he ended his 1920 association with the Star, in the issue of December 11, with a specific exploration of racketeers. The story was datelined from Chicago on December 8. Hemingway gave it authenticity by placing most of his emphasis on the ex-killer from whom he had gotten most of his information. “Perhaps it were better not to describe him too closely,”he wrote, “because he might run on to a Toronto paper. But he is about as handsome as a ferret, has fine hands, and looks like a jockey a little overweight.” The phrases have the outline at least of the brief exposition in “The Killers,” where the two gunmen’s hands, as well as their slight statures, are emphasized. The Star Weekly article even included, as would “The Killers,” a juxtaposition of crime and the ring. Hemingway’s final paragraph had a poised, confident tone, closer now to the idiom of his early fiction than had been the sometimes forced, precocious material he had sold Cranston at the beginning of 1920. “That’s the type of mercenary that is doing the Irishmen’s killings for them. He isn’t a heroic or even a dramatic figure. He just sits hunched over his whiskey glass, worries about how to invest his money, lets his weasel mind run on and wishes the boys luck.”
This was his fifteenth article for the Star Weekly. The stories had averaged approximately fifteen hundred words. The fact that they had been largely written in the four months between March and June pointed to a fairly consistent production of about five thousand words of publishable material each month. He had been aided in the formation of regular working habits. Hemingway hadn’t made very much money—Cranston said later that “his biggest check was $10” — but he had earned enough and written enough to think of himself legitimately as a writer and to feel that, given time, he could ultimately make a living through his work.
HEMINGWAY went to Chicago in the late fall of 1920, but he was reluctant to settle in his family’s Oak Park home. He spent a great deal of time in the Chicago gyms and in the Italian restaurants. For a while, very broke, he shared a furnished room with Bill Horne, his ambulance corps friend. He intended to send in articles to the Star Weekly and he became an associate editor of Co-operative Commonwealth, the monthly house organ of a co-operative venture.
The enterprise was not destined to succeed, but it did afford him employment as a writer. Hemingway later admitted that all he had known about co-operatives was “they had tried to start one for marketing apples when I worked on the farm in Michigan.” He was moved primarily by the fifty dollars a week which the job paid, and he accepted on faith the organization’s statement that it was patterned after the old Rochdale Co-operatives in England. Horne and Hemingway lived in Horne’s attic bedroom at 1230 North State Street for a brief time; then the generosity of Y. K. Smith of Horton Bay enabled them to move into completely different quarters on Chicago’s north shore.
Smith, a successful advertising man, was living with his wife in a large, old-fashioned apartment at 100 East Chicago Street. Tn addition to Mr. and Mrs. Smith, the apartment sheltered Mrs. Smith’s younger sister. Kate, who later married John Dos Passos; a friend of hers named Edith Foley, a freelance writer; Hemingway and Horne; and Donald M. Wright, another advertising man. Horne and Hemingway shared a bedroom, as did the two young women.
It was a very pleasant arrangement. Three of the group were old friends of Hemingway. He had known the Smiths since he was twelve, and Horne was his ambulance corps buddy. All of them, with the exception of Mrs. Smith, were interested in writing and were earning their livings as writers of one sort or another. Smith was a man of culture, widely read and perceptive, and very articulate. Wright, a friend and great admirer of Sherwood Anderson, with whom he had done agency work, had literary ambitions. Kate Smith and Edith Foley were collaborating on magazine articles. Smith had a wide acquaintanceship, and a variety of interesting people continually visited the apartment in the evenings.
It was not a bohemian atmosphere. Smith had no intention of sponsoring a miniature Latin Quarter. He was sufficiently older than the rest so that his point of view established the general tone of their lives, at least so far as the apartment was concerned. Horne, almost thirty, was hardworking and ambitious. Neither Wright nor Hemingway was a dissipated young man. Their evenings were usually spent in the apartment, both by inclination and because none of the younger tenants had much money. Smith recalled that in their conversations, as well as in the fraternity-type horseplay, Hemingway was invariably the leader. “He was by far the most colorful of us,”Smith said later, “and very witty.”
Hemingway himself was very fond of Smith. Until Sherwood Anderson joined the group Smith was probably the only one who sensed the extent of the young man’s gifts.
