Saturday, November 21, 2015

"After a few brandies ...."

What you are seeing is a line of oft-read and well-worn books by or about Ernest Miller Hemingway, primarily a novelist and short story writer, but also a bit of a poet and who has one stage play among his credits. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954, ostensibly for his magnum opus, "The Old Man and the Sea." Foremost in this line is the latest book about him, "Hemingway in Love -- His Own Story," by one of his closest friends and confidants, A.E. Hotchner. This slim volume was published just last month. Read on, to learn more. The music accompanying this post is composed of a pair of songs by and from Styx. One reflects my thoughts about a Lady named Liberty and the other my memories of a Lady named Claudette, who chose to stay behind rather than to run with me.

Words spoken by Ernest Hemingway
in "Hemingway in Love -- His Own Story"
by A.E. Hotchner (2015)

"When I dream of afterlife in heaven, the action always takes place in the Paris Ritz. It's a fine summer night. I knock back a couple of martinis at the bar, Cambon side. Then there's a wonderful dinner under a flowering chestnut tree in Le Petit Jardin, the little garden that faces the Grill. After a few brandies ...."

A student again -- for a few hours
I was surprised -- no, actually I was amazed -- to learn a few days ago that there is a new book out about Ernest Hemingway written by one of his confidants. Hemingway died in 1961 -- fifty-four years ago -- and I would not have guessed any of his close friends were still living. Well, I live to be surprised ....

The author of this Hemingway memoir is A.E. Hotchner, who happens to be alive and, apparently, active at age ninety-five. Hotchner himself has written seventeen books, a few plays and screenplays, and been a personal friend of more than a few celebrities, including actor Paul Newman. Hotchner's best known work regarding Hemingway was a biography published in 1966 and entitled, "Papa Hemingway."

This new book, entitled, "Hemingway in Love -- His Own Story," consists of recollections of conversations Hotchner had with Hemingway, mostly about his first marriage to Elizabeth Hadley Richardson and second marriage to Pauline Pfeiffer, as well as other elements surrounding his time in Paris during the 1920s. The book is brief, one hundred sixty-five pages with a forward. I read it over the course of a day.

I do have more than a bit of skepticism about the contents of the book. Much of the material, Hotchner claims, was told to him by Hemingway in 1954 and 1955, about thirty years and more after the fact. More of the conversations took place in 1961 while Hemingway was a patient in the psychiatric ward of St. Mary's Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota, under the care of Mayo Clinic doctors, just days before Hemingway killed himself. Hotchner admits to scant notes existing from these talks, and although some were recorded, the tapes no longer exist. Of these facts, Hotchner writes:

"I have lived with Ernest's personal story for a long time. This is not buried memory dredged up. The story he recounted over the course of our travels was entrusted to me with a purpose. I have held that story in trust for these many years, and now I feel it is my fiduciary obligation to Ernest to finally release it from my memory."

Who am I to be a doubter about the honesty of Hotchner's memory ??

As to the content of the book, these words from Hotchner might describe it best:

"Over the following years, while we traveled, he (Hemingway) relived the agony of that period in Paris when he was writing "The Sun Also Rises" and at the same time enduring the harrowing experience of being in love with two women simultaneously, an experience that would haunt him to his grave."

How is that for a teaser ??

I first encountered Hemingway's short stories in an anthology of required reading as a high school sophomore. I fell in love with those stories and, later, with the novels. Work for my master's degree centered upon him and naturalism in literature. There was a time when I could accurately claim to have read everything published in book form by or about Hemingway, but I drifted away from words written about him quite some time ago. Whatever .... encountering "Hemingway in Love" made me feel like a curious student again -- at least for a few hours.

I am not going to go any further in the sense of a review, but I will add that the book offers not only insight about how and why Hemingway's first two marriages fell apart, but also sort of a superficial psychological study of the man and his relationships with others, including notable writers of the era like F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce.

