"Wasn’t I A Knockout?"
It’s been a busy couple of weeks for me and I look forward to the hour I can sit down each evening and do nothing but listen to Hadley and her friend Alice Hunt Sokoloff talk about Hadley’s life. I am really starting to love Alice for the questions she asks and the way she supports and guides Hadley through her own history. Alice’s voice is melodic and reassuring, her inflection is just right as she asks Hadley a question, leaving Hadley a lot of room to express herself. For instance, when Alice asks, Did you like the Pounds? her question is so gentle and sincere that Hadley answers it with complete openness. Part of the charm of these tapes is also the informality; there are interruptions and sometimes voices in the background, once in a while Hadley sneezes, I think I hear wind chimes in the background and often, the two women stop and wonder if the tape recorder is working.
The friendship between these two women is really emerging as I progress through the tapes. Hadley often looks back at herself with dismay, seeing herself disparagingly when she was young. Alice always counters this point of view, presenting Hadley with the facts about how much Ernest loved her, how many remarkable things she did in her life, how well things turned out for her. Alice’s concern for Hadley is part of what makes her such an excellent interviewer. When Hadley discounts her own abilities compared to those around her, Alice says “you have a great talent for living and that’s the most important talent of all.”
Tape five begins with Alice asking about Hadley’s reaction to “A Moveable Feast’, which Alice calls, “a true cry from the heart” from Ernest. The conversation is prompted by a photograph Hadley is looking at that was taken of Ernest after he had made a stop in Paris (to see Pauline) “He suffered a great deal from his conscience” says Hadley. “It could have been written to ease his mind.” “I appreciated it very much” Hadley says, but “I think I was played up unnecessarily” (in The Moveable Feast). Oh, no, no Alice says, EH was a very critical person, but towards you he felt “tremendous nostalgia and tenderness.” “He felt deeply sorry for me, deeply guilty.” says Hadley, “He knew that I wasn’t a very (husky?) person and things were hard for me.”
On the next tape, Hadley briefly comments on Pauline saying that she was “quite a lot of fun” and made a “good practical wife” for Ernest. She mentions that Paul has advised her not to share certain things. They talk about the Miro painting that Ernest gave Hadley for her birthday and Hadley good naturedly comments that every wife thought it was hers. “Mary thinks it’s hers” Hadley adds. (At the time of the interview, 1972, Mary was still alive and probably did have the painting). They speak of Hadley’s childhood for awhile and Hadley’s mother’s interest in automatic writing in the years before she met Ernest. Did Hadley try it? asks Alice. Yes, Hadley replies, “it surmised great things for me” she says. Indeed!
Alice asks what it was like when her family met Ernest for the first time. “He was a gorgeous young man” Hadley quips, “Great refreshment!” although her family did not approve of him. Alice tells Hadley that she has been reading the letters written back and forth during their courtship. Alice describes the letters between Ernest and Hadley as having “tremendous tempo, verve and color”. (See what I mean about their vocabularies?) Alice describes this period in Hadley’s life as a great shift. Hadley was beginning to blossom in Saint Louis after her mother died and suddenly she was married to Ernest and transported to Paris. Alice points out to Hadley that she had an “amazing explosion into life” at that time. Hadley considers this and adds, “without preempt. I was ready to go. I was a very excited young woman. I discovered that I was alive.”
They talk about Hadley’s first impressions in Paris just a few weeks before Christmas in 1921. Although we think about the café life and leisure time of the artists and writers in Paris then, Hadley remembers how desperately poor many French people were at the time. Hadley describes one of the main streets in Paris as a “fascinating, poverty stricken, crowded street” and she remembers seeing men bent over with sacks of coal. Hadley expresses disappointment at her timidity during those first weeks in Paris. Ernest left her alone every day while he went exploring and she was not brave enough to walk around by herself. She was homesick but Ernest was not – “I don’t think he was homesick anywhere.” she observes. They were poor, Hadley says, “but we could always afford to drink!” When asked about Ernest’s writing during that time, Hadley says “I agree with Carlos (Baker) that I was a good influence on his writing.” Both women thought Hemingway’s writing was better then, “during my administration” Hadley jokes.
Later in the tape, Alice brings up the train ride to Lausanne in 1922, when the manuscripts Hadley was carrying were lost. Hadley begins the story but speaks much more slowly, all of her usual effervescence gone. There are long pauses in the conversation as she describes what a long night it was for her on the train as she traveled towards Ernest, knowing that she had to tell him “such a thing”. “He was brave about it but his heart was broken, just broken.” says Hadley. There is a long silence after this and Alice changes the subject to Bumby.
Alice asks about Hadley’s pregnancy, remarking how active she was. During those months, she and Ernest skied together, played tennis, and still traveled, staying in the town of Rapallo for a month. With Ezra and Dorothy Pound they took a walking trip through the hill towns of Italy eating bread, wine and figs along the way. Hadley felt good during her pregnancy, “I was just exuberant and realized what I’d been born for” she says. Hadley enjoys this turn in the conversation as Alice recounts some of the adventures she had while carrying her first child. Hadley seems to regain her usual buoyancy and chirps, “Wasn’t I a knockout?”
As they go on, Hadley says that Ezra knew everything about those hills towns in Italy and was a great person to travel with. But, Hadley says, “He had funny ideas about women’s brains.” She also says of Ezra, “naturally he was after the big bug in our family, big bug meaning Ernest.” Alice remarks that Hadley really brought out the tenderness in Ernest and that the picture of Ernest during those years is different than the general picture of him. Alice says, “He gave you the key to the world” Hadley agrees, “I have also had great enjoyment looking (back) from a distance . . . a lot is gained by the distance.”
Let’s have sherry suggests Hadley, and the tape recorder clicks off. It is not difficult to imagine these two women enjoying their sherry on a winter afternoon in New Hampshire as they remember moments of wonder and pain from fifty years earlier. How grateful I am that Hadley had a friend named Alice who not only wanted to hear Hadley’s stories that winter, but thought to preserve them too.