Chapter 10: The Literary Game

Now Hadley looked as she looked when they had returned to Europe in 1924, a bit plump, a bit matronly. It was only after he and she separated that she slimmed down, bought new and fashionable clothes.

“Mrs. Mowrer, you and the defendant returned to Paris from Canada in January, 1924, and you took up residence in a cold-water flat across from the sawmill. Given that it was your money you and the defendant were living on, did you ever wish for more of a say in how it was to be spent?”

She considered the question. “It’s the same criticism I heard at the time. Why does Hadley let him make all the financial decisions? Whatever he wants, he buys. Why shouldn’t she? For some reason, I have never been able to get my point of view across. Ernest and I were a team! We went back to Europe with about a thousand dollars to our name, and my trust fund income. We were really staking everything so that he could become a writer. Everything else was secondary.”

“And you didn’t mind the consequent hardships?”

“Hardship is a relative word, Mr. Prosecutor. We economized on the things we didn’t care about and splurged on the things we did care about. Ernest always had a writing room he could go to; I always had access to a piano. And to help me take care of Bumby, we had Marie Cocotte – Marie Rohrbach – who loved him as we did. When we had money, we ate and drank and lived well, and we took long trips or lived in other countries where living was cheaper. When we didn’t, we waited for better times. Remember, in 1924, I was only 32 and Ernest was only 24. Our life wasn’t hardship, it was youthful adventure.”

“Mrs. Mowrer, as we understand it, during your visit to Pamplona in 1924, the defendant raised a scene, repeatedly, in front of your friends, worrying that you might be pregnant again. Was it not at about this time that you discovered that his mood swings had a rhythm of their own, and were not necessarily precipitated by external events?”

She did not react. (And he had seen that combination of expressions before. Apprehension, distress, helplessness….)

“Mrs. Mowrer?”

“You try,” she said. “You think, of course he’s depressed, it would depress anyone – whatever the particular `it’ was. Or you think, he’s so much fun, he bubbles over, aren’t we lucky. But after you’ve taken the ride twice, you can’t help see things, no matter how much you don’t want to. But even then, look what you’re dealing with. This is not an ordinary man, you can’t expect an ordinary life with him. In fact, that was one of the attractions, wasn’t it, that he wasn’t ordinary, that your life wouldn’t be ordinary? He lives so much in his head, making up stories, or finding them, and then doing the work of setting them out in the most effective way. If his highs are higher than other people’s and his lows are lower, maybe that’s just the price of genius. But then you remember his tales of his father, how his father started getting strange, and kept getting stranger, up and down, up and down, and you think, is that what we’re in for?”

Gently, the prosecutor said, “So what did you do?”

“We didn’t do anything, Mr. Prosecutor. We lived our lives and hoped for the best. I tried to give him what he needed, and still be his companion, and take care of Bumby, but as we learned, these things have their own schedule. Good news in the middle of a down cycle might alleviate things a little bit, and bad news in the middle of an up cycle, he’d try to see the bright side. But the cycles had a life of their own, and you could see it if you were willing to.”

“And he was unwilling to see a mental health professional.”

“No. And he and I went our separate ways while he was still in his twenties, so I was spared the worst of it, but he was not.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Mowrer, no further questions. Cross-examination? No? The prosecution recalls the defendant.”

.2.

“Mr. Hemingway, practically as soon as you returned to Europe, you wound up as sub-editor of Ford Madox Ford’s newly established transatlantic review. Didn’t Ford hire you on Pound’s recommendation?”

“Yes, it was the kind of thing Ezra did for people all the time, and in this case he knew I had what the transatlantic review needed. Putting out a periodical means handling a million details. Ezra knew I had I edited the Cooperative Commonwealth magazine in Chicago. Plus, every magazine has to find new writers, and Ezra knew I had a good eye for quality writing, because he’d seen what I had learned in the past couple of years. Not so easy to find someone who can do that and is willing to do it without pay.”

“If this was an unpaid position, what was in it for you?”

“Ezra knew how to play the literary game, so he knew that I would make contacts that would be worth their weight in gold. It isn’t enough to be a good writer. You need to get to know the editors of the literary magazines, and the important book reviewers, and other authors who might understand and sympathize with what you’re doing. If your stuff’s no good, publicity isn’t going to help. But if it is good, but people never hear of you, how are you ever going to sell books?”

“Very well, Mr. Hemingway, unless the defense attorney has questions, you may step down. Your honor, the prosecution calls Ford Madox Ford.”

.3.

So there was Ford again, after so much time. No sense of vanity, apparently, or else so much vanity that he was impervious to appearance even when appearance was entirely under his control. He still looked like an upended hogshead attached to a walrus mustache.

“Mr. Ford, you were the author of dozens of novels, you wrote poetry and literary criticism, you co-authored three novels with Joseph Conrad, and you assisted scores of young authors, some of whom went on to fame.” That was true: He had lavished care and assistance on young writers, perhaps as much as Ezra had done.