Sometimes twists and turns in books seem to bring events into a focus more sharply for some than for others. That is happening here to me. My father died and my former wife No. 2 had surgery in St. Mary's Hospital, where Hemingway was treated twice by Mayo Clinic doctors for depression and suicidal tendencies. Hemingway underwent electroconvulsive (shock) therapy for depression at St. Mary's. I know someone who experienced the same treatment, and I recently completed a pair of books by or about Sylvia Plath, who experienced the same treatment. Random coincidences of life and books intertwining, but they combine to allow me to understand people and their situations better, I think.

I also think I will say no more .... finis ....
".... After a few brandies, I wander up to my room and slip into one of those huge Ritz beds. They are all made of brass. There's a bolster for my head the size of the Graf Zeppelin and four square pillows filled with real goose feathers -- two for me, and two for my quite heavenly companion."


ANITA said...

Hemingway!Really I should read some of his books.The man with the sea I have heard about but not the other in love thing.Interesting.I read actually Knut Hamsuns Growth of the Soil which he got the nobelprice for in 1920.A good book.I love books.Have to read every day!
Well i leave you and your nice music with your thoughts of Liberty & Claudette(In your huge nice bed!)
I hope the winther is not to cold at your place yet.Here its frezzzing!Have to buy another oven today.

See you around Fram:)))))

Fram Actual said...

Sorry, Anita, but you probably will be disappointed to learn that I never dream of an afterlife, nor of eating or drinking, and my encounters with women in the veil of dreamland are generally conversational. To make it a bit of a mystery, it is rare that I ever see a woman whose face is not hidden by shadows and they usually are strangers. Most of my reoccurring dreams revolve around a large house in which I live on the second floor, underground tunnels and caverns which I am exploring or gunfights which never last long because I awaken soon after the action starts. They are realistic enough for the adrenalin to kick in even while I am asleep.

We are even. I am not familiar with Knut Hamsun. He appears to be a bit of a paradox and sort of the antithesis of Ernest Hemingway. I will look at him further.

It is midday and minus six Centigrade for me .... good book weather. No snow yet, but a foot fell yesterday where I once lived in Dakota.

Yes, Anita .... see you around. Thank you, for coming here and for writing your thoughts.

Kaya said...

I remember a few posts written by you, Fram , and they were very interesting with something new to learn.

My infatuation with Ernest Hemingway began in the tenth grade in the high school. You mentioned in your post the story The Old Man and the Sea; it was my first book I read by Hemingway. I read it for a few hours without break and couldn't stop crying during reading and after that. Then other books written by Hemingway will come and then much later I wanted to know more about this writer and his life. I never read the book Hemingway in Love; His Own Story written by Hotchner. But I looked at it twice in Barnes & Noble and didn't buy it. Something stopped me and I don't remember what.

I see your skepticism, I understand your doubts. As I understood correctly that Hotchner tried to persuade his readers that Hadley was the only true love of Hemingway back there in Paris. I don't believe in it because he treated her so unfair. Hemingway was ill prepared for this marriage, he was drinking hard and living to the fullest of Jazz Age Paris. He struck me as an incredibly selfish man with high ego. Maybe he made a mistake letting Pauline Pfieffer into his life, maybe he was in love with two women at the same time but his behavior toward Hadley was brutal.

But he wrote the book The Sun Also Rises and it's fantastic!!!

I talked today too long. I tried to make it short but it's impossible. I could say about Scott Fitzgerald who wrote only after he could have a good drink, write about his wife Zelda, who ended up dying in the mental institution but I will stop here.

They all were Lost Generation and they were young and talented, dreamed, hoped and loved.

Thank you, Fram for this post.

Fram Actual said...

I think most readers would agree that "The Old Man and the Sea" is the finest among the works of Ernest Hemingway. I suppose I would say that, but his "Nick Adams" short stories are what appeal to me most -- or, at least did when I was a boy and much of my world revolved around hunting and fishing and roaming the outdoors.

