Chapter 8: Contacts

There was Gertrude, doing what she did best: looking formidable. Strong, heavy, massive. Earth-woman. A face like an Italian peasant, Hadley and he had agreed. She was looking as she looked in 1922, at age 48. Like everyone else so far, she was choosing to appear as she was at the time being discussed. The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Well, Gertrude  Stein, 1922 version, knew the truth when she saw it. But later –

“Miss Stein, perhaps we should begin out of sequence. You will have heard the defendant’s thought, just now. Do you know what he meant by it?”

“Hemingway always has strong opinions. He believes that at some time after he first knew me, my judgment became unreliable.”

“I said, after you went through menopause, you went screwy.”

“Miss Stein, the 15 years since you made your transition have given you ample time and opportunity to obtain a more balanced, objective view of your life. From your present perspective, was he correct? Did your judgment in fact become skewed after a certain point?”

He leaned over to the defense attorney. “I thought that in the afterlife there is no time. So what difference would 15 years make?”

The defense attorney looked at the judge, who nodded permission. “If you will forget the term `afterlife’ and think in terms of physical and non-physical, some things will be clearer to you. We are alive here as we were in the 3D, but in different circumstances. There, we could move in space. Here, we can move in time. Time does not cease to exist because we can move through it, any more than Paris ceased to exist when you moved to Key West.”

“So Gertrude has had 15 years to think things over?”

“Yes, and she has been able to see her life from many people’s points of view, including yours. Every time your life and hers touched, she can see, now, what was going through your mind and how things appeared to you in addition to how it appeared to her.”

He absorbed the idea. “So you can get everybody’s point of view. Pretty good conditions for a writer, if you had some way to write it.”

“No reason to assume you won’t be able to write here, Mr. Hemingway.

“Does that mean there’s a typewriter in my future?”

“That will depend on the trial, I think. We’re ready, your honor.”

“You may continue, Mr. Prosecutor.”

“Miss Stein? Was the defendant correct that your judgment become skewed?”

“Perhaps it was more a case of Hemingway disapproving of the conclusions my judgment led me to. Hemingway in the 1930s was not the Hemingway who presented himself at my door in 1922.”

“Tell us a bit about Gertrude Stein in 1922, if you would. Who was she, and why was she important?”

“I was 25 years older than Hemingway. My family was wealthy, and we lived for awhile in Europe, then in California. I was a student of psychologist William James at Radcliffe College, and subsequently, I attended Johns Hopkins Medical School for two years. In 1903, I moved to Paris and lived with my brother Leo, who was an art critic, at 27 Rue de Fleurus.”

“You and he assembled quite a famous private art gallery. An art critic said that you collected geniuses rather than masterpieces.”

“Yes. He meant we saw genius sooner than others did. Beginning in 1904, we began to purchase the works of artists whose work we thought important. We bought Gauguin, and Renoir, and Delacroix. We bought Daumier and Toulouse-Lautrec. Most importantly, Cézanne, Matisse, and Picasso. Soon it came about that many people asked to see our collection, and we did not wish to have to be continually showing our paintings, or refusing to show them, whenever someone came to the door. And so we began our Saturday evening salons, which continued for many years.”

“But it was not for your art collection that the defendant came to 27 Rue de Fleurus, was it?”

“Perhaps he came because Sherwood Anderson said he must come.”

“Yes, but I meant, he came not because of your reputation as a distinguished art collector, but your reputation as a writer.”

“I understood what you meant. What I meant is that perhaps Hemingway had no clear idea what I was doing or why I was the literary world’s entrée into the twentieth century.”

Well, that sounded like the Gertrude he had known.

She smiled. “Perhaps he still does not, even yet.”

“Could you briefly give the court an idea of what it was you were doing with your writing?”

She spread her hands. “I cannot pretend to give the court an education. I wrote as Cezanne painted. Every day, I sat writing under Cézanne’s `Portrait of Madame Cézanne,’ and that portrait helped me to find my style. I looked at that painting, everything structured so carefully, everything related to everything else, everything equally important, not one thing central and another peripheral, and I understood it, and I thought about it, and I gradually came to write in the way he was painting, everything related to everything else.”

