Chapter 13: Breakthrough

The prosecutor continued. “Meanwhile, you were making your mark. You had arrived in Europe unknown and unpublished, and in a little more than two years, you had become known to important authors and publishers. Your short stories were published in the transatlantic review, an anthology of the best short stories of 1923 was dedicated to you, and by 1924 you had published first Three Stories and Ten Poems, then your little book of word sketches, in our time, which brought you to the attention of critic Edmund Wilson, then Scott Fitzgerald, and then Maxwell Perkins. Please tell the court how this all came about.”

“It came about because I worked like hell.”

“But tell us about these relationships.”

“Scott came across a copy of in our time, and he got religion on Ernest Hemingway as the man of the future. In those days, Scott could tell literature from froth. So he shows in our time to Max, and starts riding him: Contact Hemingway. Get Hemingway now, before he gets famous. He had this idea that Scribner’s ought to corral all the rising stars of our generation. Bear in mind, he and I hadn’t met yet. So Max sends me a letter asking to see any book-length manuscript I might have.”

“And what happened?”

“A comedy of errors, is what happened. Max sends the letter to Paris, but Hadley and I were in Austria, because we could live there cheaper. A few days after Max writes the letter I never get, Boni and Liveright send me a cable from New York, saying they want to publish In Our Time, using the word sketches Bill had published as frames for short stories. Naturally I cabled back, `Delighted accept.’ If I had known how much trouble this was going to cause, I’d have waited. Or if I’d seen Max’s letter. Or if I had been in Paris where communications would have been easier, instead of stuck way the hell up the mountains in the Eastern Kingdom.”

“However, you accepted.”

“Mr. Prosecutor, I didn’t dare not accept. How did I know if I was ever going to get another chance? By March, 1925, I had been trying to make a start as a writer for six years. When you’re 25, six years is your whole adult life.” Glumly: “And then I get back to Paris and I get Max’s second letter.”

“It didn’t occur to you to send Boni and Liveright another cable, you’d changed your mind?”

“I’d already said yes. How could I go back on my word? Besides—“


An angry shrug of the shoulders, like the Frenchman he was for a while. “From them I had the offer of a contract. From Scribner’s, I had an expression of interest. There’s a difference.”

“So you swallowed your reservations and signed their contract. Why wasn’t this a happy ending?”

“Well, it would have been, if they had really published it! First, they wouldn’t accept `Up in Michigan,’ for fear of censorship, and I had to write `The Battler’ to replace it. Having to cut one story and substitute another played hell with the book’s logic and rhythm. And then they butchered the beginning of `Mr. and Mrs. Elliot,’ because they were afraid to print a story that said a married couple were trying to make a baby! For God’s sake, a married couple trying to make a baby, and it’s obscene? That showed me they were timid, and they weren’t going to take any chances for me. And then after that, they printed only 1300 copies, which it took them two years to sell!”

“Is that the publisher’s fault, Mr. Hemingway? Don’t sales depend on what the public wants?”

“You know what sales depend on, besides quality? Publicity. That means reviews, and it means advertising. If the publisher doesn’t advertise, he’s telling the trade he doesn’t really believe in the book. Reviewers maybe hesitate to give it good ink – they always try to be on the right bandwagon – and then maybe the booksellers hesitate to buy it. If it isn’t in the bookstores, and it isn’t reviewed, how’s the public going to know it even exists? And if they don’t know, where’s the demand going to come from? Bone and Liveright didn’t do anything for my book. They put it into print, and then they let it die.”

“Plus they published Sherwood Anderson.”

Long hesitation. “Well, yeah.”

“Your honor, the prosecution recalls Sherwood Anderson to the stand.”


And there he was again, this time looking a few years older, a little sadder. The toll the years took, apparently.

“Mr. Anderson, would you tell the court how the defendant repaid your literary advice, and the advice that got him to Paris, and the introductions that opened the right doors for him?”

Flatly: “He satirized the only bestseller I ever had. They say he did it in order to break his contract with Boni and Liveright, but I think probably also because people were saying his short stories had been influenced by mine, and Ernest couldn’t stand that.”

“And do you think the defendant’s work had been influenced by yours?”

An impatient gesture. “Of course his work was influenced by mine. Every author’s work is going to be influenced by everything he pays attention to. But if you’re meaning to ask, did his work imitate mine, the answer ought to be obvious. He didn’t imitate mine any more than he imitated Turgenev. He tried it on, and he learned from it, and he made it his own. That’s what writers do.”