I think what probably stopped you from buying "Hemingway in Love -- His Own Story" was what you alluded to in your comment, Kaya: You already knew he treated Hadley very badly, and reading that book would only reinforce and, perhaps, increase your distaste for him as a man because of his lack of character. Diminish the man as a man and, maybe, it also diminishes him as a writer. It is made clear in this book that Hemingway wanted both a wife (Hadley Richardson) and a mistress (Pauline Pfeiffer), and he could not understand why Hadley would not accept such a situation.

What you mentioned about F. Scott Fitzgerald is worth noting. In the book, Fitzgerald tells Hemingway on more than one occasion to stay away from Pauline because she was out to "steal" him from Hadley. Fitzgerald also tells Hemingway straight out that Pauline's family money is what Hemingway really wants:

"'But you do, Hem,' he (Fitzgerald) said. 'You'll live like I live, something you covet. You'd like to have a regular table at the Ritz, a villa on Cap d'Atibes, top-level safaris. You're tired of poverty. Poverty is grinding and it's worn you down .... You need the shining qualities of Hadley. Her buoyancy. Neither Pauline nor her money can provide that.'"

I have mentioned this in the past, but you probably did not notice it. Fitzgerald worked on his first novel, "This Side of Paradise," and a number of short stories in a house about a dozen miles from where I currently reside. This took place in 1919-1920. Fitzgerald's parents owned a house in Saint Paul. He was born here, and lived here at various times.

Back to Hemingway. Personally, I think he qualifies as a great writer and certainly is among my favorites, but the world might never have known it had he not had Hadley, who essentially supported him during those early Paris years so his life consisted mostly of playing and writing. And, then Pauline, whose family money bought them homes and vehicles and boats and safaris and gave him the freedom to do nothing but play and write. He led a charmed life until about the last half-dozen years.

I do not know how the publication of "Hemingway in Love" will influence Hemingway's legacy. I think A.E. Hotchner was trying to make Hemingway looked better -- to make him appear naïve and confused and caught up in sort of a grandiose image of himself as the center of the universe, rather than look like a cruel, uncaring, selfish, heartless bastard (to be blunt) in his relationships. I guess it is left to individual readers to decide if Hemingway's writing talent outweighs his character flaws.

So, I am glad you came to read my post and to write your thoughts, Kaya. Thank you ....

A Cuban In London said...

Oh, Hemingway, Hemingway! Memories from my uni days, that's what he means. And also memories of visiting his old hideout, La Vigía when I was much younger. Also, memories of my favourite Cuban movie ever, Memories of the Underdevelopment (a lot of repetition there of the word "memory", but then, again, "Papa Hemingway" is recollection time for me). Would you believe it? About five and a half years ago in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, of all places, my family, my brother-in-law's family and I were having lunch at this restaurant when I spotted a man selling second-hand books just outside the joint. Amongst the books was For Whom the Bells Toll, which I purchased straight away and which now sits on my bookshelf waiting to be re-read.

I loved this post, man, another trip down memory lane for me.

Greetings from London.

Fram Actual said...

The appearance of an "ancient" A.E. Hotchner issuing words he claims to have held mostly in his memory (a few notes, too) fifty-five to sixty years waiting for everyone else to die so feelings would not be hurt could only have been surpassed by the appearance of the ghost of Ernest Hemingway himself.

Anyway ....

Everything, at least, seems to be consistent (in terms of my memory) with previous biographical material written more contemporary to the times.

I have started to re-read Hotchner's biography, "Papa Hemingway," out of curiosity and to fact-check. I had wanted to begin re-reading Hemingway's own autobiographical effort, "A Moveable Feast," but I cannot find my copy. Lost, loaned out, still in a box with a few hundred other books in a back bedroom? I probably will order another copy, or begin re-reading Mary Hemingway's memoir, "How It Was."

