Ernest Hemingway: The Paris 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 earlier chapters depict Hemingway’s education in the high school of Oak Park, Illinois; his journalistic training on the Kansas City Start; his service as an ambulance driver in Italy, in the course of which he was severely wounded; his return to Chicago, and his friendship with Sherwood Anderson. In this installment we follow him to Paris. Mr. Fenton, an Instructor of English at Yale University, served in the Royal Canadian Air Force and took his Ph.D. at New Haven in 1953. His book, The Apprenticeship of Ernest Hemingway, will be published by Farrar, Straus & Young this month.
by CHARLES A. FENTON
THE Hemingways sailed for Europe on December 8, 1921, armed with letters of introduction from Sherwood Anderson, who spoke of Hemingway as “a young fellow of extraordinary talent.” He did not hesitate to launch his friend with the same extravagance he would have employed a few months earlier on a new account for the Critchficld Agency; “he has been a quite wonderful newspaper man,” Anderson told Lewis Galantière, a young Chicagoan working in Paris for the American Section of the International Chamber of Commerce. The Hemingways traveled by the roundabout route to Spain and then slowly north by rail to France. They were enormously excited by the whole trip. “You ought to see the Spanish coast,” Hemingway wrote back to the Andersons. He described the scene carefully, using his correspondence, as has frequently been his custom, for a. kind of trial run of prose effects. “Big brown mountains looking like tired dinosaurs slumped down into the sea.”
They settled temporarily at the Hotel Jacob. Hemingway was very happy to be back in Paris. “What a town,” he exclaimed to Anderson. They went to the Dôme and to the Rotonde, and they thought things must be even cheaper than when the Andersons had been there in 1920. Soon, he told them, he would send out the letters of introduction, “like launching a flock of ships.” In the meantime he had already begun his first dispatch for the Toronto Star. “I’ve been earning our daily bread on this write machine,” he said. The material he now sent back to Toronto had the same intimate, impressionistic quality that was in his letters.
This was precisely the kind of treatment the Star wanted from a foreign correspondent. That he should have gone abroad under the sponsorship of the Toronto paper was one further piece of occupational good fortune for Hemingway. The European bureau of a Chicago or New York paper would have required a routine of precise, factual reporting. There would have been a virtual prohibition against the kind of material — and the kind of handling of that material — which would form a profitable education for fiction and its techniques. The Star, on the other hand, wanted lively, entertaining dispatches, intimate and subjective.
One of his first stories, datelincd Vigo, Spain, and published in the Star Weekly on February 18, 1922, was a description of the Spanish harbor where he and his wife landed in December. Two stories from Les Avants, Switzerland, illustrated his concern with atmosphere and people, as well as the glib, knowing vernacular of the experienced travelernewspaperman. An instinctive storyteller, absorbed in the variety of people he was meeting, he took his readers inside the hotels, which “in winter are filled with utterly charming young men, with rolling white sweaters and smoothly brushed hair, who make a good living playing bridge.” There were others too: “Ruddy English families who are out all day on the ski slopes”; “pale-faced men who are living in the hotel because they know that when they leave it will be for a long time in the sanitarium”; “elderly women who fill a loneliness with the movement of the hotel life. . . ,”1 The paragraph was an indication of the closeness with which Hemingway was observing his new milieu.
When Hemingway returned to Paris he sent the Star Weekly a long story which it headlined “American Bohemians in Paris a Weird Lot.” The dispatch was a revealing one. It contained an intensity of statement and attitude not often found in journalism at the Star Weekly level. Hemingway lashed out at what he saw as the posturings of synthetic artists. At the age of twenty-two he was repelled by the “strange-acting and strange-looking breed that crowd the tables of the Cafe Rotonde.”
They are nearly all loafers expending the energy that an artist puts into his creative work in talking about what they are going to do and condemning the work of all artists who have gained any degree of recognition. By talking about art they obtain the same satisfaction that the real artist does hi his work. That is very pleasant, of course, but they insist upon posing as artists.2
He provided a brutal illustration of the Rotonde’s habitues. He described “a big, light-haired woman sitting at a table with three young men.”
