Chapter 14: A Farewell to Europe

Hadley’s expression had something of that steely resolution he had found so unexpectedly.

“Mrs. Mowrer, in the Summer of 1926, when you discovered that your husband and Pauline Pfeiffer had been having an affair, you asked him if it was true. And did he admit it?”

“Oh yes. Ernest would tell all manner of tall stories, and he would lie fluently to cover his tracks or to re-write what he had done, but when he was asked a direct question, he would tell the truth. And as usual, having to tell the truth about something he had been lying about made him angry. He said if I hadn’t brought it up, it wouldn’t have become a problem. I suppose he was hoping that things would have sorted themselves out.”

“But in any case, it was your fault.”

“Well, that’s how I knew he felt guilty about it, you know. That’s how I knew he still loved me. I said, if he and she would go a hundred days without seeing each other, and at the end of that time they still wanted each other, I would give him a divorce. In the meantime, he would have to clear out of the apartment, because I couldn’t live with him as his jailor. This is when he went to live in Gerald Murphy’s studio.”

“The Murphys supported him in the argument.”

“Many of his friends appear to have decided that Pauline would make him a more appropriate wife than I did.”

“Which left you isolated, with a dependent child, in a foreign country.”

She smiled at him. “That’s a very dramatic description of the situation, Mr. Prosecutor, but in fact, I was quite comfortable. The country wasn’t strange any more. I still had Marie Cocotte to help with Bumby. I knew my way around, and not all our friends sided with Ernest.”

“So you did not find the separation devastating?”

“It was much harder on Ernest than on me, I believe. I did not have to deal with guilt, nor with the need to choose. And as a little time passed, I began to remember life at a more normal pace. I had been keyed up to Ernest’s level of intensity, and at first, after all those cloistered years in my mother’s house, it was exhilarating. Ernest lit up anything he touched! But I was not meant to live at Ernest’s level of intensity, and I saw that I couldn’t go back to that life. So I told him that I was withdrawing my ultimatum, and would begin divorce proceedings.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Mowrer. Cross examination? No? Your honor, the prosecution recalls the defendant to the stand.”

.2.

“Mr. Hemingway, you heard Mrs. Mowrer’s testimony just now. Did any part of it surprise you?”

“If you mean, was that the first time I realized that Hadley got tired of keeping up with me, you must think I’m pretty oblivious.”

“Did you realize it at the time?”

“In 1926? No, of course not. It took years.”

“Why do you suppose that was, Mr. Hemingway? You were notably perceptive, sensitive to atmosphere. Why did it take years for you to realize that your first wife discovered that she couldn’t keep up with you?”

“Hell, I don’t know. Some things take as long as they take.”

“As simple as that? No way to know, no need to look?”

“What do you want from me?”

“Ideally, we want you to look at your life and compare it to the view you had at the time.”

“Yes, well, I can’t.”

“Oh, but you can. You have already done so, repeatedly, not only here but sometimes while you were in the 3D world. It is merely a matter of allowing your perceptions to connect with your emotions, and looking honestly at what comes up. That’s the value of these proceedings. Why did it take you years to realize that your first wife couldn’t keep up with you?”

He let the question reverberate, having to make the effort to not clutch at the first idea that floated by. The prosecutor, seeing him making the effort, waited. At last he said, “I wasn’t paying attention.”

“Would you elaborate for the court, please?”

“I had all this stuff going on in my mind. Places I wanted to go, and friends all over the place, and Boni and Liveright and Scott and Scribner’s, and stuff I’d been reading and things I hoped to experience, and story ideas I wanted to develop. I always had things going on, inside.”

“Among them, lust for Pauline Pfeiffer?”

“I admit it.  I couldn’t keep my mind off her, even when I wanted to.”

“Did the things going on inside your head include thoughts of your wife and child?”

“Of course. But I guess they weren’t front and center unless something came up.”

“In other words, you were taking them for granted.”

“I was taking them for granted that way you take breathing for granted. That doesn’t mean they weren’t important to me, they just weren’t the only thing in my life.” An insight struck, and he added, “They weren’t like my internal life, you know. If I didn’t pay attention to a story idea, maybe it would go away and I’d lose it forever. External life wasn’t like that.”

“Did your wife and child not go away, and did you not lose them forever?”

Once again, blind-sided.

The defense attorney stood up. “Your honor, may I briefly cross-examine for the purposes of clarity?”

“Without objection, proceed.”

“Mr. Hemingway, were you doing full justice to yourself when you said you weren’t paying attention? Is that a full and fair description of the life you were leading?”

He felt for the thought underlying the question, and let the answer well up within.

Slowly: “A writer watches what happens around him, and tries to figure out what people are thinking, and what moves them to do what they do. Even when he makes something up out of the air, he has to know what makes them tick if he’s going to show it. So you’d think a writer, of all people, would understand the people around him. but I see now, I didn’t. I couldn’t see that they were different from me. It wasn’t just that they were making different choices, or had different values and ambitions. Most of them were different. It’s as if they were asleep inside.”

