Asheville, NC – Nov. 5, 2013. A dateline. A placeline too. Hemingway knew plenty of those, he started his career as a reporter – for the Kansas City Star, I think it was – and he did his cub reporting in America, based on the style book of that paper. Then he went to Europe to drive an ambulance in WWI, was wounded, healed and returned to the U.S.
Still a reporter, he got on with the Toronto Star Weekly, at first from Paris, and later from other foreign places as world events pulled him hither and yon. I’m not sure if he ever reported for Toronto from stateside. Wikipedia might have that, and I confess that’s where I go for many facts I can’t remember (or never knew).
Wiki is a wonderful invention, and needs a little money now and then from those who appreciate it. I gave them a few bucks this year, in response to an emergency plea, and I got a personal thank you. So, I’ll donate again one of these days. I hope you will also.
The reason it matters – the writing IN Toronto, part – is that it was Hemingway’s work in Paris that is commonly credited with forming his “style” of supposedly succinct sentences because it cost $$$ in those days to send written words back to the paper by undersea cable. Correspondents learned to just send the essentials and let rewrite men at home flesh out the stories with logical verbiage. So, if that’s the way it appeared in the paper, who is to say whose “style” it is: Hemingway’s or the rewrite man’s.
I guess it is possible to find that old newspaper stuff somewhere; Google has it probably, or Getty. Some of it, no doubt, survives in Hemingway’s “Collected Works” volumes. I think I owned a few of those once, but they got lost in transit when I moved to Asheville. No matter. They exist somewhere, and they weren’t particularly valuable anyway. Not First Editions, just decent reading copies. That’s the important thing, isn’t it? Content vs. Rarity. Two different esthetics entirely.
Once I had a pretty good Hemingway collection: all of his short stories, most of his novels, and some of the rest, including biographies. Also, the most coveted book I ever owned was a genuine First 1st copy of The Sun Also Rises. I found it one year at the Arizona State Fair’s antique auction. The cover was beaten to death, and the dust jacket was non-existent, but I got it for one dollar, and the insides were the real deal.
My brother and sister-in-law invested in having the book rebound, which rescued a good deal of its value, and we gave it to one of their sons for his birthday or Xmas, because he’s a Hemingway fan too. Better he should have it than I, and none of my kids would have wanted it.
I guess I’m a Hemingway fan. I’ve read most of his work because I have wanted to, not because I was required to. Some people have said that I look like him too, at this portly, grey-bearded stage of my life; so I’m trying to emphasize that similarity. I’m copying his attire, and getting reading glasses like his. I’m styling my beard and my hair like his. Maybe it will get me laid. Dunno, but it can’t hurt. If I’ve gotta be fat, better like Hemingway than Santa Claus.
I also had the thrill of visiting Hemingway’s house in Key West, which was a special place for him. He had several special places in his life, but this was a gift to him from his father-in-law, Gus, father of Pauline Pfeiffer – Hem’s second wife. Her old man must have been rolling in dough, because he bought them a nice car, too, delivered by ship to Key West.
Hemingway was a successful writer by then, 1927, but not really rich yet. He wrote a lot of good work in Key West, and linked up with a bunch of his best drinking and fishing buddies there. Those were pretty good days for him and his cronies. Pauline put in a swimming pool at the Key West house, that cost Hem $20,000, a big sum at the time, and he groused about that.
The house was built on the highest lot on the island, 16 feet above sea level. It has a basement too, excavated to provide the stone from which the house is built. The basement was dug down to 14 feet, then refilled with rubble to a nine-foot depth.
You can see what it looks like at Hemingway House.com, or if you don’t, imagine an essentially square, two story, Spanish colonial with a central stairway – bedrooms upstairs. All around the second story is a porch, with an iron railing, so every resident can enter or leave their bedroom from an inside door, or by the outside door to the porch.
When I was there, I think about 1975, there was also a carriage house close by the main house. It’s original purpose was to house the horses and carriage, and provide living space above for the hostler, but by the time Hemingway lived there he drove a car. I was led to understand that Hemingway did his writing upstairs in the carriage house, writing in longhand standing at a podium. Many days he would only get a paragraph done, seldom a page, working early in the morning, before he started drinking.
