Ernest Hemingway is a literary legend, but unlike many literary legends, he gained that status while he was still alive. In fact, many already had him pegged as one of the world’s next great writers right at the very beginning of his career when he introduced his first novel, The Sun Also Rises.
My guest today has published a detailed account of how Hemingway created his first novel and in the process, created the now-iconic Hemingway Persona — a virile, adventurous, laconic wordsmith. Her name is Lesley Blume and her book is Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises. Today on the show, Lesley and I discuss Hemingway’s drive to revolutionize literature, the authenticity of his manly persona, and the real life party in Spain that inspired his classic debut novel.
- What prompted Lesley to write the back story of The Sun Also Rises [02:30]
- How Hemingway became a literary legend while he was still alive [04:00]
- How Hemingway was able to get a tremendous amount of respect from the literary world before he published The Sun Also Rises [06:00]
- Why it took Hemingway so long to publish his first novel [07:00]
- How Hemingway fundamentally changed English literature [08:30]
- Hemingway’s “high-brow/low-brow” approach to writing [10:00]
- The week in Pamplona, Spain that inspired The Sun Also Rises and the real-life people that inspired the book’s characters [13:00]
- How F. Scott Fitzgerald helped get The Sun Also Rises published [16:00]
- Was the Hemingway manly persona authentic? [20:00]
- And much more!
Resources/Studies/People Mentioned in Podcast
- My podcast interview with Maureen Corrigan about The Great Gatsby
- Commonplace books
- Running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain
- Ernest Hemingway Motivational Posters
- My podcast with Silvio Calabi about the guns of Ernest Hemingway
- Hemingway App
- Gertrude Stein
- Ezra Pound
If you’re a Hemingway fan, Everybody Behaves Badly is a must-read book. Not only will you get insights into how The Sun Also Rises came to be, you’ll see firsthand how the Hemingway legend was created. Even if you’re not a Hemingway fan, the book offers a compelling and enlightening look into the lives and ethos of the “Lost Generation.”
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. Well, Ernest Hemingway is a literary legend, but unlike many literary legends, he gained that status while he was still alive. In fact, many already pegged him as one of the world’s next great writers right at the very beginning of his career when he introduced his first novel, The Sun Also Rises.
My guest today has published a detailed account of how Hemingway created his first novel, and in the process, created the now-iconic Hemingway persona: a virile, adventurous, laconic wordsmith. Her name is Lesley Blume and her books is, Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises. Today on the show, Lesley and I discuss Hemingway’s drive to revolutionize literature, the authenticity of his manly persona, and the real-life party in Spain that inspired his classic debut novel. After you’re done listening to the show, make sure to check out the show notes at aom.is/Blume. Lesley Blume, welcome to the show.
Blume: Thank you very much. Happy to be here.
Brett McKay: Your latest book is Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises. Your a journalist for Vanity Fair. I’m curious what piqued your interest in finding the back story about Hemingway’s first book, The Sun Also Rises.
Blume: I had actually been researching another story and I came across a picture of Hemingway sitting around a café table in Pamplona in 1925 with a wonderfully-naughty group of people. One person in the picture besides Hemingway intrigued me in particular and it was this sort of lithe, glamorous, coquettish woman sitting next to him. I didn’t know who she was and I wanted to know more. I looked into and it turned out her name was Lady Duff Twysden and she was the real-life inspiration behind Hemingway’s character, Lady Brett Ashley, who for me, growing up and reading that book, was the epitome of glamour. Dissipated glamour and anguish, of course, but still totally enthralling.
I hadn’t realized The Sun Also Rises was largely drawn from real life. There’s been a lot of scholarship on that period, but nobody has ever really written a really compelling, stylish, stand-alone story detailing the real-life events that inspired the book and how it came about and how it launched Hemingway as Hemingway. Originally, it started out as an idea for a Vanity Fair article and then I quickly realized that it was way too substantial a topic to cover in 5,000 words and so I turned it into a book. I wrote the book that I had been looking for and hadn’t been written before.
Brett McKay: That’s fantastic. The story is not only about the creation of The Sun Also Rises, but it’s also about the creation of Hemingway himself. He’s gained the status of literary legend, but unlike a lot of other literary giants, he was able to do that while he was still living. How was he able to do that? Was that a goal he probably had written down somewhere in a commonplace book? Like, “I want to be the greatest novelist ever”.
Blume: Actually, the person who said that was Fitzgerald.
Brett McKay: That’s right.