Hemingway was writing a great deal, both for Co-operative Commonwealth and on his own. In the evenings, when the others were idling in the living room, Hemingway was apt to be in his own room, typing. He was completely serious about mastering his trade. “Will it sell?” he would ask his friends at the apartment, after reading one of his stories aloud. “Do you think it will sell?” While the others discussed art and the artistic verities, and urged Hemingway to concern himself more with the permanent values of literature, he was actually subjecting himself to a rigid professional discipline. He was dismayed and angered by too much talking in large, vague terms about writing. “Artist, art, artistic!" he would shout. “Can’t we ever hear the last of that stulff!” He talked about story markets and about the fighters he was watching in Kid Howard’s gym; and above all, his friends remembered, he talked about soldiering. He was profiting from this literate atmosphere, and was interested in music and painting and in the specific work of the artists who came to the apartment. He told his friends that music, like writing, had above all to be clear; his conception of painting showed the same earnest fidelity to realism, authenticity, and immediacy. He had simple, absolute convictions as to the functions of writing and the responsibilities of the writer. “You’ve got to see it, feel it, smell it, hear it,”he once declared to the group.
“I was always working by myself,” Hemingway said in 1952, in an effort to define his literary debts, “years before I met Ezra [Pound] or Gertrude [Stein]. This is how I would do [it]. For instance I knew I always received many strong sensations when I went into the gym to train or work out with boxers. I didn’t know what the things were that made the sensations,” he said, “so I would think when I was wrapping my hands and remember. First there was the smell of wintergreen in the liniment where guys were being rubbed. Then there were the different sweat smells; the smell of the crowd that paid two bits then to watch the workouts and the smell of individual people like Eddy McGoorty, Tommy Gibbons, Johnny Wilson, Jack Dillon, Greb and others. Then the sniffing that tightens the gut that boxers make as they shadow box. Then the noise of the rosin crunching under foot in the corner as you scuffed your shoes on it and the squeak it made against the canvas. When I would get back from the gym,” Hemingway remembered, “I would write [the sensations] down.” Clearly he was not merely indulging in comforting talk when he told Don Wright that a writer must see it, feel it, smell it, hear it.
Hemingway’s attitude toward Sherwood Anderson, who was soon introduced into the group by Wright and Smith, was an interesting and revealing one. The other members of the group were constantly razzing Anderson, kidding him affectionately about his flamboyant dress, his extravagant stories, his imaginative flights. Hemingway, however, was always very polite to Anderson, quiet and attentive. Anderson was from the beginning delighted with the young newspaperman. “Thanks,” Anderson said to his hosts the first night, “for introducing me to that young fellow. I think he’s going to go some place.” Anderson was already an important figure in Chicago’s literary life. His frequent visits to the Smiths were notable events. Bill Horne, most of whose life had been spent in the financial and fashionable areas of Chicago, treasured these occasions. “Many was the evening we sat listening to Sherwood’s stories. Many times he would read and comment on short stories that Ernie had read.”
Hemingway continued to be polite and respectful, but occasionally he revealed a little of what he was already thinking. He was thoroughly hostile to Anderson’s concept of unconscious art. Once or twice he was vocally critical of Anderson’s style. “You couldn’t let a sentence like that go,”Hemingway once said after Anderson had left, taking with him the story he had just read aloud. Hemingway had even then an enormous respect for technical proficiency and expressed it many times to the rest of the tenants. Anderson was openly contemptuous of what he regarded as slick tricks. This was the beginning of his own period of great success, however, and he was totally unaware of the doubts which existed in the critical mind of his young friend. Anderson never claimed to have influenced Hemingway’s work as a whole. The most he ever said was that it was “through my efforts” that Hemingway “first got published.”Anderson was very explicit aboul this. “Anyway it is sure,” he wrote twenty years later in his Memoirs, “that if others said I had shown Hemingway the way, I myself had never said so. I thought . . . that he had his own gift, which had nothing particularly to do with me.”
Anderson then added a charitable sentence which confirms the testimony of the other members of the Smith clique. “Absorption in his ideas,” Anderson speculated, trying to analyze the impulse which caused Hemingway to satirize him in 1926 in The Torrents of Spring, “may have affected his capacity for friendship.”Certainly there was no doubt about the intensity or conviction with which Hemingway regarded writing. One was either with him or against him. There could be no compromise or variation. As an attitude this did not encourage permanent relationships with other writers. His mistrust of Anderson was vocational rather than personal. His actual debt to Anderson was large.
