Sunday, July 24, 2016

Max

and his authors from the marvelous A. Scott Berg:

Max cared little for the nonliterary arts-there was something almost effeminate about them, a delicacy that was at odds with his Evarts upbringing. He did appreciate classical sculpture, and he said every young boy should have a picture of the masculine Thinker by Michelangelo from the Medici tombs. (Even though he had only daughters, he saw to it that there was always one in the Perkins home.) No doubt because of his bad hearing and a ringing in his ears, he showed almost no interest in music. On the few occasions when he was coerced into attending a concert, he instructed his daughters not to applaud too much, for ”they might start in again.” The tunes he liked most were such old favorites as ”Sweet Afton” and "There Are Eyes of Blue.” He saw Victor Herbert’s Babe; in Toyland over and over. John Hall Wheelock remembered how embarrassed Max was when, having let himself be dragged to a nightclub, he saw a chorus line of male dancers starting to perform, he had to shield his eyes with his hand until the men two-stepped away.

and

On the wagon longer than he had been in ages, Scott found his life “uninspiring,” whereas, he believed, these should be his most productive years. ”I’ve simply got to arrange something for the summer that will bring me to life again,” he wrote Perkins, "but what it should be is by no means apparent.”

For lack of a better suggestion, Max urged Scott to continue work on a novel he had begun which was set in medieval Europe-a long way from West Egg. Fitzgerald replied that the 90,000-word book would be called Philippe, Count of Darkness. His hero was a Frankish tough guy in armor-"It shall be the story of Ernest,” Fitzgerald put down in a notebook. Then he outlined parts of it that he could sell separately to magazines. He said Perkins could have it all by the late spring of 1936. ”I wish I had these great masses of mss. stored away like Wolfe and Hemingway,” Fitzgerald wrote Perkins, "but this goose is beginning to be pretty thoroughly plucked, I am afraid.”

In May, 1935, Fitzgerald Visited Perkins in New York. A bright period in Zelda’s health had proved to be just a flash, and Scott’s mood the evening they were together reflected it. He was scrappy, putting Max on the spot about books Scribners was publishing. He expressed his greatest dissatisfaction over Tom Wolfe. Scott had recently read Wolfe’s story "His Father’s House” in the latest issue of Modern Monthly, published by V. F. Calverton. It embodied all Wolfe’s faults and virtues and made Fitzgerald wish Tom were the sort of person with whom one could dis“ cuss his writing.

How he can put side by side such a mess as “With chitterling tricker fast fluttering skirrs of sound the palmy honied birderies came” and such fine phrases as "tongue-trilling chirrs, plumbellied smoothness, sweet lucidity” I don’t know. He who has such infinite power of suggestion and delicacy has absolutely no right to glut people on whole meals of caviar.

and

Ernest .Hemingway thought the "Crack-Up” pieces were ”miserable.” People experienced emptiness many times in life, he said, and he thought they should come out of it fighting, not whining in public. He wrote Scott a few times to cheer him up but found him taking pride in his ”shamelessness of defeat.” Ever since he first met F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway said, he had thought that if the man had gone to that war he always felt so bad about missing, he would have been shot for cowardice. Hemingway was convinced that Scott’s troubles were selfinflicted. It was a terrible thing for Scott to love youth so much that he leapfrogged from childhood to senility without experiencing manhood.

Hemingway made one of his infrequent visits to New York that season. He was nervous about the reception of Green Hills of Africa, and with just cause. As fascism rose in Europe in the thirties, leftist ”essayists,” as many American literary critics preferred to call themselves, proclaimed that the purpose of literature was to remedy the world’s social ills. They were angry that Hemingway, one of the best-known voices of America, had not joined their cause. He remained unaffiliated with any group, committed only to his writing. His reputation was in great shape, he told Perkins-Andre Gide, Romain Rolland, and AndrĂ© Malraux, he pointed out, had just invited him to an international writers’ congress-but he was not deceived; the critics would have their knives out. He doubted, however, that they could kill him off for a while yet. ”Papa is pretty durable,” he assured Perkins.

When Perkins received the proofs of Green Hills of Africa from Ernest in late August, 1935, he thought everything about them was all right, except for a backhanded swipe at Gertrude Stein which Ernest had inserted. "I think it was better not to call the old girl a bitch,” Perkins wrote Hemingway of the indirect reference to her. Hemingway pointed out that he had not mentioned Miss Stein by name and there was nothing that proved it was definitely she. Besides, he asked Max, what Should be put in place of "bitch”? Certainly not ”Whore.” Hemingway offered to modify the noun with "lousy” or "lesbian,” but if anyone was ever a bitch, he said it was Gertrude Stein. He did not see what Perkins was fussing about, unless he thought the word would just give the critics something else to "burp about.”

In Green Hills of Africa, Hemingway pointed out that writers who read the critics practically destroyed themselves.

If they believe the critics when they say they are great then they must believe them when they say they are rotten and they lose confidence. At present we have two good writers who cannot write because they have lost confidence through reading critics. If they wrote, sometimes it would be good and sometimes it would be quite bad, but the good would get out. But they have read the critics and they must write masterpieces. The masterpieces the critics said they wrote. They weren’t masterpieces, of course. They were just quite good books. So now they cannot write at all.