Blume: These guys were pretty bald about their ambitions. I use, or reference a lot of language in my book that Hemingway never would have used in his day, or nobody would have in terms of launching a Hemingway brand along with launching the book itself, The Sun Also Rises. In a way, that’s really what he was doing at this time. I don’t think Hemingway ever really had in his mind that he wanted to become a lifestyle icon, but did he want to become the foremost writer of his generation with a revolutionary new style? Yes. Absolutely.
He, as an author, just proved incredibly fascinating to his readers. The PR and marketing team who rolled out The Sun Also Rises in 1926 realized that Hemingway was a huge asset as a persona behind the writing. They put out a lot of stories about him also. For instance, in some of the advertising for the book, The Sun Also Rises, there wasn’t a picture of the book cover. It was a picture of Hemingway. He was very different from the idea that most people then had about a writer should be. Writers were bespectacled. They were dusty. They were Proust-y. Here’s Hemingway. He comes from the outdoors. He’s fascinated with bull fighting. He’s a boxer. He was brainy, but brawny, and it proved then to be a fascinating persona and remained to this day a fascinating and very lucrative persona.
Brett McKay: Yeah. I thought it was curious, too, that even before he published his novel, it took him a long time. You talk about how writing his first novel, it took a couple of years. Somehow Hemingway was able to get some respect in that avant-garde literary circle he was hanging out with in Paris and even some of the publishers. How was he able to do that without even producing a novel?
Blume: He’s not just getting respect, he’s getting insane amounts of highly-devoted support from some of the most established figures in the avant-garde movement in Paris. He was a renowned journalist at the time and he was in short stories and vignettes and sort of thing. Really showing off what he wanted to do stylistically. You could see what he was up to. A lot of people were just wishing his first novel into place, especially publishers because people knew short stories, they were a decent business, but the holy grail was still the highly-lucrative novel and people couldn’t wait for him to write one.
He did have a couple of false starts. One of his starter novels was lost in a careless accident by the hands of his wife. He thought of one and then never really pursued it and then another one really didn’t make it past the 30th page or whatever. Everybody is just sitting there tapping their fingers and waiting for him to put this wonderful and beguiling style into something a mass readership would actually read.
I talked to a lot of people about why a lot of people were trying to make breakthroughs stylistically at that time. Why did Hemingway get so much attention? One person who knew him well said, “Look, it wasn’t just the writing itself. They took him in combination with the writing.” Again, the persona proved compelling to publishers and editors as well. He never would have used this phrase or they never would have, but a modern phrase would be I think they detected he had a platform and he had a particular charisma that would really push out the work.
Brett McKay: For our listeners who aren’t familiar, what did Hemingway do? How did he change literature and who were some of the folks who were influencing his style?
Blume: Hemingway was not generous when it came to admitting influences on his style, though sometimes he would say the Bible, or sometimes he would admit that his journalistic background had helped him really shape the style. What he was doing, after World War I, there was a decent-size school of writers, especially concentrated in Paris at the time, American writers who were trying to simplify the English language. Whartonian and Jamesion English was very long-winded, long sentences, lavish adjectives. This is certainly not what they felt what modern language looked like.
Hemingway arrives in Paris in 1921 and he already knows that he wants to simplify everything. There are other people on the scene already who are trying to do what he’s doing and they’re really studying language. Gertrude Stein had been doing it since before World War I; Ezra Pound, the poet. They take Hemingway under their respective wings and they each teach him very important things about their own writing. With Gertrude Stein, it’s about creating a certain rhythm. With Ezra Pound, it’s about musicality for the most part, creating imagery in one’s word without using adjectives or being showy.
The thing is, these guys, they’re not selling a lot of their works. Everybody knows who they are, but they’re not commercially-successful writers. Gertrude Stein reportedly sold 73 copies of one of her books in the first 18 months. That’s even friends and family, you know?
Hemingway, on the other hand, he sees what they’re doing with their style and he knows that he can make it commercially viable as well as revolutionary in the critical sense. He famously told one of his American publishers, an early publisher, he said, “Look, there’s nothing in my writing that somebody who doesn’t have a high-school education can’t relate to.” He gets to everyone, but he said that high-brow critics are going to see what he’s doing in terms of really simplifying and the repetition, that sort of thing. They’re going to see the artistry in it. Then he says for people who are not responding to either of those things, he said, “In my book, The Sun Also Rises, there’s a lot of dope about high society in it and that’s always interesting.” He’s lighted upon a formula that there’s something for everybody. For that to actually work, you know what they say. They say if you try to please everybody, you’ll please nobody, but he was the exception to the rule. He pleased everyone.
Brett McKay: Let’s talk about the trip to Spain, the fateful trip to Spain, that inspired The Sun Also Rises. Who was there and what roles did they eventually play in the novel?
