Hemingway and the Lost Generation: An interview with Denise C
AB: Denise, I am thrilled to have you be the first woman to be interviewed for the Hemingway project. How did you become interested in Hemingway? Was it a particular book that got you started? Do you read Hemingway’s biographies as well?
DC: I had read the required amount of Hemingway’s books and short stories in junior high, high school, and college, but there was not enough interest then to pursue further readings. A few years ago I took some graduate classes at SMU, which led to a trip to Italy in 2005. One of the places I visited was Venice, and there I visited the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. When I returned home I read some of Peggy’s autobiographies (she had multiple versions). Her heyday was in the ‘20s in Paris and NYC. I liked reading about Peggy and her friends so much that my art history professor recommended that I read Everybody Was So Young: A Lost Generation Love Story by Amanda Vaill, the book about Gerald and Sara Murphy and their friends in France in the ‘20s. Hemingway was part of their circle. Reading more about the Murphys and the plethora of friends of theirs who became famous artists and writers led to my reading of the compilation of Letters from the Lost Generation: Gerald and Sara Murphy and Friends edited by Linda Patterson Miller. Ernest’s letters really entranced me and I immediately started reading the biographies. Fortunately, I picked up Michael S. Reynolds’ Hemingway: The Paris Years first, and appreciate his volumes the most. I have also enjoyed reading books by and about Ernest’s family such as Nothing Ever Happens to the Brave: The Story of Martha Gellhorn by Carl Rollyson, Hadley by Gioia Diliberto, How It Was by Mary Welsh Hemingway, Misadventures of a Fly Fisherman: My Life With and Without Papa by Jack Hemingway, My Brother, Ernest Hemingway by Leicester Hemingway and Strange Tribe: A Family Memoir by John Hemingway. The list of related books about Hemingway goes on and on.
DC: F. Scott Fitzgerald is my next favorite Lost Generation writer. I read The Great Gatsby in high school and again in college and loved the story and how well written it is. After reading in the biographies about Hemingway and Fitzgerald’s friendship I began reading books about Fitzgerald, too, as well as Tender Is The Night and his short stories. One of the best was Some Sort of Epic Grandeur: The Life of F. Scott Fitzgerald by Matthew J. Bruccoli. I also read some of John Dos Passos, who was extremely talented but is often overlooked and/or forgotten compared to some of the others. Fitzgerald has some great short stories and I believe he and Hemingway set a very high standard for these. I have also enjoyed reading the poetry of Dorothy Parker and books about her and her set of friends (from the Algonquin Round Table). Other books I have enjoyed are Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation by Noel Riley Fitch and Ms. Beach’s own Shakespeare and Company.
AB: For Hemingway aficionados, his life is as compelling as his writing, is this true for other writers of his generation?
DC: I believe this is true for many of the Americans that were in Paris in the ‘20s and others that were born around the turn of the century. There were so many groups of friends there that came in out of each other’s lives then. Besides Fitzgerald, I have enjoyed reading about the lives of Ezra Pound, Pablo Picasso, Mary McCarthy, and Martha Gellhorn (Ernest’s third wife). They lived through two World Wars and a vastly changing world. Others I have read about, too, were Robert McAlmon, Kay Boyle, Hilda Doolittle, Bryher, and D. H. Lawrence.
AB: Hemingway represents a lot of different things to different people. Many men relate to Hemingway as a father figure, or as a model of masculinity – an archetype almost – how do you relate to him?
DC: I could only be drawn to someone who seemed to be a father figure, a take charge kind of person, a teacher. I think of how Honoria Murphy Donnelly was asked who her favorite of her parents’ friends was and she immediately replies Ernest Hemingway. He taught his friends’ children to fish and hunt and corresponded with them personally. He spent time with his own sons hunting and fishing and nursed his son Patrick when he was suffering. Not having an emotionally close relationship with my own father, of course I am drawn to someone whose friends and relatives all called him “Papa.” However, one of my grandfathers was born in 1911 and was definitely a great father figure.
AB: You are also very interested in F Scott Fitzgerald. Tell me about your interest in him and the research you have done. Tell me what you have learned about Fitzgerald’s personality. How does it contrast to Hemingway’s?
DC: I enjoy immensely the beautiful writing of F. Scott Fitzgerald. He is a tragic character that never reached his full potential because he was so interested in “getting tight” more than developing his craft. Just when he seemed to be on the wagon and things were looking up and he was working on The Last Tycoon, he died. I read the Bruccoli biography, as well as a couple of books by his girlfriend in his later years, Sheila Graham. He never made quite the money or had as relaxing a life as Hemingway seemed to be having in Key West and Cuba. Scott always had to take care of Zelda and visit her in sanitariums in Europe or mental facilities in the U.S., besides trying to make sure daughter Scottie was taken care of and doing well. And he constantly had to borrow and pay back money from his friends and business associates. I think Fitzgerald had great intelligence and talent, but he wasted much of it. But I have a soft spot in my heart for Scott. Hemingway had many more interests outside of his craft to keep him occupied when he was not writing. Scott could be very childish at times. Scott went to Hollywood to try to make it big and Hemingway abhorred Hollywood and would never have chosen to live there.
