Saturday, October 31, 2015
F: 3:45 a.m. All right, Papa, here we are again. Yesterday’s short session focused on one thing – the coexistence of integrity and what we might call pretending toward an ideal. Where do we go from here?
EH: Remember, we are moving, however slowly, toward one point.
F: Yes, I have that in mind.
EH: Pauline and I did not return to America for good right away. We knew we wanted our child born in an American hospital, and life in Paris had changed with the fluctuations in the exchange rates, but at first we were –
Well, let’s go about it a different way. As I said, Key West came as an attractive surprise, and we soon began thinking to live there a few weeks, maybe a few months, of the year. But there was all the West to be experienced and I was very much the child of my boyhood.
F: Meaning, I take it, that Roosevelt’s cattle-ranching days in the Dakota territory had fired your imagination.
EH: Not that specifically but the love of untamed country. A lot of great hunting and fishing out West, in a way no longer to be so easily found in the East. You may be having a hard time imagining how relatively wild and unspoiled the Michigan of my boyhood summers was. Michigan was closed to me after the blowup with my parents, or anyway I felt it was, and of course twenty years is going to make a difference. By the time I was looking around for an untamed part of the country to spend time in, Michigan was a lot more like Chicago than like – oh, the Upper Peninsula, say.
I had gotten my independence of action. If I could continue to publish stories and books, I could live where I wanted and as I wanted, and that was a big change from living from sale to sale as Hadley and I had done. Even though I had given Hadley all the royalties from The Sun Also Rises, presumably there would be other books.
F: Not sure where we’re going with this.
EH: If you want to see the changes within me, one way is to watch the changes outside of me. You don’t have to decide which came first, you can just correlate. So, with Hadley it was a life of scrimping and saving, then wild exuberant spending, depending on when we got a check from the [Toronto] Star. It was life in Paris and trips elsewhere in Europe (if you don’t count those ghastly few months in Canada), the young marrieds and their friends. It was my holding down the last regular job I would ever hold, or close to regular, having to keep one eye out for how to please my employer while living the way I wanted to as best I could.
It was living out the rest of the apprenticeship that had begun with my months on the paper in Kansas City and continued with writing features for the Toronto paper, and by apprenticeship in this case I mean sitting at the feet of Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound and others who had many things to teach me. It meant non-stop reading of Russian classics particularly, as well as contemporaries, as I worked on giving myself an education. It meant, too, my opening up to the world for the first time, in a way you can do only once.
F: I think that last sentence needs unpacking. I think I got what you mean, but I don’t know that others necessarily will.
EH: It’s simple enough. All my life I was a learner. I kept my inputs open, as you say. I lived life intensely. But you can only do something for the first time once. That doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable to do it again – think of sex! think of art museums! – but it does mean there is the initial shock of unrecognition only once. After that, you may still remain open, and your ability to experience may be enhanced by past experience, but it will not be unique in the way it can be only the once.
Also, my time with Hadley was my last time as an unknown quantity. I had had my name in the papers from the time I was wounded in Italy – and my name on bylines before that – but I was in no way famous until The Sun Also Rises. So, that relative anonymity with the general public was also a part of my life then. I was striving, and was hungering for success, I was working and listening and writing and honing my skills, but I didn’t yet have the product that would show what it was I had to offer.
All that changed. First there was an interregnum, and a very disturbing one. I set up shop separate from Hadley. Pauline was in America for the separation Hadley had insisted on. I wasn’t working for the Star but I wasn’t yet making money from my fiction, though clearly I was on the brink. Nothing was settled, and I was vibrating myself to pieces. It didn’t last long as calendars go, but it seemed long enough.
Then I was divorced and remarried and was officially living as a Catholic and was an acknowledged success and I had Scribner’s to draw from in the form of loans or advances and I had silently but effectively drawn a line between my family and me. In short order my center of gravity changed, you see, and even though Pauline and I were still able to visit Paris, we were visiting, rather than operating out of Paris as our base. And in relatively short order, I discovered deep sea fishing, an order of magnitude different from the fishing I had learned from my father. And in a pretty short time, there we were, settled into an existence with its own logic. We would live in Kay West but when it got unbearable for whatever reason we could go elsewhere. We had servants to do the routine work, and friends to live among, always work to do and fun to manufacture. You see how the entire tenor of my life changed?
F: I do. The only thing that stayed constant was the writing.
EH: Well – yes, if you are looking at the inner pressure to write and keep developing my skill. But it is a different thing when you have a name and an assured audience.
F: I wouldn’t know.
EH: Nor did I, until I had it. Then I began to experience the pressure that exerts on you, a background influence that will have its effect. Not only do you feel the pressure to hold onto that audience and build it, you worry, in a way, whether you are going to be able to deserve to keep it. That sounds like the same thing, but it isn’t.
F: No, I get the distinction. One fear is that the audience will desert you for whatever reason, the other is that they will leave you not for their own reasons but because you won’t be able to offer them anything compelling enough to hold them.
EH: That’s right. So on the one hand I had a name, and a track record, and a publisher who would support me and believe in me – at least, I hoped they would support me; sometimes I felt they weren’t really pulling their weight. On the other hand I saw what looked like a loose conspiracy of critics to dictate literary fashions, and of course I was never going to be their white-haired boy very long. And there were other writers having success with their various experiments, and I could respect some of them. So, that was an uneasy relationship, never settled and firm, but always subject to change.
F: You didn’t make it easier for people to follow you, especially those critics, by putting out a book on bullfighting and then one on hunting, especially since both of them seemed to blur the lines between fiction and non-fiction.
EH: I know that, and I knew it ahead of time, but I didn’t want to just go on repeating myself, and that was the experience I had. If I could have written about deep sea fishing, I would have done that too – which brings us to To Have and Have Not, in a way, and perhaps we can begin there next time.
F: All right, Papa. Thanks. Next time.
Saturday, October 31, 2015