“Yes, and I am remembered only for one novel, The Good Soldier.” Although he had kept the same appearance, he no longer gasped and whispered. Didn’t see any reason to hold on to that, apparently.

“Tell us a bit about the transatlantic review.”

“In 1908 I had founded The English Review, which, I believe I may say without exaggeration, was an important journal. I first published Wyndham Lewis, and Norman Douglas, and D.H. Lawrence, and oh, a long list: Hardy, Conrad, Galsworthy, H.G. Wells, Henry James, W.B. Yeats. In 1924 I decided to do it again, from Paris. And there I met the most important artists working – Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Jean Rhys – and published them all.”

“As well as the work of the defendant.”

“Certainly. Early work, of course, but I saw from the first moment that he was a major talent, bound to succeed, important to the causes we espoused. As an artist, Hemingway was superb.”

“The defendant assisted you in editing the review. Was it a productive working relationship?”

Ford paused, perhaps choosing among possible reactions. “Hemingway as sub-editor of the transatlantic review was a great help in finding contributors and doing various chores, and serving as editor when I had to be absent. But I must say that working with him was an intensely charged experience. Hemingway as editor exhibited character traits that were occasionally – unpleasant.”

“Specifically?”

“He thought nothing of picking public quarrels for the least of reasons, and he seemed to have no awareness of the effect his blows might have. There was in him a streak almost of savagery, or sadism. A public and gratuitous attack on Tom Eliot, for instance, made in my absence, with no reason for it but jealousy. He could become as spiteful and malicious as any woman.” Ford’s face radiated intensity. “And there was no need! If one is given Hemingway’s talent and his opportunities, what reason does one have to give in to impulses of jealousy? And yet he did, repeatedly.”

“Mr. Ford, the defendant admits that he benefited by being associated with the transatlantic review. Can you tell the court, briefly, how the defendant later repaid you?”

Sadly: “He did what so many others did. He rewrote our history. He ridiculed me whenever he thought it would make a good story.”

He winced, not the first time.

“Thank you, Mr. Ford. No further questions.”

“The defense waives cross-examination, your honor.”

“The prosecution recalls the defendant to the stand.”

.4.

“Mr. Hemingway, you are on record as saying that you sat down one day and made a decision, `cold as a snake,’ to become a writer of fiction rather than continuing to be a journalist. Why?”

“Because I wanted to tell the truth about life, and it seemed to me I could either continue to report on events as they played out, or I could use fiction to wake people up to the way things were in the new postwar world.”

“All right, a deliberate decision. Tell the court how you went about becoming a writer of fiction.”

“In those days, your market was the magazines. They brought in the money that kept you going, and they kept your name in front of the public. The things I wrote that weren’t suited for the magazine that paid, I gave away to small literary magazines. No money, but it kept my name out there.”

“So when you returned to Paris in 1924, you began working with Mr. Ford in February you, and in April he published `Indian Camp,’ one of your first stories, and he published a review of your little book of sketches, in our time, that Bill Bird printed.”

“If you are implying favoritism, you picked poor examples. `Indian Camp’ is a classic, as you have to know. And after all, review were what the review was all about.”

“No one is implying favoritism. Would you describe for the court your literary production in the spring of 1924? Now that you were no longer in Canada, how was your writing coming along?”

“Came along great. I wrote eight good stories in our first three months, enough that I could put together my first book of short stories. And the stories kept coming, ten new stories in five months, and good ones. I split “Big Two-hearted River” into two parts, and then I had the book In Our Time, or I thought I did. But Boni and Liveright said I would have to replace `Up in Michigan,’ which they said was obscene, the gutless bastards.”

“Were you, in fact, willing to risk suppression of your first substantial book?”

Grudgingly: “I could see their point. But they were timid. They weren’t willing to take even a little chance. All they cared about was the business end. I had the same struggle with Scribner’s, later, but Scribner’s worked with me, and over the years, little by little, we did make progress.”

“In any case, the fact that you had to find a substitute for `Up in Michigan’ turned out to be a good thing for you, did it not?”

“You mean because I wrote `The Battler’? I guess you could call that a silver lining.”

“Meanwhile, you were responsible for the transatlantic review printing lengthy excerpts from Gertrude Stein’s then unpublished manuscript `The Making of Americans’. You praised her work highly, and shared in the labor of retyping the excerpts. In light of what the two of you would say about each other a few years later, it seems a little bit strange.”

He shrugged. “She changed. When I first knew her, her judgment was unerring. The same critical eye that collected geniuses in painting could see instantly what you were doing wrong, and why.”

“Like Pound.”

“Like Pound when he was right, but Ezra’s judgment was never a hundred percent. Ezra would be exactly on the mark one moment and way off the next. Gertrude, when I first knew her, never missed.”

“Can you give the court a sense of what she taught you?”

Carefully: “You can’t say she taught me, exactly. But when I read Three Lives, I could see how some of the things she did worked. I had fooled with the same things, but I didn’t have the theory behind them, and I didn’t have the example of how powerfully they could be used. Once I saw it in her work, I knew what to work toward.”

