Hemingway and Women

In this virtual event series, filmmakers and special guests explore the writer’s art and legacy. Conversations on Hemingway: Hemingway and Women was presented by The New York Review of Books. It features Ken Burns, Lynn Novick, Joyce Carol Oates, Francine Prose and Edward Mendelson.

AIRED: March 24, 2021 | 1:04:12

- [Michael] I hate the myth of Hemingway.

It obscures the man.

(lively guitar music)

- His talent is stunning.

- He went against the grain.

- [Tobias] It's hard to imagine a writer

who hasn't been influenced by him.

- In order to have something new to write,

he had to have something new to live.

- [Edna] And he fell in love quite a few times.

- He's complex and deeply flawed, but there he is.

- Hemingway the man is much more interesting

than the myth.

- [Announcer] "Hemingway."

Starts Monday, April 5th at eight, seven central.

Only on PBS.

- Good evening.

I'm Daniel Mendelson, the editor at large

of The New York Review of Books.

And on behalf of The Review

I'm delighted to welcome you to this evening's event.

A panel discussion devoted

to the subject of Hemingway and women.

Tonight's conversation is the last in a series of events

celebrating Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's

multi-part documentary about the great American writer.

Joining Mr. Burns And Ms. Novick on the panel tonight

will be three of The New York Review's

most distinguished longtime contributors.

Edward Mendelson is a literary critic

and Professor of English and Comparative Literature

at Columbia University.

And then we have two highly esteemed novelists,

Joyce Carol Oates and Francine Prose,

both of whom have contributed numerous essays

on literary topics to the New York Review

over many years now.

We at The Review are proud

to be able to bring you these brilliant thinkers

as they contemplate

one of the most complex and fascinating aspects

of Ernest Hemingway's life and career.

And now, please welcome Paula Kerger,

the President and CEO of PBS.

- Thank you so much, Daniel.

On behalf of PBS and our 330 members stations,

we are delighted to partner

with The New York Review of Books

on this very special event.

As Daniel said, the focus of this evening's conversation

is Hemingway and women.

Ken and Lynne have created a masterful film

exploring the complexities of Ernest Hemingway.

In his life and work, women were central to his identity.

From the women in his family, especially his mother,

to his four wives, to the women he surrounded himself with

throughout his career, and of course,

the characters in his books.

Tonight, we have the perfect panel to delve into

this aspect of his life,

and I'm grateful to you for your participation.

I very much look forward to this conversation.

I'm also grateful to the many individuals, corporations,

and organizations whose generosity make it possible

for public television

to deliver educational and inspirational programming

to every community and every household in this country.

If you missed our previous conversations

on Hemingway events,

you can stream them on pbs.org/hemingway.

The three-part six-hour Hemingway documentary

will premiere on April 5th on PBS stations nationwide

and on the PBS video app.

Now, before we're joined by our panelists,

let's take a look at the introduction to Hemingway.

(soulful violin music)

- Hemingway was a writer

who happened to be American.

But his palette was incredibly wide and delicious

and violent and brutal and ugly.

All of those things.

It's something every culture can basically understand.

Every culture can understand falling in love with someone.

The loss of that person, of how great a meal tastes,

how extraordinary this journey is.

That is not nationalistic.

It's human.

And I think with all of his flaws,

with all the difficulties, his personal life, whatever,

he seemed to understand human beings.

- [Reader] You see, I'm trying in all my stories

to get the feeling of the actual life across,

not to just depict life or criticize it,

but to actually make it alive

so that when you have read something by me,

you actually experience the thing.

(bombs rumbling) You can't do this

without putting in the bad and the ugly

as well as what is beautiful,

because if it is all beautiful, you can't believe it.

Things aren't that way.

It is only by showing both sides, three dimensions,

and if possible four, that you can write the way I want to.

(jazzy music)

- [Narrator] Ernest Hemingway remade American literature.

He paired storytelling to its essentials.

Changed the way characters speak,

expanded the worlds or writer could legitimately explore,

and left an indelible record of how men and women lived

during his lifetime.

Generations of writers would find their work

measured against his.

Some followed the path he'd blazed,

others rebelled against it.

None could escape it.

He made himself the most celebrated American writer

since Mark Twain, read and revered around the world.

- It's hard to imagine a writer today

who hasn't been in some way influenced by him.

It's like he changed all the furniture in the room,

right, and we all have to sit in it.

To some, you know, we can kind of sit on the edge

of the armchair, on the arm, or do this,

but you know, he changed the furniture in the room.

The value of the American declarative sentence, right?

The way you build a house brick by brick out of those.

Within a few sentences of reading a Hemingway story,

you are not in any confusion as to who had written it.

- I can't imagine how it's possible

that any one writer could have so changed the language.

People have been copying him for nearly a hundred years

and they haven't succeeded

in equaling what he did.

- If you're a writer, you can't escape Hemingway.

He's so damn popular that you can't begin to write

till you try and kill his ghost in you or embrace it.