Blume: Hemingway had been going to Spain to the bullfighting festival in Pamplona, which happens every July. He’d been going for a couple of years before he took a trip in 1925 with a handful of his comrades from expatriate Paris, including: Lady Duff Twysden, who was a lowish British aristocrat, who was in Paris waiting out a divorce; Donald Ogden Stewart, who was a famous humor writer and part of the Algonquin Round Circle from New York, later Oscar nominated for The Philadelphia Story; Pat Guthrie, who was Lady Duff Twysden’s lover and sort of a very drunken, Scottish remittance man; Harold Loeb, who was an heir to two of the most prominent Jewish fortunes in New York City; and Hemingway’s wife, Hadley.
Hadley ends up being the only one who doesn’t make it into The Sun Also Rises as a character. All of these other people are immediately translated, in many cases, under their own names in Hemingway’s first draft. What he does is he takes the extreme naughtinesses that went down in Pamplona and he basically, literally translates the goings on of that festival, which was everything from sexual rivalry to near fist fights to the bullfighting gore. He puts it on paper and that is the backbone for his story for The Sun Also Rises. These people become immortalized by his pen.
Brett McKay: Yeah, and that’s one of the things that the some of the critics levied against Hemingway, that he wasn’t really writing fiction. He was just being a news reporter.
Blume: Well, I think it was less critics than people who had actually been used as characters. Donald Ogden Stewart gets a copy of the book and by this time he’s in Hollywood when the novel actually gets released and he says, “I can’t believe that he’s peddling this as fiction.” He says, “This is nothing but a report on what happens.” Albeit, by that point, everyone was under a pseudonym, but it was really well-known in the Paris colony and in New York and definitely in editor circles that this was a roman à clef.
There were a few critics who really knew Hemingway and they knew that he was a really good reporter and they slyly pointed out that this had been drawn very literally from real life and a few of them did take issue with that, in terms of could it be considered a work of high artistry. For the most part, critics really didn’t care because it was all about the style in which it had been rendered and they knew that they were seeing something new, they knew they were seeing something revolutionary, and they were seeing something masterful, and so that’s what they looked at.
Brett McKay: Can you talk a little bit about Hemingway’s relationship with F. Scott Fitzgerald and the role he played in getting this novel published?
Blume: Well, Fitzgerald is a huge figure in this narrative. When Hemingway is first trying to break through, Fitzgerald is already a superstar. Novelists back in these days, successful novelists, were huge cultural icons. Fitzgerald has made his breakthrough in 1920 with Tender is the Night and just went from strength to strength after that. When Hemingway meets him, he’s riding on the strength of Gatsby. Fitzgerald has had films made out of his books and Hemingway is just the young upstart. He’s told people that he doesn’t really love Fitzgerald’s style, but Fitzgerald takes an interest in him and when a huge, iconic writer who has the best connections on the planet takes an interest in you, whether you like their writing or not, you usually say yes to their patronage.
Fitzgerald told his own editor, Maxwell Perkins, who is at a very prestigious publishing house, Scribner’s in New York, about Hemingway, and then later helps Hemingway maneuver into the publishing house, then they’re both under the same editor. When Hemingway gives Perkins the manuscript for The Sun Also Rises, Max Perkins barely touches it. It’s a very light editing, but Fitzgerald on the other hand, shrewdly goes to town on the manuscript and he gives Hemingway advice. “You have to cut this. You have to do this. This seems really juvenile.” He sees that the book has potential to be a huge book, a classic book, but he is helping Hemingway take all the things out of it that keep it in that JV class.
Hemingway takes his advice and makes a lot of these changes. He doesn’t credit Fitzgerald with the changes and Fitzgerald elegantly keeps quiet on it, too, until years later, but Fitzgerald really helped Hemingway translate The Sun Also Rises from just a bitchy roman à clef into a powerful work of literature.
Brett McKay: Yeah, the common thing I saw with Hemingway and his relations with others, it seems like he was very utilitarian with people. He kind of used them and then didn’t really give a lot back.
Blume: He must have given something back and that was difficult as a biographer to figure out what would ignite such devotion in people when Hemingway was really, quite early, started to get a reputation for biting the hand. I still don’t think that I have ever heard it adequately described what was at the root of Hemingway’s particular charisma, but people loved him. They really loved him.