I have walked in Hemingway's footsteps, book in hand, in a number of places in lower-upper Michigan and the Upper Peninsula, but nowhere else. I have been in Key West, but not to the Hemingway haunts, and would like to see them. The same with your Cuba. I have been there, twice, but never to Havana, and would like very much to see a few places there and to drink a few daiquiris.

Well, it would seem the publication of this book has stirred thoughts and memories for both of us, CiL. I hope you will read this book -- "Hemingway in Love -- His Own Story." It is fast and easy and completes a few sentences unfinished in other (much) earlier books.

Thank you, CiL, for coming here and for your words.

Boris Estebitan said...

Siempre me sorprendes con tu gran gusto musical. Styx es grandiosa banda.

Fram Actual said...

Thank you, for the compliment, Boris. Styx has been a great band, and the song, "Lady," has been among my favorites since I first heard it. As long as young men like you continue to listen to songs from my generation, rock 'n' roll really will live forever.

My advice to you would be to read the book which is the main topic of the post: "Hemingway in Love -- His Own Story." You would learn a bit about one of the literary giants of the Twentieth Century and, perhaps, also learn some important lessons about relationships with women -- a subject I know you are very much interested in gaining more experience.

Thank you, Boris, for coming to my blog and for leaving a comment for me.

Yannis Politopoulos said...

Great post. I love Styx! Boat on the river is one of my favorites.
Warm greetings from Volos.

Yannis Politopoulos

A Cuban In London said...

Don't know about reading this particular book on his life. One thing with Hemingway and other writers of his generation (I'm thinking of Norman Mailer's Tough Guys Don't dance and The Naked and the Dead) is how minimalist and concise their writing was. When people remark on the bleakness, bluntness and short-sentence-structure of a novel like Cormac McCarthy's The Road I always think of Papa Hemingway and Mailer. The verb "to economise" was cretaed for them and probably by them. Personally, sometimes I need a little more. I want embellishment. I need Rushdie and Atwood and long sentences with subordinate clauses. I don't know, I am a very temperamental reader. Right now I am enjoying a collection of short stories by Salman Rushdie which my wife bought me about a year ago.

Greetings from London.

ANITA said...

you are away too long..down in sunny places?

Fram Actual said...

Thank you, Yannis. I am glad to see you here and I am pleased that you took the time to leave a comment for me. I apologize for taking so long to reply. I have been away from home for the Thanksgiving holiday observed in the United States. I hope you will continue to visit my blog.

Yes, Styx has been a great band over the years. Although only two of the original members remain, the band still goes on the road for concerts, and I hope to see a live performance some day.

Fram Actual said...

Had my own background not been involved so deeply in reading and studying Hemingway, CiL, I probably would not have been particularly interested in this book, either. It is a page from the past, and I did not see any material that I was not already aware of, only more details in some regards.

By the way, I did watch a fascinating television documentary a few days ago entitled, "Running from Crazy," which featured Mariel Hemingway, one of Ernest's granddaughters. I was aware that Hemingway, his father and another granddaughter, Margaux, had killed themselves, but I did not know several other family members had, as well. You might wish to watch it, if, like me, you are interested in psychology and personality disorders.

I cannot reply with any authority to your remarks regarding Norman Mailer and Cormac McCarthy. Mailer's work is so far back in time in terms of my reading it that it is like trying to recall events in my childhood. Actually, Mailer never impressed me and only his novel, "An American Dream," left a memorable impression upon me. It is the most frightening novel I ever have read, in the context of my own "psychology." As for McCarthy, I have read none of his works. The subject matter/settings/themes of his books that I am aware of do not interest me and, as you alluded, we each have our own areas of interest.

I apologize for the late reply here and for not having left comments at your recent posts. I have been absent from home and avoiding my everyday routines/habits.

Thank you, Cil, for coming here and for a super comment.

Fram Actual said...

Yes, Anita, I have been away for a number of days to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with family members. No sun, though, only gray skies, snow and icy cold. I apologize to you, as well, for missing at least one post on your blog.

Thank you, for checking up on me.

Something special ....