And I think, I identify that most about Hemingway

is that he was always questing.

The perfect line had not happened yet.

It was always a struggle, trying to get it right,

and you never will.

- [Narrator] For three decades,

people who had not read a word he'd written

thought they knew him.

Wounded veteran and battlefield correspondent,

big game hunter, and deep sea fishermen,

bullfight aficionado, brawler, and lover,

and man about town.

(inquisitive string music)

But the public figure was a troubled and conflicted man

who belonged to a troubled and conflicted family

with its own drama and darkness and closely held secrets.

The world saw him as a man's man,

but all his life, he would privately be intrigued

by the blurred lines between male and female, men and women.

There were so many sides to him,

the first of his four wives remembered

that he defied geometry.

- He was open to life.

He was open to tragedy.

He was open to feeling.

I liked that he fell in love

and he fell in love quite a few times.

He always had the next woman

before he left the existing woman.

- [Narrator] He was often kind and generous

to those in need of help.

And sometimes just as cruel and vengeful

to those who had helped him.

- [Reader] I have always had the illusion

it was more important or as important to be a good man

as to be a great writer.

I may turn out to be neither, but would like to be both.

- [Narrator] Hemingway's story is a tale

older even than the written word

of a young man whose ambition and imagination,

energy and enormous gifts bring him wealth and fame

beyond imagining,

who destroys himself trying to remain true

to the character he has invented.

- One of his weaknesses, I was going to say failings,

and it was a great pity, it's a great pity for any writer.

He loved an audience.

He loved an audience and in front of an audience,

he lost the best part of himself

by trying to impress the audience.

- I hate the myth of Hemingway

and the reason I hate the myth of Hemingway,

it obscures the man and the man

is much more interesting than the myth.

I think he was a terrific father sometimes.

I think that he was a loving husband sometimes.

I think he was like so many people

except this enormous talent.

Hemingway is complicated.

He's very complicated.

- [Reader] The great thing is to last

and get your work done

and see, and hear, and learn, and understand.

And write when there is something that you know

and not before and not too damned much after.

- Good evening, thank you for joining us tonight.

Let me echo Daniel Mendelson's words,

this is the last, the ninth, in our series of conversations

on Hemingway that have taken place virtually

all around the country with different themes.

Tonight's event is sponsored

by our own wonderful glorious network, PBS,

which has helped us organize the entire series,

and The New York Review of Books,

our country's premier literary magazine founded 58 years ago

by Robert Silvers and Barbara Epstein.

For our repeat attendees,

and apparently they're our Hemingway conversation gurus,

tonight's discussion will be a little different.

Rather than a formal moderator,

Lynn Novick and I will start with questions

and our hope is to have an open discussion

with our guests.

The writers Joyce Carol Oates and Francine Prose

and Columbia University's Professor of Humanities,

Ed Mendelson.

As Daniel said in his introduction,

each is a long time contributor

to The New York Review of Books.

Our theme tonight is Hemingway and women,

but first let's ask a round of more general questions.

First Francine, your novel,

"Lovers at the Chameleon Club" was infused

with Hemingway's "A Moveable Feast"

according to some critics.

You've said that you loved Hemingway's "A Movable Feast"

as a young reader, but despised it as an older one.

Tell us why.

- Well, I loved it, and in a way I still love it

because it's so romantic.

I mean the whole idea of Americans in Paris

and also it's full of some very good writing advice,

you know, don't stop.

I mean, stop when you have something left to say.

So it was in that way incredibly useful,

but there was a kind of romanticism about it

which was very not useful to me as a young woman.

I mean, that is the idea that he dumped his wife

for his wife's best friend and then it was presented

as his tragedy.

- Right. - So you read it,

you thought, oh my God, that's so sad

that this should happen to you,

that you're leaving one woman for another,

and I don't, you know, at a time when women,

this was the seventies I guess when I read it,

were just beginning to think,

well, we don't actually have to live this way

and we don't actually have to be treated this way.

It was, as I said, not useful to read

this wildly romantic inspiring book

in which that is exactly how women are treated

and it was very persuasive.

- Yes, no, and I think it's so interesting

that he was settling scores as we say in the film

that didn't need to be settled,

and somehow there's a strange sort of thing going on

where his fiction is often more accurate

than the journalism.

Certainly it's true of "For Whom the Bell Tolls"

and some of his writing on the Spanish Civil War

which ignored many of the Soviet atrocities

going on right in front of him.

Joyce, you've said that Hemingway's early stories

are wonderful for young writers

because of how they are crafted.

What is it about his writing

that brings people back to them?

You've called them a riddle, challenging you to reread them.

Has your sense of Hemingway or appreciation of him

changed as you've grown as a writer and a reader?

- That's a very interesting question,

and the whole issue of to what extent

a writer is also a person in a certain historical context

is always of interest to us.

I actually have a copy here of "In Our Time,"

it's the first edition, and I have been rereading it.

Literally this book was not the first copy

of "In Our Time" that I read.

