I don’t usually enjoy reading biographies and memoirs of my favorite authors– it’s all written as a look-back; there’s a lack of tension. Plus, a lot of authors were really rotten, and I don’t want to know! However, I do really enjoy learning about some parts of the everyday lives of these god-like literary heroes. It turns out that they weren’t so different from you and me in their day-to-day habits.
Here are ten ways that Ernest Hemingway and other authors are remarkably similar to us!
1. They misplace their old journals!
2. They find writing to be “hard” and struggle with writer’s block.
3. They enjoy engaging in book talk with fellow readers!
4. They read fluff for enjoyment…but are wary of gambling with bad books.
5. They support indie authors!
6. They can’t afford books and hang out at the library.
7. They wish they could read their favorite books again for the first time.
8. They lose their luggage!
9. They put up with annoying people.
10. Their happiest times were when they were penniless.
*All information, quotes, and paraphrases derived from Hemingway’s memoir A Moveable Feast, unless otherwise noted.
1. “Honey! Do you know where I put my draft for the Great American Memoir? I seem to have misplaced it.”
As a young writer in Paris, Hemingway regularly recorded his observations and thoughts in journals. A Moveable Feast is a compilation of these journal entries. However, the classic memoir almost never was, as Hemingway stored these journals away and later forgot about them. Luckily, his old haunt The Ritz Hotel came to his (and his readers’ rescue)!
Hemingway’s friend and biographer A.E. Hotchner recalls their recovery in his New York Times editorial “Don’t Touch ‘A Moveable Feast'”:
In 1956, Ernest and I were having lunch at the Ritz in Paris with Charles Ritz, the hotel’s chairman, when Charley asked if Ernest was aware that a trunk of his was in the basement storage room, left there in 1930. Ernest did not remember storing the trunk but he did recall that in the 1920s Louis Vuitton had made a special trunk for him. Ernest had wondered what had become of it.
Charley had the trunk brought up to his office, and after lunch Ernest opened it. It was filled with a ragtag collection of clothes, menus, receipts, memos, hunting and fishing paraphernalia, skiing equipment, racing forms, correspondence and, on the bottom, something that elicited a joyful reaction from Ernest: “The notebooks! So that’s where they were! Enfin!”
There were two stacks of lined notebooks like the ones used by schoolchildren in Paris when he lived there in the ’20s. Ernest had filled them with his careful handwriting while sitting in his favorite café, nursing a café crème. The notebooks described the places, the people, the events of his penurious life.”
Almost immediately after their retrieval, Hemingway set about transcribing the journals into a memoir he called “my Paris book”. Unfortunately, he didn’t live to see its publication, and his fourth wife Mary Hemingway had it published in 1964. The title derived from a remembered statement that Hemingway made to Hotchner: “If you are lucky to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast,” (Hotchner).
“[Writing] was very difficult, and I did not know how I would ever write anything as long as a novel. It often took me a full morning of work to write a paragraph,” (156).
Hemingway was still very much a novice at writing fiction when he came to Paris. He had journalistic experience, but what he really wanted was to write a novel. This was a struggle, but he continued to hone his craft with short stories. He sought advice from others and set rules for himself and his writing.
When dealing with a block, he would think “Do not worry. You always have written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know,” (12).
3. Book Club Meeting Tonight! Bring a bottle of wine and one of your Canonical friends!
Hemingway hung out with lots of bookish types- Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald to name a few(yeah, yeah, I know “bookish” is an understatement), and oftentimes they would discuss what they were reading and would recommend books to one another. Here is some book talk between Stein and Hemingway:
“Huxley is a dead man,” Miss Stein said. “Why do you want to read a dead man? Can’t you see he is dead?”
I could not see, then, that he was a dead man and I said that his books amused me and kept me from thinking.
“Why do you read this trash? It is inflated trash, Hemingway. By a dead man.”
“I like to see what they are writing,” I said. “And it keeps my mind off doing it.”
“Who else do you read now?”
“D.H. Lawrence,” I said. “He wrote some very good short stories, one called ‘The Prussian Officer.'”
“I tried to read his novels. He’s impossible. He’s pathetic and preposterous. He writes like a sick man.”
“I liked Sons and Lovers and The White Peacock,” I said. “Maybe not that so well. I couldn’t read Women in Love.”
“If you don’t want to read what is bad, and want to read something that will hold your interest and is marvelous in its own way, you should read Marie Belloc Lowndes.”
I had never heard of her, and Miss Stein loaned me The Lodger, that marvelous story of Jack the Ripper and another about murder at a place outside Paris[…]. (26-27)
Hmmm…book recommendations from Hemingway and Gertrude Stein…I’ll take it!
4. Ugh. I don’t want to think right now. I’ll just read the latest Nicholas Sparks novel and space out, I guess.
As seen from the conversation above, Hemingway did read books simply to keep him from thinking and his mind off of writing, many of which were not considered to be the best. Miss Stein scoffed at these reading choices, as they were simply mediocre…and they weren’t bad enough to be worth Hemingway’s time, for she espoused this notion:
“You should only read what is truly good or what is frankly bad,” (26).
Hemingway disagreed, responding with, “I’ve been reading truly good books all winter and all last winter and I’ll read them next winter, and I don’t like frankly bad books.”
5. Poor T.S. Eliot. He’ll never get the recognition he deserves…
In Paris, Hemingway met Ezra Pound, whom he continuously described as kind and generous. Pound’s generosity was put to use in helping “poets, painters, sculptors, and prose writers that he believed in and he would help anyone whether he believed in them or not if they were in trouble,” (110). One such poet he believed in and wanted to help was T.S. Eliot, and he enlisted all of his friends to join in, including Hemingway.
“[H]e was most worried about T.S. Eliot who, Ezra told me, had to work in a bank in London and so had insufficient time and bad hours to function as a poet.”
So, Pound founded Bel Esprit with a rich American patroness of the arts, and the idea of Bel Esprit was that all of the members would contribute a portion of whatever they earned to provide a fund to get Eliot out of his day job so that he could write poetry, (111). Hemingway and other members would solicit money from friends, using the “coolness” factor to add pressure to potential donors. “Either you had Bel Esprit or you did not have it. […]If you didn’t it was too bad. […]Too bad, Mac. Keep your money. We wouldn’t touch it.”
Hemingway got into the spirit full-force: “As a member of Bel Esprit I campaigned energetically and my happiest dreams in those days were of seeing [Eliot] stride out of the bank a free man.” Fortunately for Eliot, he did get out of the bank soon after, as The Waste Land was published and won the Dial award “and not long after a lady of title backed a review for Eliot called The Criterion and Ezra and I did not have to worry about him any more,” (112). Unfortunately for Hemingway, he wasn’t the one who got to break Eliot out of the bank, and he was sorely disappointed.
The rest, as they say, is history…
Read Part Two of This Post Tomorrow!
Hemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast. Scribner’s. New York: 1964.
Hotchner, A.E.. “Don’t Touch ‘A Moveable Feast’.” New York Times: 19 July, 2009.