The story I heard was that Hem liked to rise early, go from his bed to the porch, put a special plank across from the porch to the carriage house, walk across, pull the plank over after himself, then work uninterrupted until he was done for the day – usually well before noon. Then he would eat, or drink, or join his friends at the bar.
I swear I was in that carriage-house room and saw that podium. I saw the plank and think it was in place between the two buildings. I don’t know how we got in the upstairs at the carriage house, internal stairway I assume. I don’t remember walking the plank. Surely they wouldn’t let visitors do that, even back in the wild old seventies.
Point is: on the Hem House website there is no image of the carriage house, no mention either. Could they have torn it down? Was there an accident? A fire? I have no idea, but I was there. Ahh, tis a puzzlement!
One of the first things Hemingway wrote about in the Nick Adams stories is fear. Fear – one way or another – continues through all of his work, as something inside ourselves – male and female, but especially male – for us to overcome or control: the boxing, the bullfights, the big game hunting, the deep-water fishing. And finally, self-inflicted death, because no person can blow one’s own head off without fear. And he faced it down, personally and in his writing. That was a big part of his talent and his charm.
“How do you like me now, gentlemen?” he is reported to have often said, indicating a need for approval (and even adulation) from other men. From women he was mostly satisfied with sex and domesticity.
In the Nick Adams stories, we have Hemingway writing about a youngster, maybe even a child, who probably represents the boy and man Hemingway was and became. I am embarrassed to say I don’t know when Hem wrote any or all of these stories, but it seems they were first published in organized series after his death. Previously, I guess, he just wrote one story when he needed to sell something, and plucked it from memory as he saw fit. Most writers who can command money occasionally do the same.
But the first story would also seem to be the first in fact. It’s about a boy, not yet a teenager probably, off camping in the woods with his dad and uncle at a Michigan lake. Nick is not comfortable about being “alone” there. He wasn’t raised in the wild like an Indian boy would be, he was accustomed to the city, or at least a suburb.
Dad and Uncle George wanted to go out on the lake to do some night fishing, and left Nick in a tent. They gave him a rifle, and said that if he needed them to come back he should shoot the gun three times, and they would stop fishing and return. So, off they go; and Nick’s imagination gets the better of him. He learns the motivating power of unspecified fear.
Soon he shoots three times. Thus the name of that story: Three Shots.
The adults hurry back. In the story Uncle George is disgruntled. He says that Nick is too young for this type of outing, but Dad is okay with Nick’s anxiety. Dad is a doctor, and is astutely tuned to what his son needs and can handle.
It is a simple little story, but it presages several elements that become central to Hemingway’s work and his life. One is the importance of the gun. In this story perhaps it is not a very powerful weapon, but it is a rifle – generally conceded by men to be more “serious” than a handgun – and regardless of its stopping power, it’s threat as a protector is there, and it’s power to communicate is there (three shots brings help).
The long gun is never far away in Hemingway literature, or life, or death. In a later story, Dad makes sure a shotgun is cleaned and loaded, after a run-in with an Indian who owes him some service work which the Indian might not want to do. Dad is covert about this action, but it is a trait Hem adopts in his life – foresight and preparedness.
There is another gun story about Hemingway’s youth. Apparently in high school he formed a gun club among his friends – some of whom didn’t even own a gun – and took pictures of them out of doors, toting guns along a country road. I’ve seen the picture, and note that Hem was almost a head taller than any of the others. I don’t know what his adult height was, but I know he wasn’t a shrimp.
Another element is the out-of-doors. Most of Hemingway’s settings are outside – hunting, fishing, roaming, watching bull fights, observing (or serving) in war. Hemingway is not a drawing-room author, like many of the novelists before him were. Hem is manly, always manly; sometimes embarrassingly so.
A third element is being (and becoming) a man. Being a man, meeting life like a man, learning that process, is always a gradient in Hemingway’s work, and the pressure is always on to move ahead. Sometimes it involves saving a woman, but always it faces the male protagonists with difficult or dangerous behavioral options.
