Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Everybody Behaves Badly - Lesley M.M. Blume

Everybody Behaves Badly is about Ernest Hemingway's path to make a name for himself as a writer, and how he turned one of his excursions to Pamplona into the basis for The Sun Also Rises, which was his first novel (depending on whether you count his poor attempt at satire/hatchet job, The Torrents of Spring).

As you might guess, most of his acquaintances who were on the trip, and ended up "starring" in the book, weren't all that happy with it. Though Hemingway trashes just about everyone over the course of this time period. Whether a staunch ally or a critic, or a cheerleader for his work when nobody had ever heard of him, he will tear them down in an instant. It's that form of ego where he proceeds as if there's only so much praise in the world, and so every bit that goes to someone else lessens what can someday be lavished upon him. And he can't abide that.

Which isn't anything terribly new; I've read enough other books on him to know about his vicious, petty streak. Though I'd forgotten just how entirely indiscriminate it can be. I think maybe Hadley, his first wife, is the only one he doesn't entirely disparage at some point, and of course, he ultimately cheated on her and then they divorced (though he signed over all royalties from The Sun Also Rises to her, which surprised me).

The book provided some stories and insights I either never knew, or had forgotten. I had always thought Robert Cohn, the fellow who moons hopelessly over Lady Brett, and was just getting out of an unhappy relationship with a party lady who wanted to destroy his writing, was based on F. Scott Fitzgerald. Apparently Cohn was based on Harold Loeb, who had been a staunch supporter and believer in Hemingway's talent, but committed the grave mistake of coming from money and I guess being Jewish. Also possibly for mooning over Lady Duff Twysden, who Hemingway was also interested in (and who wound up being the inspiration for Lady Brett). Looking back, I was basing too much of my guess that it was Fitzgerald on Hemingway's unflattering description of "Frances", who I figured was meant to be Zelda Fitzgerald.

Silly me, thinking Hemingway could only despise one woman at a time.

As the title says, everybody behaves badly, so there are plenty of amusing anecdotes. Hemingway's seemingly unerring ability to recognize people who could further his goals, and his even more surprising ability to avoid alienating them before they could help him. And of course, lots of people being drunk idiots. I enjoy the parts about him struggling with his writing, trying to sort out his style, figure out what he wanted to write about and really get it going. How he learned from Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, Sherwood Anderson, adopted some of their suggestions, but bent them to what he wanted to do. He has some of Stein's repetition, for example, but in his own style.

'There must have been moments during this period, however, when both of the Hemingways began to see themselves through the eyes of their rich new friends. It is difficult to imagine that the veneer of bohemian romanticism never once dissolved and revealed instead a scene of cramped, dreary struggle.'


SallyP said...

his sounds pretty intriguing.

CalvinPitt said...

It definitely has its moments. Lots of backstabbing and gossiping, people getting drunk and rowdy.