The prosecutor paused, as if to absorb this information. “Then, perhaps, a word or two about how you came to begin to write?”

“I began writing at age 30, when I came to Paris in 1904, but little of what I wrote was published before the war. A book on wine. Tender Buttons. Also Three Lives, which received critical acclaim, and which Hemingway made sure to read before sending me Anderson’s letter of introduction.”

“Miss Stein, did you and the defendant get along well when you first knew each other?”

“Hemingway and Hadley asked Alice and me to be godmothers to their child. You don’t ask that of someone if you are not on good terms with them. We were all fond of each other, in those early days.”

He said: “Alice, too?”

“Hemingway, you know Alice was very protective of me. She did not see you as favorably as I initially did.”

“She didn’t see anyone favorably. She was like the NKVD agents I knew later in Spain, always listening, always suspicious, always calculating.”

“NKVD agents aside, Miss Stein, you and the defendant saw a great deal of each other in 1922 and 1923?”

“He traveled, we traveled. But when we both happened to be in the city at the same time, yes.”

“You critiqued his writing?”

“I told him that some of his poems, I liked. His stories showed promise. The novel he was writing, I told him to begin again and concentrate better.”

“Was he receptive to your advice?”

“Of course he was. He was extremely intelligent, and in those days he could still listen. He had read Three Lives, and he began to understand what I was doing. He learned from me the power of repetition, and the power to be found in the careful employment of participles, and the possibilities inherent in the sounds of words, as well as their sense.”

He felt the defense attorney’s hand on his arm, so made no response.

“Would you say the defendant acknowledged your role in his growth as author?”

“Until he succeeded. Then he decided that he had never learned anything important from anyone.”

The defense attorney’s hand was still on his arm.

“Thank you, Miss Stein. No further questions at this time.”

“Defense?”

“Miss Stein, in your 1933 book The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, you say that you still have a sort spot in your heart for Mr. Hemingway. Can you tell us why that is?”

“Some feelings seem to be beyond our control. Hemingway as a very young man inspired affection in his friends, and perhaps later experience did not lead one to erase the earlier, more attractive memories.”

“So then, would you consider the defendant to have been a good friend?”

“In his early days in Paris, yes.”

“No further questions  at this time.”

“Thank you, Miss Stein. You may step down for the moment. The prosecution recalls Hadley Hemingway Mowrer to the stand.”

.2.

“Mrs. Mowrer, soon after your arrival in Paris, you and the defendant became friends with the poet Ezra Pound and his wife Dorothy, is that correct?

“It would be truer to say that Ernest and Ezra became friends. Dorothy and I were friends-by-husband, if I may coin a phrase. She was a dear, pretty Englishwoman, but there was not that spark between us that there was between Ezra and Ernest.” She smiled. “As a matter of fact, there was not that spark between Ernest and Ezra either, not that first time. Ernest was quite put off by Ezra’s wild hair, and his untrimmed goatee, and his open collar, at a time when Midwestern gentlemen always wore ties! Also, Ezra liked to pontificate, and I could see Ernest having to try to be patient.”

“Yet they became friends.”

“You had to give Ezra a little time, but he grew on you. What you noticed at first were the eccentricities and the mannerisms and the vehemence – almost the violence — of his opinions. But with time you learned of his innumerable silent kindnesses to people, his diligent efforts on behalf of artists who didn’t necessarily repay him even with gratitude. And you learned how much scholarship he had made his own, and how deeply he had thought about some things, and how incessantly and well he labored. Ernest learned a lot from him.”

“Also he was willing to box with me. He wasn’t any good at it, but he was willing to look like a fool, trying. He wasn’t setting himself up on a pedestal. I admired that.”

“Mrs. Mowrer, why did Mr. Pound’s success not arouse the defendant’s competitiveness?”

