TPR Challenge #12 - Ernest Hemingway

Though he is best-known for novels such as A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway made his career through the early short stories he composed mostly while living abroad.  Paris was especially important to him during the 20s when he was among that most famed of expatriate crews comprising none other than Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Henry Miller, Anais Nin, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Nice company to keep, don't you think?

Hemingway went on to explore Spain, Cuba, and of course, Key West before his early demise in 1961.  But it is Paris that is celebrated in A Moveable Feast; it is Paris that launched his career; and it is Paris that causes him to be an especially appropriate figure for this year's Paris in July celebration.  See, he is also one of the first interviews collected in the Paris Review interviews set that is driving my TPR Challenge, a particular focus of this July.  Unfortunately, this amazing story collection is taking me so long to read that I may get to nothing else and miss Paris in July altogether if I don't get something going, so I read the interview and am posting today even though I still have about 1/3 of the collection still to read.  Forgive me?

The stories in this collection, most of which are new to me, span from 1921 to 1938 (the time of this collection's first publication), and they are markedly Hemingway.  Being familiar but not studiously intimate with his work, I can identify characters, themes, and voice that ring true in the novels.  There are only a few stories that strike me as decidedly immature ("Up From Michigan" was the first and is one of my least favorites); most seem remarkably consistent to the Hemingway that we know and appreciate.  Like his sentences, his stories are usually quite short.  And appropriate to his respect for the painter, they often appear little more than sketches, rough drawings or outlines to capture a moment or an exchange.  I was surprised to find how much I like that snapshot technique.  It is impressive in how complete each small image is, and it seems, perhaps irrationally, to make the collection more cohesive rather than more fragmented.  Each tiny shard contributes something unique and vital to the whole collection, and unlike my reading of most story collections, I want to read these quickly in succession rather than feeling I must provide a proper break between each story.

Not surprising, though, was how entertaining and informative the interview was.  Conducted by George Plimpton in 1958, the interview reveals his discipline (he stood while writing, often for 5-6 hours a day), his oddly private nature, and his great mind.  I took several tidbits away from the interview:

On avoiding too much scrutiny of one's writing -
though there is one part of writing that is solid and you do it no harm by talking about it, the other is fragile, and if you talk about it, the structure cracks and you have nothing (37).
On reading -
I'm always reading books - as many as there are.  I ration myself on them so that I'll always be in supply (47).
On politics in writing -
All you can be sure about in a political-minded writer is that if his work should last you will have to skip the politics when you read it (59).
And on the function of creative writing -
From things that have happened and from things that exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality.  That is why you write and for no other reason that you know of.  But what about all the reasons that no one knows? (61)
 To conclude, I offer you this passage from "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" on Paris:
There never was another part of Paris that he loved like that, the sprawling trees, the old white plastered houses painted brown below, the long green of the autobus in that round square, the purple flower dye upon the paving, the sudden drop down the hill of the rue Cardinal Lemoine to the Rives, and the other way the narrow crowded world of the rue Mouffetard.  The street that ran up toward the Pantheon and the other that he always took with the bicycle, the only asphalted street in all that quarter, smooth under the tires, with the high narrow houses and the cheap tall hotel where Paul Verlaine had died.  There were only two rooms in the apartments where they lived and he had a room on the top floor of that hotel that cost him sixty francs a month where he did his writing, and from it he could see the roofs and chimney pots and all the hills of Paris. (70)
I love how uncharacteristically long (but appropriate to the character and context of the story) these sentences are.  And of course, I love the lived intimacy with which these details are recorded and transmitted.  This is the way I want to experience Paris one day.  For now, I will content myself with Hemingway.


  1. Thanks for talking about your experiences with this collection so far. I really enjoyed this post, particularly the tidbits you took from the interview between Plimpton and Hemingway. This one particularly rings true to me "though there is one part of writing that is solid and you do it no harm by talking about it, the other is fragile, and if you talk about it, the structure cracks and you have nothing (37)" I cannot tell you how true that is!