AB: The friendship between Hemingway and Fitzgerald was complex. What were the factors that made their relationship so complicated?
DC: Well, Fitzgerald promoted Hemingway to Max Perkins after he was already established with Scribner’s. He also suggested some changes to The Sun Also Rises that Hemingway made. So Fitzgerald was always trying to advise Hemingway and mentor him and after a while Hemingway did not need mentoring and was resentful. Also, Scott always went overboard on his drinking when they went out in Paris or hung out with friends and Hemingway was exasperated with that. Since he disliked Zelda and Zelda seemed to be always causing problems for Scott, Hemingway tired of the two of them. Also, as were many of his friends in Paris, Scott was a college graduate, a Princeton man, and Hemingway did not attend college.
AB: Hemingway claimed that Zelda ruined Scott’s career. What does the research say about this? What do you think?
DC: The ‘20s were a unique decade. Women in this decade seemed to enjoy some liberation from the normal roles than in previous generations, but Zelda chaffed under the restrictions and roles in place, it seemed to me. When she wrote some of her own magazine articles, she had to use Scott’s name in order to get paid. Scott even used some of her diary entries verbatim in his writings. I can imagine there was some jealousy on her part since she was always subjugated by Scott and his career. He did support her efforts at ballet (even though it seemed to be begrudgingly). And she did have some talent as a painter and writer, but Scott always received more attention. I think they both undermined each other at times rather than supporting each other. I would say Scott ruined his own career, however, since he was undisciplined and such a terrible alcoholic.
AB: As a Fitzgerald fan, how did you feel about the way Hemingway wrote about him in A Moveable Feast?
DC: Hemingway had some unflattering things to say about Scott, Dos Passos, the Murphys, and others. However, the book was published posthumously so we don’t know exactly what might have been in a final draft published under Hemingway’s guidance. I thought it was a bit mean-spirited, especially since Scott died so many years earlier, but it was also edited by Mary Welsh Hemingway and Harry Brague from Scribner’s. We will never know Hemingway’s true intentions for the “Paris sketches” and can only speculate. I have enjoyed the latest edition of A Moveable Feast.
AB: When I read of Hemingway’s personal life, I can’t help but notice all of the ways he used or took advantage of the women in his life. How do you respond to those who say that he was a misogynist?
DC: I don’t think Hemingway was a misogynist. I think he loved women, loved being in love, and loved being married. I am not a scholar, but reading his letters, I have never thought he was a misogynist. Reading The Garden of Eden and one of the scholar’s (Carl P. Eby) books entitled Hemingway’s Fetishism: Psychoanalysis and the Mirror of Manhood, I think Ernest was interested in androgyny. As you have noted in a previous post, Hadley’s life was enhanced by her life with Hemingway, as I believe all of his wives seemed to be. Speaking of Hadley, I think Hadley’s life was the happiest of them all in the end. Her life was happier than the rest of the group at Antibes in the ‘20s. Her life seemed to be happier than Scott and Zelda’s, Sara and Gerald’s, and Ernest’s. I am glad for that, as I don’t think her life previous to Hemingway was a very happy one, nor would it have been if she hadn’t met him.
AB: What is your favorite era in Hemingway’s life?
AB: If you could drop in to observe any moment of Hemingway’s life, what would it be?
DC: I would like to maybe observe a day in his life in Ketchum and Sun Valley of a long day’s hunting with his sons and Martha Gellhorn when he first went to Idaho. He seemed to have made some great friends in that time period and I am sure they had some fabulous times at Sun Valley Lodge surrounded by the beautiful mountains in the wintertime.
AB: If you could drop in to observe any moment of Fitzgerald’s life, what would it be?
DC: I would not mind seeing Scott perhaps at one of the Murphys’ parties in the ‘20s at Villa America on the Riviera near Antibes (when they would all get together with their friends and children and not when he was embarrassingly drunk).
AB: You are a member of the Hemingway Society and are active in some of the discussions. How does your interest in Hemingway and Fitzgerald affect your life? Do you travel because of your interest in them? Have you developed friendships from the forums or discussion boards online?
DC: I have really enjoyed receiving emails from the listserv via the Hemingway Society. The scholars are so knowledgeable about all things Hemingway and they are very funny and very passionate about the writer. I like getting messages from listers on places of interest, pictures, and stories about people that are all related to Hemingway. I like reading their differing opinions on people like A.E. Hotchner and on the newest edition of A Moveable Feast, as well as their opinions on the books that I have read about the Lost Generation. I have also enjoyed reading the Hemingway Review and seeing the scholars continue to write about the influence of Hemingway today. I like reading about World War I and II history and about the Spanish Civil War, a very complicated time in Europe.