“Thank you. Mr. Anderson. No further questions.”

“Defense? Cross examination? No? Carry on, Mr. Prosecutor.”

“I’d like to continue with Mr. Hemingway, your honor.”


“You want to grill me on Anderson, I suppose.”

“Since you bring it up. That satire you wrote: Did you read it to others, and did they express opinions about it?”

He sighed again. “Hadley thought it would be a terrible thing to do to Anderson, and anyway it wasn’t particularly funny. Pauline thought it was a scream and by all means I should publish it.”

“And did you write it specifically in order to get out of your contract with Boni and Liveright?”

“Well – I did and I didn’t. I figured, if they accepted it, maybe I could get them to pay enough for it that they would have to get behind it more, not just let it die the way they did In Our Time. I figured to get more attention out of them than I had had so far.”

“You were counting on Scribner’s picking up the book if Boni and Liveright passed on it.”

“I was hoping for Scribner’s, sure. But Harcourt had expressed an interest, and so had Knopf. It wasn’t like I didn’t have options.”

“Mr. Hemingway, did it bother you at all that in order to break that contract, you wrote a brutal satire of Mr. Anderson’s book, the only best-seller he ever wrote?”

A long, long silence, that seemed even longer than however long it was.

“Yeah, I suppose so. I tried not to know it, though.”

“Thank you, Mr. Hemingway, that was an honest answer.”

“Yeah. Wonderful.”

“So you sent the manuscript to Boni and Liveright, and they turned it down.”

“Huh. I kind of figured you’d want to rub my nose in it, about Anderson.”

“Once you become aware of those feelings, we need not discuss them. In any event, they did turn it down.”

“They sent me a cable December 30th saying they were turning it down but they still wanted the novel. I told them to give the manuscript to Don Stewart to hold for me, and I told Stewart to give it to Perkins to look at. And then I decided I’d better go to New York, see what I could do in person.”

“And so you travelled alone, leaving your wife in Austria?”

“Had to. Two tickets to America would have cost too much, and we had sub-let our Paris apartment.”

“All right. And did your journey to New York include a stop in Paris?”

“It did, and yes, Pauline was there. She was busy all day reporting on fashion shows for Vogue, but we made the most of the little time we had.”

“She wasn’t reporting at night, I take it.”

“Your honor—“

“Withdrawn. In any case, Mr. Hemingway, from Paris you made your way to New York in February, and there your professional life changed irrevocably.”

“I’ll say it did. I showed Horace Liveright that by the terms of our contract we were finished, and he was very decent about it. Of course, there’s not much point in a publishing house trying to keep an author who doesn’t want to be with them, but still, he didn’t put any obstacles in my way. In just a few days, I accomplished what I needed to do. I was free of Boni and Liveright, I met Max Perkins, I got a two-book contract with Scribner’s, I had their advance in my pocket, and I had approved Scribner’s mock-up of The Torrents of Spring. Then it was just a matter of getting The Sun Also Rises right, and by March I finisher revising it and submitted it to Max.”

The Sun Also Rises, that made your name a household word: A photograph of the rottenness of postwar society?”

“It was a snapshot of a dark hour in time, not a prediction of a permanent eclipse of the sun. The sun sets, yes, but it also rises! Somehow people didn’t seem to get that. The war had exposed a lot of rotten foundations, and naturally it affected most the people with the shallowest roots, like the Americans and Europeans I described.”

“So, these people that you describe. What ails them? The war?”

“They’re living useless lives, and they feel it even when they don’t know it. Other than Jake and Bill, nobody works. Mike had been a soldier, but now there was no war. Cohn had written a novel, but he wasn’t forced to make a living, and he didn’t have enough self-discipline to make himself work. Brett’s life had no anchor. Maybe if there hadn’t have been a war, Jake wouldn’t have been wounded, but maybe the others wouldn’t have been what they became.”

“Bearing in mind that this trial is always about you as an individual, rather than you as an author, how does all this reflect on you and the life you were leading?”

“Well you know, the whole basis of my life was work. I worked all the time, unless I was giving myself time off. I had Jake say that you had to pay for everything in life, and you paid in different ways. As long as I could work, I could enjoy life as it came to me.”

“Plus, the things you did provided raw material.”

“Well, yes, but don’t carry that too far. I ate breakfast for its own sake, not because someday I might need to describe somebody enjoying breakfast.”