THE primary value of the winter in Chicago was in the compulsion to produce work constantly. There were between fifty and sixty pages to be filled each month in Co-operative Commonwealth, and Hemingway was responsible for delivering a good deal of original copy. The magazine stressed human-interest stories; Hemingway thus continued in effect the same type of features he had been writing in Toronto. He was also responsible for what he referred to as “thinking and planning of editorials.”
Hemingway continued at the magazine into the spring of 1921. He had met Hadley Richardson, whom he would marry in September—she had come to Chicago from St. Louis to visit Kate Smith, a classmate and close friend and he was neither personally unhappy nor ethically desperate about his job. He worked hard, both at the office and in the evenings. He was writing constantly, stories and articles that were rejected monotonously by American magazines, avant-garde experiments such as those accepted by the Double-Dealer, and features and editorials for his employers. ”I tried to write, on their time, all the time,” Hemingway once explained. He sent a few articles up to Toronto, and Cranston bought them promptly for the Star Weekly. For a time he even elevated Hemingway to the dignity of a personal column. It was an encouraging antidote to the otherwise consistent rejection.
His first column, published on February 19, 1921, was organized on the hypothesis that what he called “public entertainers” — statesmen, politicians, newspapers, artists, and athletes — could be advantageously traded between nations as players are traded in professional baseball. He visualized “the biggest literary deal of the decade, . . . transferring Anatole France, Jean Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire from France to the United States in exchange for Harold Bell Wright, Owen Johnston, Robert W. Chambers and $800,000 in gold.”
His whole tone indicated a hostility to contemporary America, and he talked often to his friends in the Smith group about his eagerness and determination to get back to Europe.
He and Hadley Richardson were married in September in Horton Bay. The wedding party included most of Hemingway’s oldest friends — Carl Edgar, Bill Smith, Brumback, and Kate Smith. Since his bride, a gifted pianist who sympathized with his restlessness, was as anxious as he to go to Europe, Hemingway renewed his efforts to arrange some solution that would get them abroad. His determination to escape America must have been strengthened by another ceremony he attended that autumn, this one in Chicago on November 20. General Armando Diaz presented Hemingway with Italy’s Medaglia d’Argento al Valore Militare and with the Croce ad Merito di Guerra. Gregory Clark, the Star Weekly’s feature editor, who had always been skeptical of Hemingway’s Italian war experiences, automatically turned the medals on edge, to check the inscriptions, when Hemingway showed them to him in Toronto the next month. “As long as I live,” Clark wrote in 1950, “I shall never forget the cold chill that leaped out, radiating, from my back and over my shoulders and into my cheeks. For on the edge was inscribed: ‘Tenente Ernesto Hemingway.’”
Hemingway and his wife spent the early winter of 1921 in Toronto. His final Star Weekly article that year, published on December 17, was set up as a column, with the caption - On Weddynge Gyftes — in large, Old English type. There was a sketch of a troubled bride and groom staring at a group of wedding presents that consisted solely of traveling clocks. Beneath the drawing Hemingway began his wry lament with some verse written in what his lead paragraph called “the best of the late 1921 rhythms.
Three traveling clocks
On the mantelpiece
But the young man is starving.
A week before the wedding gifts story was published, Hemingway was “off to Europe to become roving correspondent for the Star, with headquarters in Paris.” He went under the sponsorship of John Bone, managing editor of the Daily Star, although for a time his overseas correspondence appeared exclusively in the Star Weekly. The assignment gave Hemingway almost complete freedom of movement and a virtually unlimited choice of material. The Star agreed to pay regular space rates for all the stories they printed, as well as their correspondent’s expenses in getting the stories.
Sherwood Anderson, of course, was the one man who could most appreciate Hemingway’s sensations about the forthcoming escape to Europe. The older writer had himself just returned from his first trip abroad. His conversation was full of the opportunity for literary and cultural enrichment that existed in Paris. Anderson later said that his most vivid memory of Hemingway was a scene which occurred just before the latter left. Hemingway packed all the canned food from his and Hadley’s apartment into a knapsack and brought it around to Anderson the night before they went. “That was a nice idea,” Anderson wrote in his Memoirs, “bringing thus to a fellow scribbler the food he had to abandon. . . . I remember his coming up the stairs, a magnificent broad-shouldered man, shouting as he came. Why, there must have been a hundred pounds of perfectly good rations in that knapsack.”
(To be concluded)