The big woman is wearing a picture hat of the “Merry Widow" period and is making jokes and laughing hysterically. The three young men laugh whenever she does. The waiter brings the bill, the big woman pays it, setttles her hat on her head with slightly unsteady hands, and she and the three young men go out together. . . . Three years ago she came to Paris with her husband from a little town in Connecticut, where they had lived and he had painted with increasing success for ten years. Last year he went back to America alone.3
It was effective journalese; it was also a persuasive statement of his creed — “you can find anything you are looking for at the Rotonde, except serious artists.” As a declaration it was composed of equal parts of his incongruous debt to Mencken, the mores of Oak Park, and his own passionate belief in the seriousness of art. It also had a finished maturity of prose and the intense interest in human situations which would make more understandable his transformation, during the next four years, into a finished technician. When The Sun Also Rises was published in 1926, one of his Paris associates, Robert McAlmon, was surprised at its “sleekness.” McAlmon would have been less surprised had he known — as few people apparently did — the extent and nature of Hemingway’s journalism between 1920 and 1924.
By the second week in March, 1922, Hemingway was already writing Anderson that “this goddamn newspaper stuff is gradually ruining me.” He described his plans to “cut it all loose pretty soon and work for about three months.”
He looked forward to a momentary release from hack work, but he was balked by a cable from Toronto that sent him on assignment to the Genoa Economic Conference. Five by-lined stories, four of them long and detailed, were published between April 10 and April 24, and for the first time Hemingway cabled some of his material.
Much more interesting to Hemingway than the Economic Conference was the arrival in Genoa of Max Eastman. Eastman was covering the event for the Liberator. Hemingway wasted no time in showing the influential editor all the fiction he had with him. This was the fiction he had been conscientiously writing in Paris whenever he could get ahead of his Star Weekly chore. Hemingway and Eastman, the latter once said, “batted around Genoa together quite a lot.” When Eastman and George Slocombe of the London Daily Herald drove out to Rapallo to visit Max Beerbohm, the young correspondent went with them. Eastman felt their joint conversation was worth making some notes on during the ride back to Genoa. Hemingway, however, smiled and made a revealing gesture and remark. He tapped his forehead and said, “I have every word of it in here.”
Hemingway profited materially from the Genoa assignment in terms of story payment and expense money, and he had met Eastman and Beerbohm. His journalistic dossier, if not his reputation within the guild, was more professional; he had covered a major diplomatic conference for a metropolitan paper. He had virtually completed his apprenticeship.
THE qualities that give stature and immediacy to Hemingway’s early short stories of 1924 and 1925 — selectivity, precision, uncompromising economy, deep emotional clarification — were never dominant in his journalism of this period. Each one of those characteristics was separately present in every article; sometimes there were paragraphs or entire sections which contained them all. But the shaping of them into a single instrument that would dominate each piece of writing would come only when he could concentrate without interruption on work he regarded as dignified and worthy. His position would remain a paradoxical and exasperating one as long as he continued in this role for which he had the capacity but not the temperament, and which he was too intelligent to regard with anything but cynicism. Momentarily liberated from hack work, be began in. the summer of 1922 to build in the little magazines and in the literary associations of Paris the foundations of his future.
In terms of its actual contribution to the final body of his creative work, 1922 was not a productive year for Hemingway. Although he told Anderson in May that he had “been working like hell at writing,”very little of the material of these months survived. Some of the verse he wrote was published the next year in Poetry and the Little Review, and he continued work on a novel which was never published. A large part of his time, however, was necessarily still given to newspaper work, despite his anxiety to be free of it, and he spent many weeks traveling, in Spain, in Switzerland, in Italy, and in Germany.
Of the fifteen stories in In Our Tine, five dealt specifically with expatriation; they were the fruit of his European encounters and observation in 1922, 1923, and 1924. This same intimacy with Europe would give authenticity of atmosphere to The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms. From Ids expatriation there also emerged all the less tangible assets that come to a responsive young man exposed to the contrasts of a culture that is not his own but which illuminates the one he has temporarily abandoned. There was instruction to be absorbed not only from the newspaper work and from the countries and their people, but also from his literary associations. Anderson’s letters of introduction provided the immediate entrée. Hemingway’s charm and intensity extended tin? introductions and friendships.
“Gertrude Stein and me,”Hemingway wrote to Anderson in March, 1922, three months after reaching Europe, “are just like brothers, and we see a lot of her.”Miss Stein was equally pleased with Hemingway; she told Anderson that she and Alice Toklas were having “a good time" with the Hemingways and hoped “to see moreof them.”Hemingway had also met James Joyce and read part of Ulysses. Ezra Pound had become both literary sponsor among the little magazines and sparring partner at the gym. He sent six of Hemingway’s poems to Scofield Thayer at the Dial and “took" a story for the Little Review. Hemingway’s greatest admirat ion, however, was for Anderson’s good friend in the apartment at 27, rue de Fleurus. “We love Gertrude Stein,”Hemingway scrawled in pencil at the end of the letter to Anderson.
Gertrude Stein herself recalled the appearance of Hemingway as “the first thing that happened" when she and Alice Toklas returned to Paris in 1922 from Saint-Rémy. She remembered him as “an extraordinarily good-looking young man.” They talked a great deal together, and Hemingway invited her and Miss Toklas to the apartment he and his wife had taken near the place du Tertre. That night Miss Stein read everything he had written up to that point. She did more than read it; she “went over" it. She rather liked the poems, but found the unfinished novel wanting. “There is a great deal of description in this,”she told Hemingway, “and not particularly good description. Begin over again and concentrate.”
It was as good advice as he would ever get. That writing could be a laborious and exacting process had not previously occurred to Hemingway. He had worked hard, it was true, precociously hard, during those compulsive months in Michigan in 1919 and in Chicago and Toronto during the following two years. He had withstood frustration and rejection, but the conception of writing as concentration, as heavy, aching effort, was essentially a, new one. Certainly he had never heard such doeIrine from Anderson, the only writer of any stature with whom he had been in close contact. Hemingway, indeed, had mistrusted Anderson’s apparent indifference to technical concerns.
THE fact that this was a misconception on Hemingway’s part, which subsequent critics shared with him, did not alter the illusion’s effect on his susceptibility to new and seemingly different influences. In his conversation — as, later, in his memoirs and reminiscences — Anderson enjoyed posing as a virtually automatic writer, one to whom his art was merely natural storytelling. Actually, of course, as the manuscripts of Winesburg, Ohio show, Anderson’s stories frequently went through a series of complicated revisions. He successfully presented himself, however, as the romantic artist of instinctive creativity. To this he added what were for Hemingway the distasteful affectations of bohemianism. It becomes wholly natural, therefore, that Hemingway should have graduated so readily to Gertrude Stein and that he should ultimately disavow Anderson with The Torrents of Spring.
Hemingway had absorbed from the older man more than most commentators were subsequently willing to allow. He not only listened carefully to Anderson’s ideas in Chicago in the winter of 1920 and the spring of 1921, but also eagerly read what Anderson had published. He shared with Anderson an insistence on sex as a basic human drive. Like Anderson, Hemingway was drawn to the examination of youth and its distresses. They also shared a sense of the importance of emotion and feeling. “Turning her face to the wall,” Anderson had written of one of his early characters, “[she] began trying to force herself to face bravely the fact that many people must live and die alone, even in Winesburg.”This is a recurrent theme in Hemingway, altered and made peculiarly his own by his insistence that the process is always aggravated and controlled by the requirements of a fixed decorum.
Hemingway lunched frequently in Paris that year with Frank Mason, the local correspondent for Hearst’s International News Service. Mason was himself mildly interested in serious writing. Their luncheons, however, invariably included a third writer. The late Guy Hickok was for many years the Brooklyn Eagle’s European correspondent. He was a reporter of considerable experience, an excellent journalist, and a thoughtful, imaginative man. The conversations at these luncheons invariably concentrated on writing. Mason’s most positive memory of Hemingway’s interests during those first months of 1922 was that he spoke repeatedly of Sherwood Anderson, and, more specifically, that he expressed many times his intention to model his own literary career on Anderson’s. Three years later Hemingway told Scott Fitzgerald that his first pattern had been Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio. The evidence of two short stories Hemingway wrote before he could have fully grasped Miss Stein’s teaching confirms this, both “Up in Michigan” and “My Old Man” were written earlier than the rest of the stories published in 1925 in In Our Time. They can be fairly described as Andersonian. There were those who even accused Hemingway of having virtually plagiarized “My Old Man” from Anderson.
This was an absurd charge, but certainly such derivation of treatment as the stories indicate is from Anderson as much as from Stein. The treatment of sex in “Up in Michigan" — violent, painful, and equated with naturalness and virtue—is wholly Andersonian. The language and narrative device of “My Old Man,”as well as the material and point of view, are similarly reminiscent. Neither of the stories was dependent on Anderson’s work in any compulsive or unhealthy way. It is unnecessary either to belittle or to magnify Hemingway’s artistic obligation to Anderson.
THE association between Hemingway and Miss Stein was foreshadowed, in a sense, even before they had either met or heard of one another. Hemingway’s newspaper work had already indicated a characteristic which has remained basic to His temperament. He was always intensely interested in how to do a thing, lie was absorbed by method. Thus he had written in Toronto in 1920 a detailed discussion of how to catch trout bait, how to fix the bait on the hook, how to locate the trout themselves; he wrote articles in 1921 about how bootlegging operated and how American gunmen worked, and, in 1922, how to handle a Swiss luge. This was one of his primary attitudes toward experience. It was fundamental to his interest in war, polities, and sport.
The same zealous concern with method is explicit in Hemingway’s reaction to bullfighting, big game hunting, and the subtleties of guerrilla war. Once he even wrote in Esquire a precise explication of how to drive an automobile in a heavy snowstorm. This concern with method gave to his journalism, as it would to his fiction, a vast air of knowledgeability. The concern was thoroughly genuine. Originally encouraged by the cool lucidity of his father, it was extended by his own instinctive curiosity and enriched by the exacting skepticism of such tutors as Pete Wellington, Lionel Moise, and, in 1922, William Bolitho, the South African journalist. In terms of his serious writing, the aspect of his life, after all, in which he was most deeply concerned, it was only natural that he should be looking for some orderly method.
He had found the beginnings of such a method in the style sheet in Kansas City, and in the counsel of the Star’s editors. He was discovering other fluencies and effects through his feature stories for the Star Weekly. Sherwood Anderson, of course, offered no precise methodology. What one got from him were thematic attitudes and an integrity of vision, Gertrude Stein, however, was immensely concerned with method, both in her own work and in what she was writing and saying about prose. Hemingway acknowledged his debt to her technique very specifically in 1923. “Her method,”he told Edmund Wilson, “is invaluable for analysing anything or making notes on a person or a place.” The method itself revolved principally around the arrangement and exploitation of specific kinds of words to represent and emphasize a desired effect.
“The question of repotition,” Gertrude Stein said later, “is very important.”How she herself had done it Hemingway could discover in her Three Lives; he could also find it, at a more involved level, in the volume she had just finished. “This Making of Americans book of Gertrude Stein’s,”he wrote Anderson in May, 1922, “is a wonderful one.”His own work began to reflect the method. It was particularly apparent in “Up in Michigan,”which can be regarded as a transition piece; llit* story is a blend, in a very loose way, of his joint obligation to Anderson and Stein. The third paragraph of “Up in Michigan" — “I had this conception of the whole paragraph.”Miss Stein once said — is wholly a use of repetition for emphasis and clarification.
Liz liked Jim very much. She liked it the way he walked over from the shop and often went to the kitchen door to watch for him to start down the road. She liked it about his mustache. She liked it about how white his teeth were when lie smiled. She liked it very much that fie didn’t look like a blacksmith. She liked it flow much D. J. Smith and Mrs. Smith liked Jim. One day .she found that she liked it the way the hair was black on his arms and how white they were above the tanned line when he washed up in the washbasin outside the house. Liking that made her feel funny.
This paragraph illustrates what Miss Stein had in mind when she later described Hemingway as “such a good pupil.” Hemingway, as part of his apprenticeship, performed an invaluable exercise through which he studied her method in the most intense way. He copied the manuscript of The Making of Americans for her, getting it ready for the publisher whom he swore he would find for it, and then he corroded the proofs. Correcting proofs, Gertrude Stein felt, was like dusting. “You learn the values of the thing,” she said, “as no reading suffices to leach it to you.”