“Let’s talk about Robert Cohn. What was so bad about Robert Cohn?”

He considered how to explain it. “Cohn didn’t follow a man’s code. He was devastated to find that his time with Brent Ashley hadn’t meant anything to her, but he didn’t keep a stiff upper lip. Instead, he remained around the others, and they despised him for letting him see his suffering. He wasn’t a coward, because he could defend himself physically, but he wasn’t acting like a man. He knew he was acting badly, but he couldn’t help himself.”

“But surely Brett Ashley was as bad, with her lack of self-control, and her habitual using of the men who were infatuated with her, and her incessant drinking.”

“But she was a woman, and women weren’t expected to act like a man. And you aren’t giving her much of a break. She cares about somebody she can’t have, which is maybe as close as she ever gets to love. Sure she drinks. What else does she have? Without lust and drink, what’s in it for her? Sightseeing? Using her 35 words to become a writer?”

“All right, she’s unhappy, but she doesn’t go off by herself to be unhappy any more than Robert Cohn does, and nobody blames her for it.”

“Don’t they? Ask the toreros who watch her take up with Romero. Ask Montoya. Among the Spanish, real values prevailed – at least, until a certain point in the festival! That’s another contrast, you see, the healthy responses of the Spanish as opposed to the diseased responses of the others.”

“And Jake cuts himself off from them by pimping her to Romero.”

“Yes he does. It’s an irretrievable step, that it costs him something infinitely precious to him. And that’s the novel, you see. Jake lost, Cohn lost, and Brett lost. Mike didn’t lose because he didn’t have much farther to fall. Bill didn’t lose because he wasn’t all that involved. But they’re all are sort of unsound.”

“Cross-examination? No? Your honor, the prosecution recalls Pauline Pfeiffer Hemingway to the stand.”


“Mrs. Hemingway, it is public knowledge that you and the defendant saw each other in the days before he left for New York City, and again after he returned, before he continued on to Austria to rejoin his wife and child.”

“Which gave me the last bit of guilt I needed, Pauline. I’ve always wondered if you had that in mind.”

“You need not answer that, Mrs. Hemingway. This proceeding centers on the defendant. The prosecution would like to discuss the period between the time that you and he fell in love and the time his wife initiated divorce proceedings.”

“That’s painful to remember, for I did like Hadley too, very much. Until I became fixated on Ernest, I looked on her as a sister. If Ernest hadn’t come between us, we would have been friends for life, maybe. She had a sweet disposition, a wicked sense of humor, and she could be a lot of fun.”

“If I hadn’t come between you? If it hadn’t been for me, you never even would have met her.”

“Your honor?”

“Yes, I agree. Please, Mr. Hemingway, allow the questioning to proceed. Before this trial is over, you will have had all the time you require to say anything and everything you wish.”

“All right, your honor. Just so it’s understood that I’m not necessarily agreeing with what she says.”

“I think we have assimilated that fact. Proceed, counselor.”

“Mrs. Hemingway, after Mrs. Mowrer – Mrs. Hemingway, then – returned from Austria, you and your sister invited her to join you on a motoring trip to the south of France. Why did you do that?”

“As I said, Ginny and I liked her. We thought it would be fun.”

“You thought it would be fun to go on a trip with the wife of a man you had secretly slept with, a man you wanted for yourself. Was that really your expectation, that the trip would be fun? Did you have no other motivation, perhaps beneath the level of consciousness?”

“If you can’t figure it out, I’ll be glad to help.”

Angrily: “Always the innocent party!” To the defense attorney: “All right, yes. The deception, the stealth, it was all getting to be too much and I wanted to end the strain of it. But I don’t know what I was thinking. Clear thinking wasn’t very easy at the time. I tried to keep things on the same basis they’d always been, but I couldn’t. I started snapping at her, and she got her feelings hurt. Finally she asked Ginny if there was something going on between Ernest and me, and Ginny told her she thought he and I were very fond of each other. Hadley was no dope, and I suppose she spent the rest of the trip readjusting. She certainly didn’t have much more to say.”

“And after Hadley Hemingway presented you and the defendant with an ultimatum, you returned to your family’s home in Arkansas. Why?”

“I wanted to convince my mother that I wasn’t making a hideous mistake. She thought it was terrible that I was breaking up a marriage –and she didn’t want me involved in a mixed marriage. She thought Ernest was a Protestant, you see.”