Hemingway had discussed Scott Fitzgerald and Thomas Wolfe with Perkins in almost identical phraseology. At last he made what, for him, was a conciliatory gesture, by altering his reference to Gertrude Stein, calling her a "female.” He thought that would anger her the most, and please Perkins.

Max expected a cold critical reaction to Green Hills, but not because of the vendetta Hemingway predicted. Max had observed enough careers to believe in their natural ebb and flow. He knew that if the critics did not have an issue at hand on which to take Hemingway to task, they would invent one. ”Every writer seems to have to go through a period when the tide runs against him strongly,” Perkins wrote Fitderald, ”and at the worst it is better that it should have done this when Ernest was writing books that are in a general sense minor ones.”

And indeed, the reviews of Green H ill; of Africa were tepid. Charlef Poore in the New York Times wrote that it was the "best-written story of big-game hunting anywhere” and that Ernest’s writing was “better than ever, fuller, richer, deeper and only looking for something that can use its full powers.” Edmund Wilson took what Max called a "Marxist crack” at it in the New Republic, calling it Hemingway’s “weakest book". Wilson had been one of Hemingway’s earliest admirers, but over the next few years he became one of his most outspoken critics. .

Ernest took the reviews hard.

and

Six months into the writing, Marjorie Rawlings was still hunting for a title. She sent a list of alternatives to Perkins and asked for his opinion. He did not care much for The Flutter Mill. Of Juniper Island he said: ”I do not think place names are good for a book. There is not enough human suggestion in them.” Of her third title he wrote, “I would think one which carried the meaning of T/ae Yearling was probably right.” The more he spoke of it, the better it sounded to him. He wrote her in the spring of 1937, "It seems to have a quality even more than a meaning that fits the book.” It stuck.

After almost a year on the book, Mrs. Rawlings abruptly decided that what she had written was poor, and she threw out the manuscript. Perkins was shocked when she told him. There was nothing for him to do but to try to get her going again. He kept sending heartening letters, and eventually she resumed writing, more slowly but with more confidence.

In December, 1937, she sent the manuscript off to Perkins. He took days to read it, but, as he told her, that was a good sign. “The better a book is, the slower I go,” he explained. ”I think the last half is better than the first and that the book gets increasingly good. But the very beginning now is perfect, it seems to me, and of course the father and mother, and all about that life, and Cody’s on the island, are as good as can be.” He felt a few parts of the book were tainted with theatricality and romanticism and suggested that they be sacrificed in order to maintain the book’s naturalism, its honest depiction of a world that was sometimes cruel and terrifying. The Yearling was full of very tough people, he reminded Mrs. Rawlings, “and the toughness ought to be more evident.”

Marjorie Rawlings’s previous books had had hard luck, but every. thing went right for this one. The Book-of-the-Month Club made The Yearling its main selection in April, 1938. In general, book sales that year were only a third of what they had been before the Depression, but The Yearling became a runaway best seller overnight. It also won the Pulitzer Prize.

Two years before this bonanza, in June, 1956, Marjorie Rawlings had gone game-fishing in Bimini with a friend. There she learned that Ernest Hemingway had become the hero of the most popular legends down there. The latest story concerned Hemingway’s knocking a man down for calling him a big fat slob. ”You can call me a slob,” Hemingway had said, “but you can’t call me a big fat slob.” Then he struck him down. The natives of Bimini set the incident to music, and if they were sure Hemingway was not within earshot, they would sing in a calypso beat, “The big fat slob’s in the harbor.”

When Hemingway heard that one of Max Perkins’s authors was in the same waters, he called on her. ”I should have known from your affection for him that he was not a fire-spitting ogre,” Marjorie wrote back to Perkins, "but I’d heard so many tales in Bimini of his going around knocking people down, that I half-expected him to announce in a loud voice that he never accepted introductions to female novelists. In“ stead, a most lovable, nervous and sensitive person took my hand in a big gentle paw and remarked that he was a great admirer of my work."

The day before she left, Hemingway tussled six hours and fifty minutes with a 514-pound tuna. When his Pilar cruised into harbor at 9:30 that night, the whole population of the island flocked to see hi5 fish and hear his tale. "A fatuous old man-with a new yacht and a young bride had arrived not long previously, announcing that tunafishing, of whose difficulties he had heard, was easy,” Mrs. Rawlings wrote to Perkins. ”So as the Pilar was made fast, Hemingway came swimming up from
below-decks, gloriously drunk, roaring, 'Where’s the son of a bitch who said it was easy.’ The last anyone saw of him that night, he was standing alone on the pier using the tuna as a punching bag.

"Ernest seems to be ever on the defensive. He is so vast, so virile, that he does not need ever to hit anybody, Mrs. Rawlings wrote Perkins. ”Yet he is constantly defending something that he, at least, must consider vulnerable.” She thought the conflict might be due in part to the company he was keeping mainly sportsmen. 

Hemingway is among these people a great deal, and they like and admire him-his personality, his sporting prowess, and his literary prestige. It seems to me that unconsciously he must value their opinion. He must be afraid of laying bare before them the agony that tears the artist. He must be afraid of lifting before them the curtain that veils the beauty that should be exposed only to reverent eyes, as in Death in the Afternoon, he writes beautifully, and then immediately turns it off with a flippant comment, or a deliberate obscenity. His sporting friends would not understand the beauty. They would roar with delight at the flippancy.



No comments: