A Moveable Feast

Ugh. Ernie is getting his own review here just so I have space enough to pan him. I’ve consoled myself while reading this by sipping bits of Dwight Macdonald’s critique of Hem: “a kind of inspired baby talk when he was going good. When he was not going good, it was just baby talk.” Posthumously published in 1964, you have to assume any of the good bits come from the editor. The title comes from a quote Ernie supposedly made to a pal in 1950, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” The stories detail the trials of writing and living in Paris as a poor husband with wife and kid to care for, writing in cafes in the winter because it wasn’t worth the fuel cost to try to get a fire going in his rented work studio. Like the celebrity-obsessed person he was, Ernie collected famous writers and bragged about them in this memoir. Gertrude Stein’s treatment leaves much to be desired, her genius glossed over and “tolerated” by Ern, who sighs mightily as he supposedly helps her get The Making of Americans published in installments and editing her proofs. Stein of course helps him with his writing, but also gets him some good book recommendations too, laughing at him for reading Aldous Huxley and DH Lawrence, suggesting Marie Belloc Lowndes instead (yes, it’s on my list– she’s the sister of Hillaire Belloc!).
Here’s some terrible things he says about GS:
“In the three or four years that we were good friends I cannot remember Gertrude Stein ever speaking well of any writer who had not written favorably about her work or done something to advance her career.” He then accuses her of not considering Sherwood Anderson a writer until he wrote a flop. James Joyce’s name was strictly forbidden. She makes the lost generation comment to Ern after picking it up from her garage attendant, “you are all a génération perdue.” Then Hem writes, “I thought of Miss Stein and Sherwood Anderson and egotism and mental laziness versus discipline and I thought who is calling who a lost generation?” Oh shut up Ernest. In a later chapter, “The way it ended with Gertrude Stein was strange enough…” he goes on to detail a conversation he overheard where supposedly Stein was being berated by Alice, and Stein was pleading and begging, “Don’t.” So he leaves, after having a drink, of course. “In the end everyone made friends again in order not to be stuffy or righteous. I did too. But I could never make friends again truly, neither in my heart nor in my head. When you cannot make friends any more in your head is the worst. But it was more complicated than that.”
He befriends Sylvia Beach of Shakespeare and Co, ravages her bookshelves, goes to horse races, loses and makes money. More celebrities: Ford Madox Ford, Ezra Pound, Jules Pascin, James Joyce, Evan Shipman, Scott Fitzgerald. He likes to shit-talk writers as well, mostly women writers, natch. “I had been told Katherine Mansfield was a good short-story writer, even a great short-story writer, but trying to read her after Chekov was like hearing the carefully artificial tales of a young old-maid compared to those of an articulate and knowing physician who was a good and simple writer.” Oh fuck off Ern. Mansfield could write circles around you, and you were just jealous. Terrible things said about Zelda, nothing surprising. Makes me very glad to have read her wonderful Save Me The Waltz and not have to rely on cardboard cutout descriptions of her via ErnHem.
Good quote from his pal Evan Shipman who was “a very fine poet who truly did not care if his poems were ever published”: “We need more mystery in our lives, Hem. The completely unambitious writer and the really good unpublished poem are the things we lack most at this time. There is, of course, the problem of sustenance.”