Fitzgerald loved him until he died even though Hemingway made little jabs at him in the press and there were tensions between them, but Fitzgerald had a generosity of spirit when it came to Hemingway. He really loved what Hemingway had done for writing and he even felt himself Hemingway’s inferior. Other mentors whom Hemingway had been less generous with such as Gertrude Stein or Sherwood Anderson, these are all people who helped Hemingway significantly in his early years and either were satirized by Hemingway or just treated quite badly. Those friendships never recovered and you can understand why.
Part of me just thinks it’s how Hemingway was wired and then part of me thinks that very few people can forgive their patrons. I guess in a way I think there’s gratitude, but there’s also kind of a resentment because you feel beholden to somebody who has helped you. In many ways, these people were competitors, also. Gertrude Stein had been trying to do a version of what Hemingway accomplished in a very short and she had been trying for decades to do it. They were complicated relationships, to say the least, and I think Hemingway doesn’t necessarily act admirably in all of them, but he’s treated magnanimously by the people who he did show up.
Brett McKay: As I was reading the book, I feel like authenticity was an important idea for Hemingway and these other lost-generation artists. Hemingway was always calling out people for being phonies, but did Hemingway walk the walk when it came to authenticity or did he backslide? Was he actually walking the walk?
Blume: I think it’s a complicated question. I think he did have smaller hypocrisies. No, I think that he did have hypocrisies across the board, but I think Hemingway, on the whole, in terms of the Hemingway persona for instance of manliness, outdoorsy-ness, I don’t think that was affected. I think it just genuinely was who he was. Obviously, I had to look further back at his early influences. This is somebody who really was raised outdoors, somebody who would sleep for days in a tent. He was always doing physical work. He really was a very physical, manly, brawny person, and like many men of his generation, he had signed up to be a witness to World War I. He had defective eyesight, so he couldn’t participate as a soldier, but he went and he drove ambulances, which is what a few people did when they couldn’t actually get drafted. I think in that respect, his persona was completely authentic.
I think that where there are certain hypocrisies, for instance, when he first gets to Paris, he is writing up the café scene and the cafés were the nerve centers, ex-pat cafés were nerve centers for the colony there. Of course, there was a lot of posturing and pretension there and he calls it like he sees it. He has not charitable words about the people who frequent these places, but at the same time, he, too, frequents these places.
There’s that and I think also much is made over the romanticness of his relationship with his first wife, Hadley, who was supporting the couple with a modest trust fund that she had inherited. He made quite a big deal later in life about the simple pleasures of that time. Yes, it had been a really difficult time and especially hard on Hadley because they were really poor, he wasn’t making money from his writing yet, and they were making significant sacrifices, but then he in turn marries an heiress who is a Vogue editor. He does embrace some of the things that he heavily criticizes. I would say how few people are entirely without hypocrisy. I think on the whole I found him to be quite an authentic figure.
Brett McKay: Last question, Lesley. Hemingway’s a light rod of a figure; either you love him or you find him utterly repugnant. After researching and writing about the genesis of Hemingway’s first novel, on his career, his persona, how do you feel about Hemingway?
Blume: There are things that bother me about him. Obviously, I think that if I had known him in person, I would have been really scared of him because he was just such a huge presence and a volatile presence. I think that people who are very patently charismatic are kind of scary to me, but I miss spending time in his world and I miss certain things about him. I think a lot of people, when I was writing the book, assumed that I was going to be writing this from a proto-feminist type where it would be a take-down of Hemingway. Actually, there are a lot of things about him that really inspired me. I’m a journalist like he was a journalist. His appetite for life and his refusal to be self-sacrificial, these are all things, they’re values that aren’t really offered up to women or women are not really expected to embrace them and I really do. I loved his example in certain respects.
At the end of the day, there was a lot of bad behavior, as my title indicates, but Hemingway, it’s not like he was working for the forces of evil, for God’s sake. He’s not doing sub-prime mortgages or whatever. He’s trying to reinvent literature. He is showing very candid and beautiful studies of human nature. I love that that’s what he devoted his life to. I’m sure that there’s a lot about him that repels other people, but I’m really not among them. Now that the writing of this is done, I miss being in his presence.
Brett McKay: Lesley, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about your book?
Blume: You can go to my website, which is lesleymmBlume.com or you can just go to Amazon and look up my book, Everybody Behaves Badly.
Brett McKay: Okay, Lesley Blume, thanks so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Blume: Thank you so much.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Lesley Blume. She’s the author of the book, Everybody Behaves Badly. It’s available on Amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. Also, check out her website lesleymmBlume.com to follow her other works. Also, make sure to check out the show notes at aom.is/Blume.
Well, that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com. If you enjoy the show, I’d appreciate it if you give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher. Help spread the word about the show. As always, I appreciate your continued support and until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.