Hemingway’s first use of the lesson was entirely conventional. “Liz liked Jim very much.” Here, in the lead sentence, it says no more than one says casually about a dozen people each day. Then, by repetition, Hemingway strengthened and qualified it. He showed the variety and sensation of her liking. He displayed its immediacy. This was the quality Gertrude Stein had attempted to imbed in The Making of Americans.
Later Miss Stein became waspish about this sort of thing. “It is so flattering,” she wrote of Hemingway in 1933, “to have a pupil who does it without understanding it.” She was indulging in her own variety of sour grapes, although sometimes, to be sure, Hemingway mishandled the method. It was a slippery technique, deceptively simple.
Gertrude Stein helped Hemingway discover not only what he was seeing, and how to communicate the sight, but what to look for. It was she who explained that he must look at his material, and at each new experience, ascertain painters — Cézanne, in particular—looked at their own compositions. His own subsequent diet urns on writing are often variations and extensions of what she had either told him or permit ted him to learn. He went beyond her as a writer in the same proportion that he was able to inflate her method by giving it a practical, muscular program of training; the program supplemented the fact that unlike Miss Stein, as critics later observed, Hemingway had something to write about. He told a young writer who came to him for advice in 1935, and to whom he gave not only counsel but also a job as night watchman on his boat, that he should watch what happened when they went fishing. “Remember what the noises were,”Hemingway told him, “and what was said. Find what gave you the emotion; what the action was that gave you the excitement. Then write it down, making it clear so the reader will see it too and have the same feeling that you had.
“Get in somebody else’s head for a change,”he continued. “If I bawl you out try to figure what I’m thinking about as well as how you feel about it. As a man,” he explained, “things are as they should or shouldn’t be. As a man you know who is right and who is wrong. You have to make decisions and enforce them. As a writer you should not judge. You should understand.”
Hemingway was a good teacher because he had learned these things for himself, taking a method and a handful of rather arbitrary enunciations and shaping them to his needs, material, and objectives. Whatever he said about writing he knew to be true, for him, because he knew it worked. He knew how it was done. Hemingway had built in the interval between 1922 and 1935 an elaborate codification upon the blueprint Miss Stein had given him. He had taken it beyond anything she could do with it, and for this, of course, she could not forgive him. He himself has always acknowledged his obligation with frankness. The greatest tribute he paid her was made in 1924, in a letter to her discussing the work he was doing. “[Writing],”he said, “used to be easy before I met you.” He had always been willing — anxious, indeed — to work hard at his writing, but she had helped show him how to make it profitably hard. This became one of his fundamental beliefs.
HEMINGWAY’S relationship with Gertrude Stein has been interpreted in several ways. On the whole the definitions have fallen into one of two extremes. The early critical commentary saw him as a complete disciple. In this it followed the line Miss Stein laid down in 1933, when she said, speaking of the influence of herself and Anderson on Hemingway, that he “had been formed by the two of them.”Later it became fashionable to disparage his debt to her. This occurred in part because few critics have been willing to study what she was doing in her own work. Jt has been easier to st udy Hemingway. He himself, as has been so frequently the case during his career, gave a more realistic — and verifiable — account of the debt and its variety of distortion. Speaking of his obligation to both Stein and Pound, he said in 1951 that “they were both very kind to me and I always said so.”He related this to the literary commentators who are both too eager for and too wary of literary influences. “This,” he went on, “is regarded in critical circles like pleading guilty at a court martial.” He remembered that she had told him that he “might be a good writer of some new kind.”
Miss Stein was a better instructor than most writers, both by temperament and situation. She was not — at least during the beginning — oppressively the teacher. She could stimulate as well as lecture. Her salon had the effect of a classroom, but It lacked the trappings. Hemingway was still at an age when he could respond to her as he had responded a few years earlier to Margaret Dixon and Fannie Biggs. He was anxious, above all, to be a pupil.
