A strange incident in Hemingway’s life — and its meaning for us

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

5:45 AM. A delicate question, papa. One whose answer may prove difficult. Reading Baker, page 222. This is in 1931:

“On a visit to the MacLeishes at Uphill Farm in Conway Massachusetts, Ernest was standing before the fireplace when the MacLeishes’ daughter Mimi came in to greet him. Something in his manner frightened her and she ran off to her bedroom. Ada found her crying and saying over and over that this was not the Hemingway she knew. Ernest spent nearly an hour talking to the child upstairs, and afterwards compared her to the child Ellie in “Disorder And Early Sorrow,” the story of Thomas Mann’s that he liked best after Buddenbrooks.”

There is no further mention of the incident. What was that all about? I don’t know the Thomas Mann story, so I don’t know what you were referring to. But something in that description makes me think that the girl accurately saw you as being different. Did she?

You understand, nobody at the time had any context for seeing her actions as warranted. Neither would you, if not for the person-group concept.

Yes – that’s where I went with it.

People say, “he’s changed,” but they almost always think of it as a change like an evolution, a flowering and a decaying. They don’t so often think of it as like changing partners in a square dance. Do you remember what Fitzgerald said? You might quote that.

Writing to their mutual friend Morley Callaghan of Hemingway, Fitzgerald said, “I have a theory that Ernest needs a new woman for each big book. There was one for the stories and The Sun Also Rises. Now there’s Pauline. A Farewell To Arms is a big book. If there is another big book I think we’ll find Ernest has another wife.” Quoted in Jeffrey Meyers, Hemingway: A Biography.”

That was pretty perceptive of him, and it worked out in practice. Marty for For Whom The Bell Tolls and Mary for The Old Man And The Sea. But that wasn’t as perceptive as it might have been if Scott had known about person-groups. Do you see it?

Oh yes.

They say in vino veritas, but wine has nothing on children. She saw that she wasn’t dealing with the same person she had known – yet, same body, same voice, and taken for granted by the others. It frightened her badly. Here’s how to explain it, in case it isn’t obvious.

There was a group called Ernest Hemingway. Some of the group were dominant and some were in the background. Some were private and some gregarious. Some were scholarly, some extremely physical, some curious, some didactic. You understand, traits just like anybody, only I’m explaining it not as traits but as separate personalities I was holding together by my life. Every major change in my life was accompanied by a major reshuffling of players, some before the fact, others after the fact. It is obvious, surely. She was badly frightened because there had been a major shift and yet I wasn’t totally strange either. It would be as if your brother appeared to you one day – in the body, I mean, not as an apparition – and was the same old brother you’d always known and at the same time was significantly someone else. As if he was possessed, say, or as if he had been in an accident or had had life-altering surgery and no one but you noticed. Of course it scared her badly, more because nobody seemed to realize it then because of the strangeness itself. But none of us knew.

It was striking, and the Fitzgerald quote you had me append made it even more so.

Shortly it stands to reason that nobody is the same makeup in the same proportion under any and all circumstances.

It is now, sure. I mean, I see it differently in light of the person-group concept.

It says a lot about the importance of good companions, good habits, good intentions, doesn’t it? But none of them can guarantee a thing. If life comes along and changes your circumstances, you will adjust your internal alignment to match, or, if your internal makeup changes, you will find your circumstances changing soon enough.

It’s almost as if parts of us take a breather while their substitutes get into the ring.

More like new troops being sent in to reinforce or replace old ones. But not very much like either. It’s just internal and external matching, as they always do.

All right. Speaking of that, I want to talk about one of your robots. It seems to me that you could never bear to be in the wrong in your own eyes. So, when Pauline came, you eventually wound up blaming the situation on the Murphys as the rich, and on dos Passos as their pilot-fish! That was very unfair, Ernest.

No judgments, though, right?

All right, that’s right. (Why can’t I get off this word “right” that’s inserting itself everywhere today?) So talk about it, then.

Sketch your theory about robots. How to get rid of them, I mean; how to get free of bad habits.

I wouldn’t have thought of them as bad habits, but I suppose that’s one way to see them. Robots – automatic servants we have programmed some time in the past to always react to a given stimulus with a given response – function beyond our conscious control. They work out of our unconscious. Therefore we usually aren’t even aware that they exist, let alone that they are functioning at any given time.

We can change their programming only by contacting them out of the feeling (which means out of the specific consciousness) from which they were created, and applying analysis to the cause-effect or stimulus-response within which they operate. However, given those two conditions, feeling and analysis, we can change them easily, for they are our own creations and are there to do our bidding.

But now I’ve lost the connection to dos Passos and the Murphys, etc.

You lost the connection to this part of your consciousness because of your habit of doing several things at once.

Yes. I guess so. Well –?

Put the two incidents and Scott’s theory together and see if you don’t have a more convenient, more powerful, explanation of my life.

I – as you, as anybody – was not an individual in the way our society saw it – yours or mine. Instead, I was the common denominator for a group of what might be called semi-individuals, or something – as everybody else is too. When the lineup of effectively operating sub-individuals changed, what people could experience changed. “Hemingway became the prisoner of his own myth,” or “he fashioned a mask and then couldn’t take it off,” or “as he grew older, certain tendencies grew greater and he changed.”

As my lineup changed, though, certain parts – those I held to most fiercely – did not change. I was a writer, a great writer, a craftsman with integrity. This was not going to change if the rest of my life crumbled around me. At the same time, changed circumstances internal and external brought new forces, new sub-individuals, into new relationship with that great craftsman aspect of me, and so as Scott said, new book, new woman, except that reverses the order of things.

Now, to be crude, are we talking about a different person to have sex with? Is it a matter of whose sex organs come together? Hardly. It’s a matter of woman as enchantress, as vision – as anima projection, I can hear that Carl and you would call it. That is powerful, and another time ask Carl to talk about it, maybe. In any case, a new woman to be enchanted by called forth new parts of my inner being, and they related to – or let’s say they were observed by, and portrayed by – that central core of me that did not change in and out, but remained always at the helm, that determined great craftsman. That’s why I had unshaken integrity there always, you see. I couldn’t afford to lose that. I’d have lost myself, and been totally adrift.

That does shed light on some things. But even though the result is a bit lighter than usual, I think we need to stop for now. It has been our usual 70 minutes.

Don’t forget to institute that notebook of themes to pursue, as well as questions to ask.

All right. Till Thursday.

One thought on “A strange incident in Hemingway’s life — and its meaning for us

  1. Frank, I have a question about person-groups:

    Hemingway (as an example–really any of us) “was the common denominator for a group of what might be called semi-individuals” or “sub-individuals”.

    So he also would be, or could be, simultaneously a sub-individual now in another person-group with someone else at the helm, possibly you? And, if so, does he self-identify as Hemingway there as well?

    These conversations are so beneficial. Thank you.

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