Friday, April 16, 2004

Papa's got a brand new gun

Since I don’t particularly enjoy reading about carnage and butchery I am not a big Hemingway fan, but I really did enjoy A Moveable Feast, his autobiographical account of the time he spent in Paris as a young writer in the twenties. In this memoir, he is as gossipy and catty as a schoolgirl. He dishes about many of the famous expatriate literary figures he consorted with in Paris like Gertrude Stein and James Joyce, but reserves the most acid for F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, who come across as alcoholic loons. At one point, Hemingway recounts how F. Scott sheepishly showed Hemingway his penis and asked Hemingway if it were as abnormally and inadequately small as Zelda is constantly telling him it is. The couple was always trying to enmesh Hemingway in their dysfunctional, alcohol fueled bickering, and Hemingway finally tires of it and gives F. Scott good and matter-of-fact advice despite the risk that it might strain their friendship.

“Forget what Zelda said," I told him. "Zelda is crazy. There’s nothing wrong with you. Just have confidence... Zelda just wants to destroy you.”

He should have added, "But I will destroy you (or at least your reputation, for you will have drunk yourself into an early grave by then) more when I, your supposed friend, reveal this embarrassingly intimate confidence about you and your wife to the world." (In Hemingway's defense, this book was pieced together and released posthumously without his creative control.)

Hemingway also offers us the most awe-inspiring example of passive aggression I have ever read.

Hadley, his first wife, decides on a whim to to pack up every single unpublished manuscript (and all of the carbon copies) in a suitcase to bring to Hemingway as a surprise when she joins him late on a ski trip. She ‘accidentally’ leaves the suitcase on the train station platform where it is stolen, never to be recovered. In essence, his life’s work is lost.

Here is Hemingway’s description of how Hadley breaks the news to him.

“I had never seen anyone hurt by a thing other than death or unbearable suffering except Hadley when she told me about the things being gone. She had cried and cried and could not tell me. I told her that no matter what the dreadful thing was that had happened nothing could be that bad, and whatever it was, it was all right, not to worry. We could work it out. Then, finally, she told me. I was sure that she could not have brought the carbons too…
It was true all right…”

Hemingway was most likely carrying on with her best friend at the time, the one he eventually leaves Hadley and their young son for, and this was indirect revenge at its finest. My hat’s off to you, Hadley Hemingway, for your non-balls.

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