My Hemingway readings have only led to me travel to Idaho in 2008 for the Ernest Hemingway Festival. This trip was the first trip I had ever taken completely by myself and for myself. I flew to Boise from Dallas and drove across Idaho to get to Hailey and Ketchum. I attended all events that some of the scholars presented and went to every museum the area had to offer. Most of them have a special small section on Hemingway in Idaho. I enjoyed the bookstore in Ketchum, as well as the libraries in Hailey and Ketchum. One small county museum even had a section on Ezra Pound, as he was born there. That museum also had the largest collection of campaign buttons that a collector left for them when he died. I enjoyed the beauty of the Wood River Valley and enjoyed the slower pace of the towns. I walked all over Ketchum and Hailey (they’re not that big). I was suffering from the stomach flu the whole trip but it did not deter me in the least. I moved very slowly the whole time but did not miss much. I would like to go back in the winter sometime and actually stay at Sun Valley Lodge. There seem to be lots of cultural events in Sun Valley.
Someday I want to attend one of the conferences held by the Society. I wanted to go to Switzerland this year but it just would not be a wise financial decision on my part. I really need to visit Piggott, Arkansas, as it is the closest Hemingway location to me. I also would like to travel to Chicago, Michigan, and Florida sometime in the near future, too.
It has taken awhile but I now recognize a lot of the names of the listers and have corresponded with a few off list. You get to know some of their personalities just from reading the posts. They are most helpful when you have questions. I am very glad I joined the listserv.
AB: Some of my friends claim that I find the past much more interesting than the present and that reading about something like Paris in the 20’s is a form of escapism. What do you think? It is true that some of us who become interested in writers like Hemingway become completely immersed in another time and place!
DC: I think reading books, especially fiction, is a form of escapism and I am all for it. One of the first books that I encountered with Hemingway as a fictional character was Masquerade by Walter Satterthwait. His characterization was that Hemingway was an accident-prone, loud-mouthed, ugly American in Paris. I thought it was hilarious (even though I didn’t think it was accurate). The past is done but I like seeing different interpretations of the same events again and again. This book was a mystery reflecting the story of Harry and Caresse Crosby (not using their names but using certain other real characters like Hemingway and Gertrude Stein). And I don’t mind being immersed in the past because a good story is a good story, regardless of the time setting. I recently went to hear David Wroblewski speak and I liked his thoughts on how we can weave whatever story we are reading into our own lives for an extended period of time and how this fictional life can have overlapping elements we relate to our everyday lives.
AB: Besides Zelda, what relationships were the most important ones for FSF personally and professionally? Did Fitzgerald ever write about his relationship with Hemingway?
DC: I would say that Scott’s relationship with Max Perkins (from Scribner’s) and Harold Ober (his agent) were perhaps his most important relationships. Gerald and Sara were probably high on his list of important people as well. The Obers practically raised his daughter Scottie and the Murphys aided him (and others) financially when he needed help. Scottie was a very interesting person and I read Eleanor Lanahan’s book entitled Scottie, The Daughter of . . . : The Life of Frances Scott Fitzgerald Lanahan Smith.
From what I remember, Scott wrote to friends about Hemingway way more than Hemingway wrote about Scott as all the friends from the ‘20s were prolific letter writers, thank goodness. When Ernest was done with someone, he was done. He tired of both Scott and Gerald Murphy and did not communicate with them much after a certain time. There are some books about Hemingway and Fitzgerald’s relationship, but I haven’t read any of those particular ones yet.
AB: Hemingway’s work includes a lot of compelling geography: Pamplona, Paris, Key West, and Cuba. Which is your favorite setting and why?
DC: Paris is my favorite setting because it is the only one of the four that I have actually been to a number of times. I visited Paris before I ever became a Hemingway aficionado so I never did visit any of his favorite haunts deliberately because of him. It has been more than a decade since I was last there and I miss it very much. I would love to look up a lot of the places mentioned in A Moveable Feast. I would like to at least glimpse the outside of Sylvia Beach’s original Shakespeare and Company location and that part of the Left Bank (one of the listers recently posted a picture of the building now). My favorite spot in Paris is on the bridge near Place de la Concorde because you can turn in a circle and see so many famous landmarks from there (La Conciergerie, Musée d’Orsay, National Assembly, Dome des Invalides, Tour Eiffel, US Embassy, La Madeleine, Hôtel de Crillon, Musée de l’Orangerie, Tuilierie Gardens, the Seine). I do think that I would enjoy each of the other settings, especially Key West and Cuba, as I enjoy the ocean.
AB: There is a very funny post of the lost generation discussion board that goes something like this: “You know you’ve read too much Hemingway when . . . .” How would you finish this sentence?
DC: . . . perhaps I say to myself about a situation, “What would Ernest think?”