A Book for Fans of Ernest Hemingway

Those of you who follow my aniblog, Medieval Otaku, know that I proposed to write an article each day for a fortnight.  Having fallen behind, consider this Friday’s article.  Deo volente, two more articles shall drop from my pen ere midnight tonight.  (Yours truly is an incurable optimist.)  Long waiting periods at NYC’s government buildings allowed me to complete a compilation of Hemingway’s essays titled A Moveable Feast.  These articles were assembled by Hemingway’s fourth wife following his death and first published in 1964.  My own 1977 edition has written over the top of it “By the author of Islands in the Stream.”  This strikes me as odd for two reasons: 1) By April 1977, Hemingway’s fame had not apparently reached such a height that the average reader would know him sans connecting him to a more popular book of his; and 2) the understanding of which works rank highest in Hemingway’s canon (For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, etc.) had not yet been established in its present form.  A Moveable Feast stands as a memoir of Hemingway’s early life in Paris following the First World War while he was still married to his first wife, Hadley.

Not my edition of A Moveable Feast.  This one has the kind of heading one would expect to see atop one of Hemingway's books.

Not my edition of A Moveable Feast. This one has the kind of heading one would expect to see atop one of Hemingway’s books.

This collection of essays strikes me as curious for a variety of reasons.  It immerses the reader in the “Lost Generation,” an appellation Hemingway himself detested, and in the lives of many important writers with whom Hemingway was associated: Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott Fitzgerald in particular.  I was hoping that Hemingway at one point would meet Hilaire Belloc, but he seems to have mistaken Aleister Crowley for the distinguished writer.  (Actually, comparing the two side by side, I can see how easily the mistake might be made.  The two were only five years apart.)  Hemingway’s description of Ezra Pound was perhaps the most interesting.  The first thing most English students learn about Ezra Pound is that he wrote some very complicated poems called Cantos, the second is that he was a Fascist, and the third is to treat him like a leper.  But, Hemingway recalls Ezra Pound as the most saintly man he ever met.  Pound supported writers who sought his help whether he thought they had talent or not and spent many long nights talking writers down from suicide.  The portrait painted by Hemingway is very compelling.

Hemingway in Paris

Then again, many essays are dedicated to Hemingway’s relationship to F. Scott Fitzgerald, whom Hemingway describes as an excellent friend when sober.  One is shocked to learn just how much Fitzgerald’s wife went to sabotage her husband’s writing career.  Also, the frankness of Hemingway and touchiness of Fitzgerald made it a sure thing that the two would eventually clash, leading to the deterioration of their friendship in 1926.  Fortunately, Fitzgerald did not see these essays–many are hardly complimentary except for Hemingway’s praise of The Great Gatsby–as he died of a heart attack at the age of 44 in 1940.

Fitz and Hem

But, candor makes these essays great.  Some lines made me flinch, especially his remarks concerning prostitutes in Kansas.  The lack of respect toward one veteran of the French dragoons also shocked me.  The establishment where this veteran worked as a waiter forced all of its employees to shave.  This former dragoon’s service earned him no exemption, despite having won the Croix de Guerre (the French equivalent of the Medal of Honor) and the Military Medal.  How can one think to diminish the dignity of such a hero?  But, this event and others goes a long way to show the rift between those who fought in the war and those who excused themselves from the cataclysm.

But, what else can I say?  If you love Hemingway’s work and wish to know more about the man himself, you must read this work!

The Great Gatsby and the Dullness of the Wealthy

I just finished The Great Gatsby, and it hardly struck me as worthy of being called The Great American Novel, which some have attributed to the work.  Of course, I needed to place my finger on why this was so.  After some consideration, I determined that distaste for the lifestyle of the wealthy made me find many parts of the work boring and inhibited me from liking anyone besides Gatsby, Nick Carraway, and Meyer Wolfsheim.  In my opinion, having wealth obliges one to become a scientist, scholar, serviceman, hunter, or some kind of adventurer.  Wealth without adventure or enriching pursuits–a life of play–renders life more of a burden than a joy, which The Great Gatsby reveals with perfect accuracy.

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Gatsby surrounds himself with wealth and offers lavish parties in the hopes of once again meeting the woman of his dreams, Daisy.  With Gatsby, one sees that wealth is not his goal in life, unlike the people with whom he surrounds himself.  He appears restless until he meets Nick Carraway and achieves a greater sense of peace after gaining Daisy’s affections, such as they are. But, in the end, his association with Daisy and acquisition of wealth bring him no peace at all.

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I confess to owing much of my understanding of the novel to this article.  I wish I could identify its author.  He claims that there are competing visions for the American Dream.  The Eastern one centered on wealth, and the Midwestern one based on family and friends.  The book portrays very perfectly the vacuity of pursuing wealth, and by the end of the book, Nick Carraway’s friendship becomes Gatsby’s most important possession.  Indeed, after their meeting, it seems as though Gatsby cannot do without him.

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On another note, Fitzgerald’s prose is perhaps the best of all 20th century American novelists.  He employs a very adept turn of phrase.  Also, his characters are very subtly sketched.  For example, I took a liking to Meyer Wolfsheim despite him having only a few short appearances in the work.  These two virtues in Fitzgerald’s writing motivate me to read more of his works, but I can’t say that I’ll read The Great Gatsby again.

Christian Mihai: A New Joseph Conrad?

Those of you who follow Cristian Mihai’s blog, know that he recently made his work Jazz free for download.  This counts as his breakout novel.  Without anything to lose, I decided that I would give a current author a try.  (Looking at my reading list reveals how hesitant I am to read the works of the living.)  From reading Mihai’s blog, I expected a work of quality.  My disenchantment with contemporary literature made that the limit of my expectations.

As it turned out, I was blown away by this stunningly complex and wonderfully written piece.  The writing felt as if some inimitable combination of Fitzgerald and Hemingway.  The novel’s vision seemed to combine a Scholastic focus on happiness with a Conradian or Dostoyevskian knowledge of the fallen nature of humanity despite a drive for nobility.  One felt as if one were reading about real people, yet on an elevated level and vividly alive.  Yes, you’ve read this passage correctly: we have here an utterly unique young novelist, who’s well worth reading.

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Jazz follows a young man named Chris, who has had the misfortune of having Cupid incite love in him for a girl named Amber.  Formerly, this girl was the fiancée of Chris’s cousin Jay; but, following a rather squalid dissolution of this relationship, she flees New York City for Paris.  Chris follows her hither to discover that he has taken up with a new boyfriend called Jacques.  This beginning leads to a riveting psychological tale written in beautiful style.  Many native English novelists have less exciting prose style than this Romanian–hence my calling him a new Joseph Conrad.

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I could not put the book down for the first six chapters, at which point errands called me away before I could finish it in a second sitting.  The mesmerizing quality of Jazz is especially due to the fast-paced and vivid style of Mihai.  It pays special attention to the characters’ expressions and actions–rather like what one finds in Hemingway.  But, the action is always fleshed out by the narrator’s thoughts and interior struggles á la Fitzgerald.  The effect is most compelling, and Jazz can easily withstand several readings.

My only hope is that Mihai continues to fascinate his present readers and manages to reach an ever wider audience.  I now find myself eager to shell out money for his other works!

Parisian Painting