Thoughtfully: “It did, but in a constructive way. Ernest enjoyed him, and they both had the same feeling for writing, and Ernest valued Ezra’s ideas highly. I suppose it was a mentoring relationship.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Mowrer. Unless the counsel for the defense has any questions, you may step down for the moment.”

“No questions, your honor.”

“The prosecution calls Ezra Pound.”

.3.

Ezra was living in Italy now, a free man after his long confinement at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital. He was an old man – he had to be 75 or so – but he came to the witness stand appearing as he had in 1922, with his hawk’s eyes that missed nothing, and his moustache and goatee, looking every inch the poet he was.

“Mr. Pound, in 1922, at the time you met the defendant, what was your position?”

“Missionary, when the opportunity arose.”

He broke out laughing. That was Ezra.

The prosecutor, however, was not smiling. “Your literary position, if you don’t mind.”

Pound was watching the prosecutor in his old lazy, ironic way. “You mean, I suppose, what did other people think of me and how was I scratching for a living. I was a scout for a couple of avant-garde magazines. I had published a few books of poetry. I had written and published some essays, too many essays. And I had built the bookshelves for Sylvia’s bookstore.”

“Your literary reputation was firmly fixed by 1922, was it not? You got T.S. Eliot’s `Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ published. You got Joyce’s Ulysses serialized. You were a friend of the Irish poet W.B. Yeats and yourself had been a columnist for several literary magazines. You were one of the founders of the Imagist movement. You were the author of the influential book Cathay, and you were the man who edited T.S. Eliot’s `Waste Land’ with what Eliot called `critical genius.’ You were friends with the artists of the Dada and Surrealist schools as well? You coined the term `vorticism’ to describe imagism in the pictorial arts.”

“Guilty on all counts.”

“In 1922 you and the defendant became friends, and remained friends. Is that correct?”

“I’ve heard as much. I suspect it’s true.” Pound made one of his lightning switches to full seriousness. “Hemingway and Archie MacLeish. When you need your friends and they don’t need you and they come through for you anyway, you don’t forget that.” Pound flicked a glance at his old friend, just one, fast, fleeting, catch-it-or-miss-it glance as always. He was happy to have Ezra’s gratitude, but it embarrassed him.

“To remain in 1922, Mr. Pound – how did the defendant appear to you?”

A grin. “A big lovable kid. A tough teddy bear. A volcano, ready to blow.” He stopped. “No, that’s after the fact. At the time, what I saw was this pair of eyes that saw and a pair of ears that listened, and I inferred a mind that wasn’t missing anything going on around him.”

“You found an acolyte.”

An explosive laugh. “Hemingway? Not hardly!”

“Did he not pay careful attention to your opinions, and did he not adopt them in short order?”

“He listened to my literary opinions, and he tried them on, and took what he agreed with. I probably shortened his path, by making some things clear to him that he might not have seen right away. But he wasn’t the man to go anywhere against his judgment. He was always going to go his own way.”

“And did he share your political opinions?”

He sighed. “Look, you know and I know and the whole world knows that I went off the rails in politics. He tried to tell me, over the years, but I wasn’t buying. We just had to agree to disagree. Hell, we did that all the time. Our friendship was never based on politics. He was serious about writing and so was I, and that’s what we had in common and that’s all we needed to have in common.”

“Mr. Pound, this being true, do you think the defendant’s career would have been the same if you and he had not become friends?”

“Of course not. Everybody we pay attention to changes our life. Besides, I’m the man who suggested him to Ford for the transatlantic review.”

“Thank you, Mr. Pound.”

“Defense?”

“No questions, your honor.”

“Your honor, the question of how the defendant’s literary contacts led to publication takes us beyond the year 1922, but before we enter into that discussion, we need to explore an incident that happened that December. The prosecution recalls Mrs. Mowrer to the stand.”

Well, he knew what that was about!

.4.

“Mrs. Mowrer, we have to touch upon a painful subject.”

“The loss of the manuscripts, I know. That was the worst day of my life, worse even than years later when I found out that Ernest was involved with Pauline.”

“Please tell the court what happened.”

