When We Were Young, Poor, and Happy

After much consideration, I am breaking up with Ernest Hemingway.  I know that this might come as a surprise to some, as I love his writing so much, but a mediocre book not written by him has caused me to consider my affection.  The mediocre book is the fictional The Paris Wife, based on his 1st wife Hadley Hemingway.  The book presumes to be written from the point of view of Hadley throughout the course of her life, but most of its pages are dedicated to recounting the Paris years.  Of course, these are the years that overlap with Hemingway’s own beautiful memoir, A Moveable Feast, which at a particular time in my life I presumed to be very romantic and idealistic (I was about the same age as Hemingway was during the years that he lived in Paris, so that could have had something to do with it).  But now that I am as old as Hadley was then, and at this point, the same age as Hadley was when she was cast off by Hemingway, I am starting to have problems with him. 

Also, what I now have realized is that there absolutely would have been no place for me in the idealistic vision that I held of Paris in the 1920s.  These women that Hemingway loved and admired that became his characters in his writing of the time are not exactly positive images of women.  They are vapid, shallow, and incredibly slender.  I know a lot of women still romanticize this period and presume themselves to be at home in the world of the Lost Generation, but I am now realizing that it is an incredibly immature view of things.  I could go on and on about this, but let’s consider for a moment Woody Allen’s new film “Midnight in Paris.” I think in that movie Owen Wilson’s character has some magical transportation to the world of 1920s Paris, which is where he always has wanted to be (I haven’t seen it yet).  A man dreaming about 1920s Paris makes more sense. You can be an artist and have all of the flapper chicks that you could want!  So, I am thinking that this film will probably annoy me very much.  Still, I probably will see it, though, just because it is a Woody Allen movie that will remind me of some former version of myself, like the person that I was when I used to care a lot about Woody Allen movies and was able to see past the misogyny of them too. 

Alright, so why break up with Hemingway, then?  Why not just break up with 1920s Paris?  Well, it goes beyond that. The other day, I was thinking about how much I loved his books and stories and I realized that I generally loved all of the male protagonists, and disliked strongly the female characters (whenever they actually appear). The exception to that is Pilar in For Whom the Bell Tolls; I love that gypsy lady.  Wanting to be Lady Brett Ashley doesn’t count, because I think that just is a symptom of the problem that I am trying to articulate here.  Now that I am older, I actually realize that the characters that I always identified with in Hemingway’s prose, aren’t the female ones, they are the male characters (the same in Woody Allen’s movies). I was never the ingenue or the object of the artist’s affection, which probably why, in part, I have such a hard time with those books and movies now. He writes women like they are something to be admired, pitied or despised, not that they are actually capable of much feeling in return.

Sure, he writes beautifully and tells a wonderful story, but I feel like at some point in my life, I have to get over Hemingway. I am never going to do it, if I keep letting his short, declarative prose be an excuse. 

But wait, now I am having second thoughts.  The fact of the matter is that I want my life to be lived as short, declarative sentences.  I want to be blunt and to the point.  Maybe I am taking this whole Hemingway really hated women thing too far.  Sure, he blamed his mother for just about everything, and then treated all of his wives terribly, but is that a reason to forget about how much I loved reading his books? 

I don’t think I am ever going to solve this problem. Just when I think I am ready to make a short, declarative sentence, I realize that I cannot.

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