Ernest Hemingway was named for his mother’s father – I think. It wasn’t a name chosen by his father. His father was named Clarence (Henry in the Nick Adams stories) and his mother dressed Ernest like a girl for several early years. A lot has been made of that, and maybe it shouldn’t be. It wasn’t unusual for that to happen back then.
Females cared for small children, and to them they were all babies. Hem had at least two older sisters, and a couple of younger ones too. Growing up was for him a pretty female environment. The easiest way to deal with dirty diapers is for tots to wear skirts. It was a rite of passage for boys to be allowed to wear pants, well after they were toilet trained. Now, I think, such a thing is practically unknown, as so much importance is immediately shown to identify the sex of an infant through the color and design of clothing.
Back then, and we’re talking end of the 19th Century, little white dresses did the job, most of them sewn by females in the family and handed down from child to child – girls and boys. Yet it is clear that Hem’s father Clarence was henpecked by his mother, and Hem himself resented and resisted his mother’s control.
This is reflected in another Nick Adams story, The Doctor and his Wife. Hemingway’s father was a doctor, and a good provider for his wife Grace and their children; but she was bossy and manipulative – characteristics Hemingway tried to avoid in his own wives.
In the story, the wife asks her husband to send their son Nick to her for some purpose, but when the doctor finds Nick – and tells him his mother wants to see him – Nick says he doesn’t want to see her, he wants to go with his father, and the father allows him to do so. That must be seen as a subtle way for the doctor to “get back” at his wife for all the prying and spying she has just shown the reader.
A couple of other things impressed me from the early Nick Adams stories. One was the important presence of Indians – Native Americans we call them now, with a certain reverence not given to them by our white pioneers. My own maternal grandfather was a “breed,” one-eighth Indian blood, who passed as a white man, and functioned as one; although looked at as an Indian, he did possess certain features that resembled some Indians: dark hair and eyes, high cheekbones, and a certain mien that most Indians share from ages past.
I come from Arizona, the state with the most Indian tribes, and presumably the most Indians, but they stay out of sight. After forty years there, I cannot say I had a single Indian acquaintance in Arizona, much less a friend. White attitudes have changed there towards Indians, but the reality apparently hasn’t. Like the doctor in Hemingway’s story, one deals with an Indian fairly and cordially, keeping in mind the deep hurt and wariness lurking in all of their hearts, that might spring forth destructively, especially “under the influence” of alcohol or whatever else they might have access to.
Things changed for some Indian vets after the Good War, but that doesn’t go far in Phoenix. I seldom think of myself as “part Indian,” but one of my mother’s sisters (1/16 Wampanoag-blood) capitalized on it. It would seem to have nothing to do with Hemingway, except for the scene in Indian Camp in which Nick witnessed the discovery of an Indian suicide – throat razor-cut ear to ear – that gave opportunity for Nick and his dad to discuss self-inflicted death. That means Hemingway was thinking about it at least from whenever he wrote about (or experienced!) the event. I have strong feelings about it myself, that might hew more towards the Indian idea than to a white one.
Something about that scene doesn’t ring true, which makes me think it probably is. Why clutter such a strong story with fictitious claptrap that isn’t true? Especially if you are Hemingway, with such a devotion to truth. But still, why would a youngish Indian husband do that on the occasion of his wife’s difficult birthing? Could it have been a reaction to the woman’s labor distress before the doctor got there? An expectation that she was going to die, and he wanted to join her? Many women did die giving birth in those days.
Nick asks his father why the Indian man did it, and the doctor replies, “I don’t know, Nick. He couldn’t stand things I guess.” What couldn’t he stand, her agony? The prospect of fatherhood? The guilt of being the cause of it all? The existential realization that this was what life is all about, and that is all there is to it – unending suffering? I don’t know, and Hemingway doesn’t explain; but the unsuccessful birth of his hero’s own child in “Farewell to Arms,” explores the experience once again.
Well, if I’m going to put this on my blog, I’d better stop here. Of course there is more to come. I’ve barely started with Nick Adams, and I wonder who cares anymore. Do young readers today (if there are any) relate to Hemingway’s thought? I hope so. Meanwhile, I know I still do, and look forward to cogitating about it in future postings. Thanks, Bill H.