“Ernest was covering the Lausanne Peace Conference for the Star. He had showed one of his best early stories, `My Old Man,’ to Lincoln Steffens, and Steffens had liked it so much that he sent it to a big magazine. So when Ernest wired me to join him in Switzerland, I decided to bring all the work he had done so far, in case he wanted to show Steffens some more. I put them in a valise.” If she had been in the physical world, she might have swallowed. “And somebody stole the valise.”

“Stole it, with all his work to date.”

“All his work, and all the carbon copies of his work! I put it in the railroad car and I only left it for a moment to buy something to eat and drink on the journey, and when I returned to the car it was gone!”

“What did you do?”

“What could I do? I asked the porters, I searched high and low, I gave them our address and asked them to notify us if it was found – but it was gone, and I knew it, and I still had the journey to make, and at the end of it I would have to tell Ernest that in a moment of carelessness I had lost everything he had done all year.” A pause. “That wasn’t a journey I should care to make again.”

“And how did he react when he heard the news?”

“At first he was so concerned because I couldn’t stop crying, and couldn’t tell him what I had done, he just wanted to comfort me and tell me it couldn’t possibly be as bad as all that. And then when I told him, he couldn’t believe it. Surely I hadn’t brought the carbons and the manuscripts, he said, there would be no reason to. And when I told him yes I had, that I thought if he made corrections he might want to make them on the carbons too, or maybe Steffens would want another story to send off, and this way he would still have the carbons to read if he needed to remember something – he got angry and he refused to believe that I’d really done it. He got somebody to cover for him on the conference and took the train to Paris, hoping to find something I’d overlooked, and he did find one thing, but only one. I suppose it was fortunate that when he finally had to admit that all his work was gone, I wasn’t there.”

“Do you mean he might have become violent?”

“Not physically, no. But when Ernest lost his temper he was never responsible for anything he said, and he could say things that stayed with you.”

“And so, when he returned?”

“When he returned, well, he was awfully shaken, the way you would be if your house burned down, and you were thinking of the things you had lost. And he was angry at me for losing them, and trying hard not to keep reproaching me for it, and being reminded every time he saw me. And he took on a sort of grim determination that he was not going to be kept away from his destiny, even by having a valise stolen from a careless wife.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Mowrer. The prosecution recalls the defendant to the stand.”

He turned to the defense attorney. “Don’t we want to cross-examine?”

“No need. Go ahead.”

.5.

“Mr. Hemingway, you’ve heard Mrs. Mowrer’s testimony. Would you say her description of your reaction was accurate?”

“As far as she could know it, yes.”

“Was there more, then, that she could not know?”

“Not so much at the time as a few months later. She had lost my manuscripts, well, that was terrible but I knew she hadn’t meant to, and maybe it was the kind of thing that could have happened to anyone. But then just a few months later, she got pregnant, and I was afraid it would be the end of my writing career before it even began. I started to think maybe she couldn’t be trusted to be careful enough. Maybe, for all I know, she didn’t care enough.”

“Did you really think that?”

“I tried not to think it, but it kept sneaking through. And that doesn’t mean that was the end of the good times between us, because it wasn’t. But of course it changed things. I mean, you don’t let a valise out of your sight when it’s filled with things that literally cannot be replaced – not if you care enough about them.”

“But in the event you did replace them.”

“No, Mr. Prosecutor, I did not, and no one can. They’re gone. The work that went into them wasn’t wasted, exactly, because everything that followed built on what I had learned in that first year. But that’s like saying that four out of your five children survived, so the lost child doesn’t matter. It does matter. It can’t be replaced, ever, no matter how many more children you produce.”

“Did it change things between you?”

“I tried not to let it, but it did, sure, it was too important. You have to understand, I was fighting for my life. To become a writer, I was going to have to concentrate and work hard, and I could do that. I needed some luck, and it looked like I was having that, if only in the literary connections I had made so quickly and easily. If I had to scrape by until something hit, I was fine with that. But to lose a year’s work, just when I might need to have things to show to a potential publisher! It was almost unbearable. It really did look like the gods had it in for me. And then, a little later, to realize that I was going to have to be a father, too, with all the financial complications that would bring? It was overwhelming. I tried not to blame Hadley, but it was hard not to.”

