Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Five notable books on Hemingway in Paris

Wai Chee Dimock is William Lampson Professor of English & American Studies at Yale University. Her books include Through Other Continents: American Literature Across Deep Time.

Dimock argues that "Hemingway is a very good example of someone who can show us the rest of the world, because he has travelled so widely and because he is on the minds of so many people. He really is the American author."

With Jane Rudloff at The Browser, she discussed five top books on Hemingway in Paris, including:
The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas
by Gertrude Stein

Your next choice, The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas, is by another giant of the Paris literary scene in the 1920s, Gertrude Stein.

Gertrude Stein and Hemingway appear in Woody Allen’s recent film, Midnight in Paris. She's the person who would read everyone’s work and give her opinion. That was historically the case with Hemingway. He was struggling, and at that early point would have been very happy to have one of his stories taken. Stein encouraged him to leave his paid job with the Toronto Star and concentrate on writing.

In a famous episode, Hadley was travelling to meet Hemingway in Switzerland and she had all his manuscripts with her for him to work on. She somehow managed to lose the suitcase with the manuscripts in it when she was on the train. Of course Hemingway was devastated, as all the copies were in that suitcase. Stein persuaded him to move on and write something new. That process freed him, and he went on to start The Sun Also Rises. So in many ways she was a good mentor to him. But according to what he says in A Moveable Feast, he also read a lot of her work and edited it for her. So he stresses that there was mutual benefit.

And how did Alice, Stein’s long term companion, fit into all this?

Both Hemingway and Stein talk about the separation in the drawing room of the two groups. There were the “men” on one side and their wives on the other. Stein was very much in the first group. They were the geniuses talking to one another. Stein would be there, talking to Picasso and Hemingway, and Alice would be off to the side talking to Hadley and Picasso’s lover Fernande Olivier. This is a comical moment in the book, written by Stein, supposedly from Alice’s point of view. But the book is all about Stein – why she went to Paris, what she did in the US before she went, and the intense friendships she had in Paris with people like Picasso.

Who else would have been part of that literary circle in Paris?

Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Sherwood Anderson, Wyndham Lewis and Ford Madox Ford were all there, as of course was F Scott Fitzgerald. The person Hemingway liked the best was Ezra Pound. He had the strange notion that Pound was the most Christian writer he had ever met. It seems so counterintuitive that it has always stuck in my mind, and I still can’t figure out what he means. Stein didn’t really like Pound, but according to Hemingway that’s because Ezra Pound broke one of her chairs.
Read about another book Dimock tagged at The Browser.

--Marshal Zeringue