Miss Stein talked constantly about landscape in writing, and tried to communicate it through her own prose. In August, 1924, Hemingway wrote her about a story he had just finished, “the long one I worked on before I went to Spain where I’m trying to do the country like Cezanne. It’s about 100 pages long and nothing happens and the country is swell, I made it all up, so I see it all. . .”Miss Stein had been emphatic in her insistence that a writer must create rather than merely report.
During the first three years of their friendship, from 1922 through 1024, Hemingway relied heavily, in a general way, on her judgment. He showed her his work and trusted her evaluation. When Robert McAlmon asked him in 1924 for a contribution to the forthcoming Contact Collection of Contemporary Writers, Hemingway rather diffidently sent him “Soldier’s Home” from Paris, adding that Miss Stein had read and liked it. Earlier, when he and McAlmon were readying Hemingway’s Three Stories A Ten Poems in 1923, Hemingway took the proofs and cover to Miss Stein before sending them back to McAlmon. During the first months of their association, in 1922, Hemingway apparently even typed out samples of his early journalism for her; among her papers is a typescript of an article which had been printed in the Star Weekly early in 1921, a year before he met her.
Miss Stein, however, was not optimistic about the indefinite extent of journalism’s contribution to an apprenticeship. She felt that in addition to encouraging a writer to report rather than make, newspaper work also weakened him through its reliance on artificial supports. “Newspapers,” she said later, as she had often explained in earlier conversations, “want to do something, they want to tell what is happening as if it were just then happening.” She easily persuaded Hemingway that such journalistic immediacy was not a genuine immediacy. It was a primer lesson which Hemingway knew more intimately than she; her conclusions were painfully clear to him. She was very specific in her declaration that Hemingway should stop being a newspaperman. After reading the stories he had written before he reached Paris, Hemingway remembered thirty years later, she advised him “to get out of journalism and write as she said that the one would use up the juice I needed for the other. She was quite right,” Hemingway said in 1951, “and that was the best advice she gave me.”
Hemingway encountered most of the significant experiences of his personal and professional life before he was twenty-five years old. None of these experiences was unique in a man so young; as a cluster of episodes, however, they were premature, and pertinent in terms of the early maturity of his style and literary attitudes. He was barely eighteen when he began his vocation. He was not yet nineteen when he was severely wounded in the war. At nineteen he was the victim of an acutely unhappy love affair. He was married at twenty-two, a father two years later. He was a foreign correspondent when he was twenty-two, and a month after his twenty-fourth birthday he achieved his first major publication as a creative writer.
For Hemingway publication had a significance beyond the conventional connotations of acceptance and recognition. It hastened the abandonment of intrusive journalism. It confirmed his talent; this was of special importance to a temperament as competitive as his. Most important of all, publication allowed Hemingway to complete his apprenticeship and initiate the proper beginnings of his artistic career. “I am glad to have it out,” he wrote Edmund Wilson in November, 1923, three months after the appearance of Three Stories & Ten Poems, “and once it is published it is back of you.”
Hemingway himself has dated his work as beginning with Three Stories & Ten Poems. “The only work of mine that I endorse or sign as my true work,” he said in 1951, “is what I have published since Three Stories & Ten Poems and the first In Our Time.“
Hemingway’s debt to journalism was a large one, and he always acknowledged it. But he neither sentimentalized the profession nor misunderstood its essential threat to creative writing. “In newspaper work,” he once explained, “you have to learn to forget every day what happened the day before.” He always felt a parallel between journalism and war. Each, he maintained, is valuable to a writer “up until the point that it forcibly begins to destroy your memory.” His views on this are emphatic. “A writer must leave it before that point. But he will always have scars from it.”
After Hemingway left the Toronto newspaper, younger men who joined the Star were entertained and instructed by the tales of his fury and his skill and his ironic wit. The paper became distantly vain of his association with it; the morgue accumulated a substantial Hemingway folder. In occasional items which the Star printed about his books, its reporters sometimes referred to him as “a former Toronlonian.” It must have made him laugh, He was no more a former Torontonian, or Chicagoan, or Kansas Citian, than he was a former newspaperman. He had lived in all those places, and in many others, and he had been a newspaperman, but he had become a writer.
- Copyright 1922, by Ernest Hemingway.↩