“We need to discuss this, the defendant’s religious faith as you experienced it. If he considered himself a Catholic before it came time to marry you, none of his friends knew it. Many people who knew your husband regarded his religious conversion as a gesture of convenience, an easy way to accommodate your family. In light of your years of experience as his wife and as his ex-wife, how would you judge the sincerity and depth of his religious convictions?”

Reflecting: “I think Ernest was a Catholic soul born into a Protestant family. I often saw him moved by a Catholic ceremony, or a Catholic cathedral, or Catholic art, and I never saw him moved by Protestant ceremonies, or churches, or art. If you look at the countries he loved, other than the United States, they were all Catholic countries: Italy, France, Austria, Spain, Cuba. All his ancestors were English, but England didn’t seem to move him, nor Canada. Culturally, he was always Catholic. During the time he and I were married, he went to Mass, he made his Easter duty, he kept the external forms.”

“But afterwards, apparently he didn’t.”

“Emotionally, culturally, spiritually, Ernest was always a Catholic. That doesn’t mean he followed the rules.”

“Defense? No? Thank you, Mrs. Hemingway. The prosecution recalls the defendant.”


“You lost Hadley just about the same time that you were accepted by Scribner’s. The conjunction of the two must have been particularly bitter.”

He said nothing, then felt the words well up within him. “Yes, and I could feel the flagstones breaking under my feet. In Oak Park, when I grew up, people did not get divorced. They might spend their lives in unhappy marriages, even desperately unhappy marriages, but divorce was beyond the pale.”

“But you were in active rebellion against Oak Park’s ways. Was your divorce perhaps a liberation from your own expectations?”

“Maybe it was. Besides Hadley, I was divorcing the romantic image of myself making my way alongside my one true love. No wonder I felt like I was being torn to pieces.”

“I was thinking more of your announcement that you were going to become a Catholic, or rather, already considered yourself a Catholic.”

“It’s true, if Pauline had been one more Protestant, she wouldn’t have represented such a break away from my story about myself, and toward what I really was inside.”

“That’s what we would like you to discuss. Can you tell the court the difference between Catholicism and the Protestant world you had been born into and raised up in?”

“I’m not much good on rheological definitions.”

“This court doesn’t care about definitions. We want to know what drew you to Catholicism.”

A pause. “I was a Catholic emotionally somehow, and that was very real. It isn’t exactly belief, and it isn’t the ritual, although I did like ritual. The fact is, I was exposed to a simple Catholic country at my most impressionable age, and it took, I don’t know why. When it came to theory, to dogma, I was always a very dumb Catholic, as I said. It’s connected with so many things, but I can’t seem to sort them out. It isn’t much clearer to me here than it was in life. It helped me express things I already felt. Or maybe I should say, it helped me feel things I couldn’t feel otherwise.”

He made a gesture, a sort of brushing-back-the-shrubbery gesture, clearing space to think. “It wasn’t the rules, and it wasn’t like I thought the church was God’s perfect instrument on earth. Any institution is going to have internal politics, and if you’ve got politics, you’ve got corruption. And you could see that the upper clergy nearly all came out of the nobility, which meant that you had two churches, really. When I saw what the church was in Spain, I saw why so many people hated it, but the church was also more than that, and I could see it, even if I couldn’t say it.”

“Mr. Hemingway, when you married Pauline Pfeiffer in a Catholic ceremony that implied that your first marriage was invalid, and your son illegitimate, did you really consider yourself a Catholic?”

“Or was I lying about it, you mean? I said I was a Catholic, and I meant it.”

“You told people that in Italy, in 1918, a priest had come among the wounded and dying men, baptizing them, and from that moment you considered yourself a Catholic. But did you ever mention it? In 1918 or 1919?”

“Not directly, I suppose.”

“You suppose. You returned to live in the States for nearly three years. Did you ever mention it to your parents, or your sisters, or Hadley Richardson?”

“There wasn’t any reason to, Mr. Prosecutor.”

“Not even to your fiancée? You didn’t think of this as something she should know? And you were okay with being married in a Protestant church?”

He gave the question some honest thought, then shook his head. “I don’t know if I can explain it to you. I suppose I considered myself a Catholic privately, and it didn’t affect the rest of my life. And when I took up with Pauline, it was just more public.”

“Mr. Hemingway, consider if your draw toward Catholicism has a connection to your fear of death, and your attraction to death.”