The defense attorney nodded. “Yes, this is a difference between yourself and, for instance, your first wife, isn’t it?”

In a long lifetime, the thought had never struck him. “I suppose that’s true. That’s another difference between us. It wasn’t just her level of energy as opposed to mine. Her inner life wasn’t as brightly lit as mine, I suppose. She lived with her focus on her life in the world. I guess she didn’t live much in the world I lived in.”

“Did anyone?”

“Some.” Wonderingly, surprised that it had not been obvious. “Writers and painters, mostly. Artists.”

“No further questions, your honor.”

“The prosecution may resume.”

.3.

“During your last months in Paris, in March, 1928, you suffered a freak accident that had major consequences. Tell us about it, if you will.”

“In those days, in France, toilet tanks were suspended a few feet above the floor, and you pulled a chain to flush. In the middle of the night, I accidentally pulled the chain to the skylight instead. Somebody else must have done the same thing earlier and loosened it, because the whole damn thing came crashing down on me. It opened a big gash in my head, and we couldn’t get it to stop bleeding. Finally Pauline called Archie MacLeish and he drove me to the hospital and they took some stitches.”

“And that was the genesis of A Farewell to Arms.”

“As it turned out, yes. The middle of the night, suddenly I’m hit and I’m bleeding, and we can’t get it to stop and I’m getting light-headed and there’s the smell of blood. It was like my body was reliving 1918. What I thought was going to be a short story started turning into a novel.”

“A novel, not autobiography.”

“No, not autobiography. A Farewell to Arms goes from the summer of 1915 to the retreat from Caporetto in late 1917. In 1915 I was in high school. 1917 I was working at the Kansas City Star. I reconstructed the war out of what I had learned from reading the histories and examining the photos and maps, learning the details of what had happened in the various battles and campaigns.”

“So a hospital visit in Paris gave you a beginning and, to anticipate, another one, in Kansas City, when Pauline gave birth to your second son, gave you the ending.”

“That’s right, but Pauline and the baby lived, while Catherine and her baby died, because that’s what the story required.”

A Farewell to Arms solidified your reputation as a novelist. Why?”

“Why? Because next to all the other novels of the time, mine was revolutionary.”

“In your description of war?”

“More in way it dealt with the romance. Catherine didn’t feel guilty! They didn’t bother with legal forms, or religious forms. In fact, they scarcely noticed them. Their relationship proceeded without reference to society’s expectations except from time to time, when Ferguson would remind them (and remind the reader). Catherine did feel it acutely for a few minutes in the transit hotel when she said it was the first time she felt like a whore – but mostly they proceeded innocently without reference even to legalities. And the narrator took it all for granted, you see, rather than moralizing about it. And Catherine died not because she had sinned, but because life handed out meaningless death – to her, to Aymo, to how many millions of soldiers, animals, civilians, trees, buildings, everything.”

“I see. And what of the criticism that the romance and the war don’t really mix? You must admit, as soon as they escape into Switzerland, the war disappears from the book.”

“I don’t have to admit it, I did it deliberately. Frederic Henry’s story begins with him living in emotional isolation. He doesn’t know anything about love. He is used to getting sexual satisfaction by paying for it, either with money or by telling the necessary lies. Then he finds that he can feel love, and give love, and in this sense live in love. That changes him. It makes him vulnerable in a way that he has to learn to live with. Until then he had been floating, cut off emotionally from his family at home and soldiering in another country’s army, with no friends, only acquaintances, other than Rinaldi and the priest. His wound separated him from them and brought him to Catherine, and by the time he returned from the hospital, he belonged to her, not to them.”

“But Catherine as drawn lives only for Frederic Henry. Some people have criticized her as an unrealistic fantasy, with no will of her own.”

“Then they don’t understand what they are reading. Henry knows, right from the beginning, when she is so suddenly in love with him, that there is something wrong with her. Eventually he found out she really was a little bit crazy at the time, for reasons stemming from her own romantic history. She had behaved conventionally and bitterly regretted it. And so she was adrift, and had to make up her own rules as she went along. When he was almost shot as a coward he wound up in the same predicament she was in: He had followed the rules and it had worked out badly. He loses Army, and country and friends, and it’s down to just him and her, and she too is taken.”

“As is the baby.”

“Yes, but the baby was never anything to him but the danger of childbirth, and a potential wedge between him and her in the life they would have afterward.”

He paused. “You see? The story expresses one state of mind, that sooner or later, life takes everything away. If I had remembered being dead, maybe it would’ve had a different tone! But the war was never the point.”

“Yes, that’s very clear.” The prosecutor paused, visibly changed gears. “While you were in the middle of writing it, you relocated to the southernmost town in the United States. Lets talk about Key West.”

 

 

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