“It's all repetition, Hemingway, all repetition, remember that.”
And Hemingway did remember, and knew, when he looked at Stein's impressive collection of Cezannes, and Monets, and Picassos, that he wanted to write the way they had painted and were painting: with a clarity, and a vision, and with all the colours and the smells and the tastes, and, and, well everything.
Gertrude Stein was born in Pennsylvania in 1874 into a progressive, wealthy, and intellectual family of German-Jewish origin. She studied psychology at Radcliffe College and then the anatomy of the brain at John Hopkins. In 1902 she went with her brother Leo - with whom she later fell out - to Paris where she settled into a first floor apartment in the Rue de Fleurus, just off the Luxembourg Gardens.
Her home soon became a literary salon and art gallery, and a centre of the emerging avant-garde. Her lover, the strange bird-like Alice B.Toklas, was born in San Francisco in 1877 and was a thin, beak-nosed woman, whereas Stein was short and very stout. Stein became the great authority on art and literature without actually doing very much, that is until Hemingway encouraged her. In the end she wrote several lasting works, most notably The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933).
Like James Joyce, whom she never met, she was a master of the long unpunctuated sentence, and one of the originators - along with Joyce - of the stream-of-consciousness style of prose writing, of which Joyce's Finnegan's Wake is now the best known, and perhaps least accessible example. Stein is often credited with inventing the phrase: 'The Lost Generation' which, for her, describes best the destructive attitude of the young men who fought in, and survived, the First World War. Hemingway informed her forcibly on more than one occasion that he was not, in any way 'lost'.
But Hemingway soon got bored with Stein (as did Hadley with Toklas) treating him like a naughty, yet promising, but noisy child. Hemingway wanted to be where the action was, to see what made post war France, and post war Europe, tick.
The Paris of 1922 was, for writers like Anatole France and Poincare, a city, “...where the rich and the poor had the same rights to sleep under the bridges of the Seine.” It was a period - not unlike that in America after the Vietnam War - where Hemingway watched a generation 'tossed off base' and uprooted by a war which had gained a peace that was no peace at all. It was the end, and the beginning, of at least two other conflicts.
Young people in the 1920s - as in the 1960s and 1970s - wanted an escape route, which they found in jazz and dancing, in sex, in booze, and in drugs. More young men then women became prostitutes in an age of sexual imbalance due, with Homosexuality and lesbianism seen as something of a fashion. It was a statement of intent - a stuff you gesture - and a public turning of the tables. Gertrude Stein and Alice B.Toklas - who were of a generation who tried to hide their lesbianism behind the tweed exterior of 'companionship' - must have found hard to understand, and even harder to defend. The young - or if you prefer: the prematurely old - may have been a lost generation but they were out there looking for something: even if it was only Hemingway's nada - nothing.
Hemingway knew that Paris had two things in common with Chicago: the best and the worst. As Kurt Singer reminds us “...both cities were cultural, each in its own way, and both were depraved, real and wrestling.”
“What a town” Hemingway wrote Sherwood Anderson as he and Hadley roamed the streets looking for that perfect corner cafe, or that bookshop with that first edition of D.H. Lawrence's The White Peacock. They wandered around the Louvre, wondered at Napoleon's tomb. They met the White Russian aristocrat who was now a doorman at the Cafe de La Paix, and the duke with the dueling scars who drove a broken down old taxi cab. They mingled with the shopkeepers and the whores, with the bartenders and the street cleaners, with the milkmen and their herds of goats, with the bakers and the butchers, who were bitter and unforgiving and hated the Germans with a ferocity that saddened Hemingway beyond imagination. They gave the odd dollar to the legless beggars who were unemployed - unemployable - and could not even sell their bloodstained Croix de Guerre for a cup of coffee.
And then the chance came and Hemingway was asked by the Toronto Star to try and interview the former prime minister of France, Clemenceau: the “...grey-gloved fighting tiger,” of The Great War. And Hemingway did, and the old statesman in a moment of clarity admitted to him that his son had joined the communist party as a youngster, but countered that by saying, “...if you are not a communist at eighteen something is wrong with your heart, but if you are still a communist at forty something is wrong with your head.”
The Canadian newspaper loved the interview and Hemingway was asked to find out more about Mussolini, whose Fascisti were causing a lot of trouble in Rome.
Hemingway travelled to Italy and eventually concluded that Mussolini was not the saviour of the Italian people - although he did eventually get the trains to run on time - but a genuine danger to world peace, and “...a man of bad character.” The following year Hemingway was one of the first to interview El Duce.
When not interviewing old prime ministers, and travelling across Europe, Hemingway wrote about the artist colonies in Paris, and how many writers and painters spent all night drinking at the Cafe Rotonde talking about their art, but doing precious little writing or
painting. He considered them all to be loafers - not in the Whitman sense of a thinker, but in the Hemingway sense of a good for nothing idler - who would talk endlessly about the novel they were going to write, or the great painting that would shake the world with its originality. They were nada - nothing.
Then Hemingway found the American poet Ezra Pound, who was probably Ernest's greatest influence and a man of huge generosity who gladly gave away whatever money came his way to help any writer who was short of a dollar or two. Pound also thought Mussolini was the second coming, and in the end moved to Italy to live to be nearer his god. Hemingway always loved him and forgave him for his misplaced love of the Fascisti. Hemingway knew Pound was America's greatest poet, but he also realised he was the most naive of men. Nada - nothing.
Just after Hemingway published his Mussolini piece the would-be-dictator marched on Rome and became the real dictator, and the following month Kemal Pasha - Attaturk - drove the Greeks out of Asia Minor.
The Toronto Star instructed Hemingway to follow the action, and he did, leaving Hadley behind in Paris. It was a bloody and vicious war and Hemingway described what he saw simply:
“ Minarets stuck up in the rain out of Andrianople across the mud flats. The carts were jammed for thirty miles along the Karagatch road. Water buffalo and cattle were hauling carts through the mud. No end and no beginning. Just carts with everything they owned. The old men and women, soaked through, walking along, keeping the cattle moving. The Maritza river was running yellow almost up to the bridge. It rained all through the evacuation.”
This was writing of a different kind. Never had there been war reporting like this where the writer simply observed and told what he saw. It was a revelation. It was like the new cinema, it was black and white and etched in tragedy. It is what Hemingway saw when his grandfather took him to see D.W. Griffiths' The Birth of a Nation .
What Hemingway was writing was the blue-print of all future war reporting. He was setting a style that is still with us today. He was setting a style that his fellow reporters in France in 1944 were using without knowing it, or acknowledging.
In January 1923 the French occupied the Ruhr valley. Hemingway visited the conferences at Rapallo and Lausanne. He interviewed the new Russian Soviet delegation, and Mussolini who had recently, and neatly, disposed of his opposition by sending them to the Lipari Islands, where he fed them nothing but castor oil until they died.
In 1923 Hemingway had his first book published.
Ten Stories and Three Poems caused a minor storm in a tea cup in Oak Park, and had he been there the residents might very well have lynched him in the park, with his mother pulling on the rope.
The book was the start of his literary career.