“You did not think of having a job and supporting a family as normal life?”

“That’s exactly what I did think, that’s why I was so upset. I didn’t want a normal life. I wanted to be a writer, I knew I only had so much time to break into the racket.”

“Thank you, Mr. Hemingway. Unless the defense has questions, you may step down. No? Your honor, the prosecution calls Robert McAlmon.”

.6.

McAlmon had died a few years before, pretty much forgotten. He was choosing to appear as he had been in the twenties, when he was Contact Editions.

“Mr. McAlmon, in 1923, you were 28 years old, living in Paris, married to Annie Ellerman. Before you moved to Europe, you had worked with a young William Carlos Williams on the first four issues of the Contact Review, which helped establish your reputation as a publisher. Then in 1923, you moved to Europe and founded the Contact Publishing Company. Could we say you specialized in publishing avant-garde writers?”

“That depends upon what you mean by avant-garde. It is not enough to do something different merely for the sake of doing something different. You have to be moving in a certain direction, for a certain reason. And that means you have to be working from some theory. I thought this thing that people called literary tradition was hanging in the air without roots, divorced from the reality of the lives people led. I wanted to showcase writers who were working out of their own experience, out of a definite time and place.”

“And is this why, in Paris, you became friends with Irish writer James Joyce?”

Ulysses was firmly placed in contemporary Ireland, and only an Irishman could have written it. I liked that. In fact, I myself typed up the manuscript and edited it. I couldn’t undertake to publish it, though. The legal difficulties were too great.”

“Contact Editions, in its few years of existence, published several authors who went on to become famous.”

“Oh yes. Williams, of course, and Bryher – that was my wife’s nom de plume – and Gertrude Stein. Also Three Stories & Ten Poems, a first book by a man named Ernest Hemingway, which, as everybody knows, became the heart of In Our Time.”

“Yes, and naturally the court is most interested in your relationship with the defendant. Would you explain, please, how you came to be the first man to publish a book by Ernest Hemingway.”

“I suppose you could say it was because Ezra Pound took a trip to the Vatican Library. I had gone down to Rapallo in 1922 to see Pound, but he wasn’t there. Instead, I met this young couple who had also come to visit Pound. Hemingway showed me the two stories he had left after Hadley lost the others, and I told him we could make a little book out of those stories and whatever poetry he cared to add. We shook hands on it, and that’s all the contract we ever had. He added another story, and I got it into print the following summer, the summer of 1923.”

“And before the book came out, you and he went to Spain.”

“That’s right, in June. Hadley was in her fifth month of pregnancy, so she stayed in Paris, but he and I traveled to Madrid together, and Bill Bird met us there, and that trip is when Hemingway discovered the San Fermin festival at Pamplona, and bullfighting in general.”

“The trip did not go altogether smoothly, did it?”

“You had to know how Hemingway was in those days. He was this very sensitive little kid, pretending to be a tough guy, and trying to become a tough guy. And he was so competitive! I thought I was competitive, but I never in the rest of my life met anybody as competitive as he was. He had to be the best. He had to be the expert, the guy who could give you the inside dope. So when he was on your turf, a newcomer somewhere where you already had footing, he had to find some way to put you on the defensive about something else. He needled me all through the trip.”

“Good natured needling? Back and forth?”

“Bill Bird was the most easy-going guy you would want to meet, and he told Hemingway it was too much.”

“But still you published his book.”

“I had said I would, and it was the kind of thing I wanted to publish.”

“No further questions, your honor.”

“Your honor, the prosecution calls Harold Loeb.”

“If your honor please, Mr. Loeb’s testimony will carry us into 1924 and 1925, and perhaps it would be as well to finish discussing the events of 1923.”

“I have no objection, your honor. Perhaps we might put the defendant on the stand, and proceed from there?”

“That’s acceptable to the defense, your honor.”

“Proceed, then.”

 

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