"I’m Strong Now"
Many of us admire A Moveable Feast because of the beautifully remembered love story of Ernest and Hadley. Others enjoy it as a travel book, or as a glimpse into an enchanting time in Paris. As I’ve listened to the Hadley Tapes lately, it has occurred to me that A Moveable Feast is also a tragedy, and perhaps that is why Hemingway wrote it – to come to grips with his own actions as a young man.
In her interivews, Alice often asks Hadley about her response to A Moveable Feast and why she thinks Hemingway was motivated to write it. “It could have been written to ease his mind” Hadley proposes, knowing that Ernest “suffered a great deal from his conscience.” While the end of her marriage was certainly heartbreaking to Hadley, it seems to be that it had deeper consequences for Ernest. Young and ambitious, Ernest’s betrayal of Hadley was perhaps a reflection of his deeper betrayal of his own values at the time, and one senses that Hadley knew this. There are a few points in the conversation when Alice reads from the book, and when she reads the passages Hemingway wrote about “the rich” Hadley interjects, “It had nothing to do with the rich”.
As I have noted in a previous post, the conversation between Hadley and Alice really rambles. One of the interesting results of the conversation skipping around as much as it does (and Alice has great patience with this) is the way the highs and lows of their marriage are unintentionally juxtaposed, creating a picture of years that must have been lived with intensity. In one passage, Hadley is laughing about Ernest and just a few moments later in the conversation, she is remembering her worst moments at the end of her marriage. The travel stories Hadley shares also add to the hodgepodge. This is evident in Alice’s sometimes humorous effort to clarify places and locations of events, trying to pinpoint a timeline of their travels, something she mentions that Carlos Baker also struggled with.
Hearing the conversation this way, without chronological order, and hearing Hadley express gratitude and loyalty decades after these events, make it clear why Ernest would write such a beautiful book as an older man reflecting on his life. He had so much to think about and write about from those years with Hadley. He certainly had a true friend to experience them with.
I recently looked up the definition of “Tragedy” to be sure I knew what it meant. Consider this quote from an online article called “Tragedy: The Basics”: (Don’t you love that title?)
“Tragedy depicts the downfall of a noble hero or heroine, usually through some combination of hubris, fate, and the will of the gods. The tragic hero’s powerful wish to achieve some goal inevitably encounters limits, usually those of human frailty (flaws in reason, hubris, society), the gods (through oracles, prophets, fate), or nature. Aristotle says that the tragic hero should have a flaw and/or make some mistake (hamartia). The hero need not die at the end, but he / she must undergo a change in fortune. In addition, the tragic hero may achieve some revelation or recognition (anagnorisis–”knowing again” or “knowing back” or “knowing throughout” ) about human fate, destiny, and the will of the gods. Aristotle quite nicely terms this sort of recognition “a change from ignorance to awareness of a bond of love or hate.”
- – - – Now, to the tapes:
When I listened to Hadley and Alice this evening, they are talking about “That horrible summer”, meaning the summer of 1926 in the south of France. Hadley was caring for a sick child and her marriage was crumbling before her eyes. Hadley acknowledges that she was in a group of people that supported Ernest leaving his wife and child and her summer was miserable. Alice asks about all the witty remarks Hadley professed to have made at the time. Although she can’t remember what some of them were, Hadley remembered that Pauline and Ernest did not find them funny. “I couldn’t get them to laugh and I thought I was just brilliant.” The comments “just rolled off my tongue – and there were two somber faces …. I guess there was a rather bitter tinge to some of the jokes” Hadley says lightly. “Delicious” says Alice, well aware of Hadley’s humor. Physically, the summer left Hadley in great shape. Ernest, Hadley and Pauline rode bicycles all over the cape, “I came back from that awful summer absolutely in bloom.”
A bit later in the conversation, Alice brings up Hadley’s lack of confidence. “You are so overly modest’ Alice says, “I think it’s a form of egotism” Hadley replies. Compared to Ernest, Hadley says, “I was sort of in competition with a priceless person… not only for his talent but his looks were marvelous.” “Ernest sort of knocked people over – rightfully so.” Hadley says, “His potential was right out in the open. He was the leader in any group.” At this point in the conversation, an old fashioned phone rings, probably a wall phone, which sounds more like a buzzer at a basketball game! Someone talks on the phone for a very long time, making the rest of the conversation difficult to hear.
Alice asks, “Before the troubles started with Pauline, did you enjoy her?” The only sentences I can distinguish are these: When asked if she was suspicious of Ernest and Pauline Hadley says no, “I got stupider than I was.” No, says Alice, “But I think you’re very quick” “Not with Pauline.” Hadley continues, “I objected, I faced Ernest” and he suggested going on the way things were. ”I just didn’t have the strength to bear it. I could bear it better not having anything to do with it.”
Alice suggests that maybe “it was the best thing that ever happened to you.” Hadley replies, “That’s what Paul said, not that he was an uninterested party.” And later she says, “I’m strong now. I’ve had a lot of people tell me, but they don’t have to tell me. I know that I am very strong in standing the thing I have to stand”, Hadley says, and then she adds: “I would never find another person like that. There isn’t another person like that.”