“Are you admitting to imitating Gertrude Stein?”

“You know, this trial would go smoother if you were a writer, so you’d know what you were talking about. I didn’t imitate her, any more than I imitated Ezra, or Tolstoy, or Conrad. I learned from her, the way I learned from them, and then I put the power of what I learned behind my own thoughts.”

“But –“

“Can you invent the conscious use of repetition? Can you invent the careful use of participles? Can you patent the idea of using the sounds of words, as well as the meaning? That’s what you’re suggesting, when you say I imitated her. Do you understand? Learning from somebody isn’t the same thing as imitating them. In fact, if you have to imitate them, you haven’t really learned it. Once you learn something, it’s yours, and you use it the same way you use anything else you know.”

“Very well. Defense?”

“Mr. Hemingway, the fall of 1924 was the turning-point in your career, was it not?”

“In retrospect, yes, I suppose so. But I remember it as the beginning of a long dry spell. Between November and July, I was able to write only one story, `The Battler,’ That’s a long time to go without producing anything.”

“But then after the week at Pamplona you began to write The Sun Also Rises. And in October Edmund Wilson reviewed Three Stories And Ten Poems and in our time and called your work `strikingly original.’”

“Praise from Edmund Wilson was starting out at the top. It was the first time anybody in America took official notice of anything I had been doing, and now here was Edmund Wilson praising my work. He got what I was doing, you see, the way he usually got what people were doing. So to have him say that my work had more artistic dignity than anything else that had been written by an American since the war meant something. I still hadn’t sold anything to American magazines. His praise couldn’t have come at a better time. I never forgot it.”

“So, a turning point.”

“All right. But I still had to figure out how to make my career go.”

“The prosecution mentioned your classic short story `Indian Camp.’ Would you please give the court your own understanding of the story?”

The prosecutor said, “Relevance, your honor?”

“Your honor, I suggest that the defendant’s explanation of this story will say more about the one thing he cared most about in life – his ambition to be the greatest writer he could be – than anecdotes about his behavior among others.”

“I’m willing to be instructed. You may answer the question, Mr. Hemingway.”

“I always said if a story had to be explained, either it wasn’t written right or you weren’t reading it right.”

“Yes, but in this case we are delving into the inner Hemingway by way of his literary production.”

“I see.” He thought a long moment. “The point of the story was to make the reader feel what it was like to be young Nick, to feel it as clearly and definitely as if it had happened to him. When you read my stories, remember that every element is in it for a reason, to lead you to an emotion.”

“And in this instance?”

“Nick was only a boy, and he didn’t really understand what he was seeing. He recorded, he remembered, he observed, but he didn’t really understand. The point of the story was to make the reader feel that state of observing and not understanding. Nick knew, but that didn’t mean the knowing was right. Nick went through a charged experience, one he would remember, but the clearest thing in the story is that looking, he saw not. Seeing, he understood not. It’s all right there in the final line, `Nick felt quite sure that he would never die.’

“And all the rest of it –?”

“I didn’t write stories that could be summarized in a word. Another strand to the story was good intentions going astray. The doctor saved the baby and the mother but never thought of the father. George had sympathy but never realized who needed it, and wasn’t able to do anything except help in the operation. The doctor had intended to begin Nick’s education, but he got more than he had bargained for. He was sorry he had gotten Nick involved, but he wasn’t sorry for his lack of sympathy for the mother, not his own unawareness of the effect of someone’s pain on someone else. He didn’t realize that the Indian, who couldn’t get away because of his foot, would be affected by his wife’s screams. The doctor was not a cruel man, but he had turned off his emotional response to do the job he was there to do. But the reason for the story is right there in the final line: `In the early morning on the lake sitting in the stern of the boat with his father rowing, Nick felt quite sure that he would never die.’ He would never die, would never get involved in messy situations, would never be callous or unimaginative, would never cause pain.”

“Thank you,” said the defense attorney. “Let’s look at one more product of your early years, `The Doctor and the Doctor’s Wife.’ People assumed that this was a sideways swipe at your parents, perhaps your father in particular. Was it?”

Slowly: “If you’re a writer, you take what you know and you try to render it so that it’s truer than the real thing. So you have to intensify and magnify and simplify and clarify, without distorting the subject. The real thing has to be changed, if it is going to have the effect on you that the original emotion had on the author. So how do you do that? You invent. But you invent from who you are and what you know. The plot is one thing. The story is a different thing.

“Either you start by knowing what effect you’re going to try to achieve, or you start with the material and see what kind of effect suggests itself, but either way you go from material to effect by way of invention, and the invention is bounded by what is possible. I could tell a dozen stories from my parents’ lives, and each story might express one aspect of something I’d seen or could imagine. To get to the emotional effect I wanted, starting from that same material, I might have to change the `facts’ a dozen times, to let something happen that would do what I needed. To write truly, I had to take what I knew and put it in such a structure, with such words, that made you see it too.”

“No further questions, your honor.”

Your honor, the prosecution calls Harold Loeb.”

 

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