When Papa Was Tatie

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Unlike the glum testaments and boring memorabilia most men bequeath to the world, Ernest Hemingway left behind an invitation to laugh with him amid the scenes of his youth, where he was happier than he ever would be again. Almost, it seems like a last-minute appeal from a man who suddenly felt himself trapped in his own latter-day legend as "Papa."

These 20 well-tooled tales are of "how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy," when "we" meant a part-time correspondent for a Canadian newspaper and his redheaded wife Hadley. They were "Tatie and Binney" to each other and nothing to anybody else except a handful of fellow writers who shared the 25-year-old Midwesterner's tough belief in his own talent. He had sold a few short stories for marks in Germany and peanuts in the little magazines like translatlantic review. Gertrude Stein had told him he was not yet good enough for the Saturday Evening Post, and he was trying to beat the horses at Auteuil and Enghien to stake a trip to Pamplona to see the bullfights.

Nifty Thoughts
Paris may have been the capital of genius-in-exile, but Hemingway's feet were firmly planted on the pav. When he remembers looking in at James Joyce dining en famille in Michaud's on the corner of the Rue Jacob, he remembers also that he envied neither Joyce's genius nor his fame, but the tournedos the "Celtic crew" could afford to eat and he and Binney usually could not. On the one occasion they treated themselves to a Michaud dinner after a pony came home for him, the meal did not sit well. In a wistful, almost clumsy way, he tells how he was plagued by dark night thoughts. "Life had seemed so simple that morning when I had wakened and found the false spring and heard the pipes of the plan with his herd of goats and gone out and bought the racing paper. But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty nor sudden money, nor the moonlight nor right nor wrong nor the breathing of someone who lay beside you in the moonlight."

Strange Talk
The reader may notice a peculiar thing about the way people talk in Hemingway's book--like Hemingway characters, in fact. Some characters--in or out of fiction--did learn to talk this way, but that was later. Yet here they are in the early 1920s, before A Farewell to Arms was ever written, talking like Lieut. Henry. Hemingway, of course, knows what he is doing, and it shows in the fact that he does not try to work the old conversational trick on those well-enough known to have a recognizable style of their own. Ezra Pound, for instance, who appears in the book as a tennis and boxing partner, gets to say very little. Neither James Joyce nor Wyndham Lewis gets to say anything at all.

Gertrude Stein is something else again. Indeed, A Moveable Feast should settle for all time the question of whether Hemingway learned his style under the tutelage of that strange lady. Hemingway was a generous man, and if a debt of this kind existed, he would have acknowledged it. He does not, and is at some pains to make clear that her experiments in written speech--simple rhythms, using repetition and echo for subtle psychological effects--ran parallel with his own. Hemingway's sketch of her is a masterpiece of controlled malice in which she appears as a monster of obtuse egotism presiding over her manless menage as over a shrine dedicated to herself, served by Miss Alice B. Toklas and dominated by Pablo Picasso's portrait of herself.

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