Hemingway’s turning-point

Wednesday, November 18, 2015
F: 4:15 a.m. Okay, Papa, “And then there was society, or class, whichever way you want to see it. And Spain and the church. And then Spain and the reports of Communists. And then to top it all, here came Martha.” Care to unpack?
EH: Pauline was rich and her Uncle Gus made it as if she were twice as rich because he loved his nieces and loved showering them with expensive presents. With being rich comes a sense of entitlement, and it is a very short step from there to assuming first that it is right that you should be rich and second – and more importantly, but a little harder to see in yourself – a sense that it is right that those who aren’t rich, aren’t. I was never poor except compared to some of the people around me, but I remembered what it was like, and I could see the flaws of the rich clearly enough, clearly enough. That was one difference between us that kept getting more important. Hadley, of course, would have remembered what it was like to at least live poor, and to have a clear sight of the end of your resources. And she had a warmer heart anyway. I didn’t fail to make the comparison.

And then there was Spain and the church from the time of the proclamation of the Spanish Republic in 1931, and the conflict continued to widen until it exploded when Franco led the 1936 revolt. Pauline was Catholic in a way that was very different from me. She was more a friend of the organization as such. She gave it her allegiance in a way that tacitly assumed that it was always on the side of the angels. She was very sophisticated in some ways, very naive or let’s say uninformed, in others. The church to us was different things. It’s like the difference between seeing a business as its public relations firm would like you to see it, or seeing it as containing many excellent people, and scoundrels, and all steps in between. In other words, she saw the church as God’s institution and I saw it as an institution concerned with God but still very much a human institution with all that implied. So when we began to read about conflicts – political conflicts and social conflicts – in which the church was on one side, her view led her to assume the church was always on the right side, and was being opposed by men who were evil. I knew better. Nothing is perfect, nobody is perfect, and the only way you would think they were was to keep your eyes shut either deliberately or because you were unable to imagine the truth and didn’t have access to first-hand experience that would teach you better.
When the civil war broke out and it became clear that the republic had no friends in any government anywhere other than the Soviet Union (and Mexico, that was itself the product of an anti-clerical revolution of a few years back), that just extinguished any doubts Pauline might have had left. If the communists were on our side, that side couldn’t be right. If she had been willing to listen at all during the years before the war broke out, she was entirely unable to listen once the republic was captured by the communists – for that is the way she saw it. I was more like Robert Jordan there. I saw the necessity for the republic to adhere to the politics of its only friend – for “friend” is how the Spanish government saw the only country to provide it with arms and diplomatic support – but it was disheartening to see what came with it.
International politics itself was driving wedges between us – the depression and its cure, the Spanish war and its compromises. And there came Martha. She wasn’t the first pretty face to come my way since Pauline, but she had one advantage that made her more formidable than the others. (Well, one besides those fabulous legs.) She was a writer. She admired me as a writer, not as an editor.
F: You mean, I think, that Pauline admired you as a writer but was not a writer herself even though she was an excellent reader and critic and editor of what you wrote.
EH: That’s right, but she wasn’t herself a writer. Martha was. She had the aficion, as we would have said in Spanish. She practiced writing, she worked at it, she took it seriously as a trade. That made a bond between us that Pauline could not share. And, she admired me as a writer before she met me as a man. She dedicated a book to me just because she admired what I wrote.
And, Martha was solidly middle-class – her father was a doctor – but she wasn’t rich. She had a sense of entitlement too, but in her case it was because she was Martha, and the world ought to be able to see it.
F: Not so different from you, then.
EH: True enough, although I wouldn’t have thanked you for saying it. But yes, there was a self-absorption in her that –
But the thing is, she didn’t expect special treatment. She might demand it or wangle it or try to earn it, but her life had not led her to expect that it would come automatically. Me too. That was another bond.
Because she didn’t feel that she was owed something by virtue of her place in the world, she didn’t automatically identify with the rich or the establishment or what we would call the “haves.” She was only a few years younger than me, but those few years were enough that she had no memories of “prewar” existence, not to amount to anything. She grew up in the postwar age and then in the depression, and it shaped her very differently than Pauline. Pauline never could understand some things that I knew very well, and Martha did too.
And Martha was half Jewish, and her mother was a social activist, and she had become mentored and befriended by Eleanor Roosevelt [who was a friend of Martha’s mother]. I was no fan of Roosevelt, but not for Pauline’s reasons. Martha saw the suffering of the common people, and she wanted passionately to overcome it, and she saw Roosevelt and the New Deal as the only hope of doing so. She was no friend of the Catholic church and was a friend to anything leftist, so she saw the Spanish situation as one-sidedly as Pauline did, but from the other side.
It all made quite a difference.
F: And she was a beautiful young woman who admired you and wanted to join her life to yours.
EH: As I said, it was very different.
All right, now, I don’t intend to concentrate on my marriage or on my affair with Martha but on my inner life as it affected the only novel that ever took second place but was published anyway.
F: I take that to mean, you had other projects that you started and abandoned, like “A New-slain Knight” or other things that just either dried up or showed themselves to be too frail to support a novel-length treatment, but only this one sort of failed but you let it out of your hands anyway.
EH: “Failed” is too strong and even “sort of failed” isn’t right, but yes, it was this novel that broke my career in half, in the way that leaving Hadley for Pauline had broken my life in half.
F: That’s way stronger a statement than I would have expected. Did I get it right, or did I get carried away by something in the sentence structure?
EH: No, you got it right. Maybe I got carried away a little. But this is the nub of what we have been pursuing. My life would have gone one way if I had put the novel ahead of everything in my life, as I did always except for this one time. As it was, it went another way. There isn’t any right” or “wrong” about it. It was my choice to make, of course, but it had consequences, which we traced a while ago.
F: Yes, it’s in Afterlife Conversations with Hemingway somewhere. This way, we got For Whom the Bell Tolls, the other way we might have gotten an equally great and penetrating novel about revolution and society and the dilemmas that can’t be resolved by formula.
EH: And much more, much of it dealt with in the Spanish book, but this would have been in the keys – American soil, American situations, American conflicts – as well as Cuba, with its echoes of American influence.
Too bad you couldn’t write it now, using an amanuensis – and I don’t mean me, I’m not volunteering – but it’s too bad you don’t have your own Taylor Caldwell or Joan Grant.
EH: You don’t know whether I do or not. But the variable isn’t Hemingway, it is Hemingway’s audience. How am I going to write something for the America of the 1930s, when at this point that America no longer exists?
F: So if we want to read the novel that To Have and Have Not would have been, we need to move to a different timeline.
EH: You aren’t going to find it on this one, obviously – and remember, to go onto a timeline that contained that book, you’d be forgetting For Whom the Bell Tolls. Until you get beyond the limitations of 3D, you don’t get to mix and match, or compare and contrast. You take one or the other.
And that’s enough for now.
F: I found it very helpful to have that very definite paragraph to unpack; this flowed nicely. Can I have one to begin with next time?
EH: Good idea. Then let’s look at the structure of To Have and Have Not as it is, and examine it for any statement about the rich and society. We won’t get through the topic, but that will give us our start.
F: Okay. Till then.

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