He weighed the idea. “Well, I suppose that’s part of it, sure. There’s something in the Catholic way of seeing things that never takes its eyes off the fact that you’re going to die and then what. And yet, Protestants take death seriously. They are certainly aware that there’s going to be a day of reckoning. So, I don’t know.”

“Could your near-death experience in 1918 have something to do with it?”

He considered. “I don’t know. I mean, it showed me that we are souls in bodies, and the people who thought we were nothing more than meat were wrong. And I know I said I considered myself a Catholic from the moment the priest baptized the row of wounded men that included me, but that was just me simplifying things after the fact. Somehow, I felt closer to the Italians than to the people I had grown up among. What I felt in Italy in those few months was very different from the sense of hollowness I experienced in in Protestant America.”

“So might you say your becoming Catholic was your way of reaching out for wholeness?”

He felt for it. “Yes. I think that’s a pretty good way to put it.”

“What about the question of guilt, Mr. Hemingway? What about the sense of sin that often crippled your ability to accept responsibility? What about the overwhelming, suffocating sense of guilt and unworthiness that had you in a continual state of tension, fighting it all the way. Your guilt over the war between your parents, and your father’s distance, and the things that happened with your friends, your father’s suicide, and your relations with various women, and your children’s problems and failures. Did the church help you to bear all that?”

He was surprised that his attorney hadn’t interrupted, but instead said to him, quietly, “Think about what he’s saying, Mr. Hemingway. Find a true response. It isn’t any harder than writing one true sentence.”

So, he thought about it, or rather he sat receptively, waiting for the answer to well up within him.

“I don’t know. Pauline always thought I should take more advantage of confession, but you’d have to be a different kind of Catholic than I was to get much good from it. You’d have to be able to admit to things that I just couldn’t. I can feel a lot of things, all connected, and I don’t know how they all sort out: my near-death experience and my fear of death and yet the lure of death. My connection to something beyond this world, even though I was so alive, that came out in stories. Even my superstitious nature is part of it. I don’t mean the church is a superstition, but somehow Catholicism and superstition and intuition are tied together, somehow.” Another pause. “You know, I felt like something was hollow within me, and I didn’t know how to get at it and fix it.”

“Thank you, Mr. Hemingway. Your honor, the prosecution recalls Mrs. Mowrer.”


3 thoughts on “Chapter 13: Breakthrough

  1. Frank,
    I’ve been slow to ‘warm’ to “Papa’s Trial” because
    A. I have little or no interest in Hemingway and his life, and
    B. I resist the idea of ‘defending your life.’
    I could see from the beginning that you’ve raised your “writer’s game” several levels; this is great writing, ‘plotting’, and story-telling!

    But in reading I’m learning several things … IMHO another sign of good writing:
    – there is value in seeing so deeply into another’s life, in relating it to my own struggles.
    – the trial structure really helps the (necessary) narrative and introspection process.
    – (with a little tweaking) one could see Hemingway wanting this ‘trial’ … to help him understand his life?

    It’s easy to see this story going to screen (if you’re interested in such) … certainly might give it the exposure TGU and your readers want for this ‘line of knowledge.’ Perhaps you already have an agent shopping it around? I see Albert Brooks (“Defending Your Life”) is still alive … suspect he knows people who might be interested in bring this story out.

    Whatever happens, the hard work, effort, and time you’ve put into “Papa’s Trial” shows. A good piece of work indeed … congratulations!

    1. Glad you’re liking it, Jim. The more you learn about Hemingway, the more you’ll find him fascinating. There is the Hemingway Myth; disregard that. Then there is the Hemingway reality: Pay attention to that.
      Interesting that you thought of “Defending Your Life.” Not a comparison that occurred to me (nor did I particularly like the premises of that movie, though it was entertaining).
      As to getting Papa’s Trial published, let alone made into a movie, I don’t have a lot of hope for that. So I decided to putit out there for those who might enjoy it.

      1. I agree that Papa’s Trial is unlikely to be a wide-selling book … not the kind of story that seems popular these days, and a ‘historical novel’ for most of those living (in 3D 🙂 ). But with the competition among streaming companies and their (seeming) open-ness to some pretty far-out stuff, I see that as a possibility.

        Brooks was writer, director, and lead male actor in “Defending Your Life”, so would seem he has some affinity to such ideas. I dropped him a line suggesting he take a look at what you’ve posted so far. If no response we’ve lost nothing … and maybe other readers here will think of places to send the URL

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