Everybody Behaves Badly, Especially Ernest Hemingway!


From L to R: Hemingway, Harold Loeb, Lady Duff Twysden, Hadley Hemingway, Donald Ogden Stewart, Patrick Guthrie

Book number 12 of 2024!

In an earlier post, I shared my thoughts on Ernest Hemingway’s first novel, The Sun Also Rises. I read that book, because I was given Everybody Behaves Badly – Lesley M. M. Blume’s nonfiction account of how that novel was written. Now that I’ve read Blume’s book, I’m really glad I took the time to read Hemingway’s novel first. Everybody Behaves Badly (The title is taken from a line the character Jake Barnes says: “Everybody behaves badly, given a chance.”) is the fascinating story of how Hemingway was driven to be a famous writer from his first days as a reporter.

He was a master of self-promotion, managing to get introduced to all the right people at the right times. After he married Hadley Richardson, who was his biggest cheerleader, they planned to honeymoon in Italy, where he had done some war reporting. However, his writing had impressed the then-popular writer Sherwood Anderson, and he urged them to go to Paris. He even provided Hemingway with letters of introduction to all the “best” artists of Paris’ thriving modernist community.

Thanks to Anderson’s introductions, Hemingway soon ingratiated himself into Gertrude Stein’s salon group. As long as she was useful, he obediently listened to her writing advice. He also got an editorial job at Ford Madox Ford’s literary journal. At this point in his career, besides his journalism, he had only published a slim volume of not-very-good short stories. Yet he managed to get everyone in Paris excited about his work, including F. Scott Fitzgerald.

His friend from the States, Harold Loeb, joined him in Paris, and they became involved in a group of dissolute ex-pats that included Loeb’s mistress, Kitty Cannell, Algonquin Roundtabler Donald Ogden Stewart, Lady Duff Twysden, and Duff’s lover Patrick Guthrie (see picture above). Hemingway was desperately trying to find something that he could write a novel on. He was getting nothing but rejections of his short stories from publishers, and they all wanted him to submit a novel.

Eventually, the Paris group took a trip to see the bullfights in Pamplona, Spain, and after they returned to Paris, Hemingway had his inspiration – he would write up their exploits in novel form. This he did, basically writing up everything they did (but leaving out his wife, Hadley) and changing only the names. He never told his friends that they were thinly-disguised characters in his upcoming novel.

Meanwhile, Hemingway managed to get out of his publishing contract with Boni & Liveright (which Sherwood Anderson had helped him get), and he jumped to Charles Scribner’s. His editor, Maxwell Perkins, believed in Hemingway enough to risk his job to get him signed. At the time, Scribner’s was a fairly staid and conservative publisher, having authors like Edith Wharton and Henry James on their roster. Fitzgerald was their hot young writer, but even he was considered old-school compared to Hemingway’s radically stripped down writing style.

Just before Hemingway submitted his manuscript for The Sun Also Rises, Sherwood Anderson published his latest novel, Dark Laughter. Hemingway was so contemptuous of it that he immediately wrote a parody of it, The Torrents of Spring, which he demanded Scribner’s release before The Sun Also Rises. All of his friends were appalled and urged him to not publish it, because it was so hurtful to the man who had got his career going. (Poor Anderson – he is also lampooned in William Faulkner’s second novel, Mosquitos.)

Scribner’s reluctantly put out Torrents, just so they could get their hands on The Sun Also Rises. Of course, it didn’t sell many copies at all, but Anderson was deeply hurt by it. Years later, he wrote in a letter that, “In the case of Hemmy, there is always the desire to kill.” Anderson would not be the only person Hemingway stabbed in the back on his rise to fame.

Once The Sun Also Rises was released, all of his friends who had encouraged and supported him when he and Hadley were desperately poor in Paris were shocked to see themselves portrayed with such unflattering portraits. Lady Duff was haunted by Hemingway’s portrayal of her as an alcoholic nymphomaniac. After her divorce with her English husband was finalized, she was kept from seeing her son, largely due to how she was characterized in the book. Hemingway’s friendships with Loeb and Stewart never recovered. As Loeb later said, “The book hit me like an uppercut.”

Hemingway’s and Hadley’s marriage also fell apart. He had been having an affair with another American ex-pat, Pauline Pfeiffer. After months of traveling together in an awkward ménage a trois, Hadley finally agreed to a divorce, taking herself and their little son, Bumby, back to the states. Hemingway was free to begin work on his next novel. As Stewart cracked years later, Hemingway seemed to need a new woman to write every new novel.

Blume does an excellent job of fairly and without judgment chronicling the rise of Hemingway from a lowly foreign correspondent to “the voice of the lost generation”. She doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to his selfishness and lack of gratitude. He had no compunction about stabbing his strongest supporters in the back if he didn’t need them any longer. And yet, she also illustrates how dedicated he was to his craft. He never quit working on developing a new and modern style of writing, which endures to this day. He was by no means an admirable person, character-wise, but he was certainly a gifted writer. I suppose he is another case of one having to ignore the personal foibles of the artist to enjoy his or her work.

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There are 11 comments.

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  1. MWD B612 "Dawg" Member
    MWD B612 "Dawg"

    The Sun Also Rises is one of my favorite novels. The sparse writing style jumps off the page each time I read it.

    I’ve not heard of this book, but I’m going to look for it now. Thanks @twert!

    • #1
  2. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator

    Good writeup! Thanks.

    • #2
  3. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey

    A fine article! Did you write this for us, for Ricochet? It would fit right into a literary magazine.

    • #3
  4. Fritz Coolidge

    Nothing titillates like gossip about the ex-pats in Paris between the world wars.  Plus bigger than life figures like Hem, Stein, and the others. Look forward to reading this one, and re-reading The Sun Also Rises, although I think it inferior to For Whom the Bell Tolls

    • #4
  5. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    An intriguing description of Hemingway, Fractad. Thank you.

    • #5
  6. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member

    Fractad: …writer Sherwood Anderson….

    Speaking of people behaving badly….


    • #6
  7. Fractad Coolidge

    Gary McVey (View Comment):

    A fine article! Did you write this for us, for Ricochet? It would fit right into a literary magazine.

    Thanks very much, Gary. I wrote this for my personal blog and then posted it here, because I want to get more involved in the Ricochet community. So far, I’ve really enjoyed the interactions I’ve had here.

    I’m a high school math teacher, and I love reading books of all genres. I’m glad you enjoyed this post!

    • #7
  8. DaveSchmidt Coolidge

    Given this character sketch, I have got to wonder if the Never-Trumpers are Never-Hemingwayers too.  

    • #8
  9. Skyler Coolidge

    Hemmingway was, in many ways, an ass.  After WWI he came home and lied in a big way about what he did overseas and convinced others that he was quite the war hero.

    But I don’t care.  I like his writing, and I don’t feel a need to like him.  Only his very late and his posthumous books are bad.  All the others are incredible.

    • #9
  10. iWe Coolidge

    I never understood the attraction of his work.

    • #10
  11. Fractad Coolidge

    iWe (View Comment):

    I never understood the attraction of his work.

    He’s not my favorite writer, by any stretch, but he did have an enormous influence on American literature. I’m certainly no scholar of literature, but I think until Hemingway came along, Henry James was the model of a good novelist. I managed to get through James’ “The Turn of the Screw”, and that was enough to last me a lifetime!

    • #11
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