I was 15 years old when I first read Hemingway,

and he was the first writer

who had a profound influence on me.

So I was reading "In Our Time" when I was 16.

I related to the stories purely in a formalist way.

So I tend to be a formalist, and while I'm also a feminist,

I mean, I'm interested in many biographical aspects

of a writer, I'm primarily interested in writing as writing.

So the early stories in our time,

I think are just brilliant.

They're sculpted, they're like,

some of them like prose poetry,

"Indian Camp," I think is a perfect story.

I have taught that many times.

I virtually had memorized it.

I know where the commas are.

His later stories like

"The Short Happy life of Francis Macomber,"

I don't really like as much.

They seem to be much more conventional.

Here the writer is telling us many things

and we're inside the heads of several people.

It's more of that conventional writing.

But with the early stories,

he's very austere and very minimalist.

He doesn't bring us really into anyone's consciousness.

So we are watching a scene unfold and we must interpret it.

Hemingway spoke very famously about his art

being art of selectivity,

that just a little portion is visible like an iceberg

and we have to infer that there is something beneath that.

So that is what attracts you to Hemingway.

I'm not particularly interested in his portraits of women

or other people.

I think all the flaws in his personality

start to come out quite a bit in the later work.

- Let's get to that in a bit.

Thank you.

That's wonderful.

I agree with you about "Indian Camp,"

and as Tobias Wolff said in the film,

he was just a baby when he wrote it.

And it is perfect.

Ed, you wrote about Hemingway's letters

in an article for The New York Review of Books.

Our film relies heavily on those letters

as a way to understand him, perhaps triangulate

between the mythology and the existing literary output,

especially giving us a glimpse of his inner life,

but also to get a glimpse of how he grew as a writer.

Tell us what you think his letters

would reveal to those who have only read his fiction.

- Well, I hadn't read the letters except for a few

until New York Review asked me to write about them,

and they were really startling to me

because like everyone, was used to the image of Hemingway

as the forceful personality.

And what you see in the letters is there's dozens of voices,

but there is no person in there.

He's simply someone who speaks in one way to his parents,

and one way to Gertrude Stein,

and one way to his publishers,

and one way to his male friends.

And you never, at least I never got a sense

that there was a person, some inner self

named Ernest Hemingway talking.

And just one last thing that struck me most

was the way he keeps referring to himself as a male.

In other words, he's constantly talking to other men.

There's no I there.

There's an instance of the category males

speaking to his friends

and it was really, it made all the fiction look different

after reading those letters.

- Well, Francine and Joyce and Ed,

thank you so much for sort of

diving into the deep end with us in setting up everything.

Let me turn it over to my colleague, Lynn,

to set up the second clip and to sort of frame

the next sort of way we're going to think

about this evening's conversation.

Thank you all.

- Thank you so much.

Yes, we're going to switch over to our topic for tonight,

Hemingway and women.

And as Paula said, women were hugely important

in Hemingway's life, his mother, his sisters,

the nurse who broke his heart, his four wives,

there are other women that he was infatuated with

at different times, Gertrude Stein,

he had so many strong women in his life

that are important to understand.

And for the senior producer of this film,

Sarah Botstein, writer Jeff Ward, and Ken and me,

exploring how these complicated relationships

filtered into his work was truly fascinating,

and we're looking forward to unpacking all of that

in this conversation.

But first, we're going to share a clip

from the first episode of our film

about a short story that Hemingway wrote early in his career

that was actually not included in our time

because it was so daring that it could not be published

as Gertrude Stein warned him,

that it was too obscene to be published at the time.

And first, I also just want to say a note about the content.

This scene involves a disturbing sexual encounter.

And we can roll the clip.

- I think "Up in Michigan" is very important

because first of all, he is saying

there are no boundaries.

I'm going to write with no boundaries, no restrictions,

I'm not going to listen to you, polite world.

I'm going to what I think is true,

but I'm going to see it from the point of view of the woman.

- [Narrator] Liz Coates is a teenaged girl

working in a boarding house

in the tiny town of Horton's Bay.

Among the borders is a handsome young blacksmith

named Jim Gilmore.

One evening, they go down to the dock.

- [Reader] "Don't Jim," Liz said.

Jim slid the hand further up.

"You mustn't, Jim. You mustn't."

Neither Jim nor Jim's big hand paid any attention to her.

The boards were hard.

Jim had her dress up and was trying to do something to her.

She was frightened, but she wanted it.

She had to have it, but it frightened her.

"You mustn't do it, Jim, you mustn't."

"I got to. I'm going to.

You know we got to."

"No, we haven't, Jim.

We ain't got to.

Oh, it isn't right.

Oh, it's so big and it hurts so.

You can't.

Oh, Jim.



- I think many women feel and indeed broadcast the idea

that Hemingway hated women

and wrote adversely always about them.

This isn't true.

(lively violin music)

"The hemlock planks of the dock

were hard and splintery and cold.

Jim was heavy on her and he had hurt her.

Liz pushed him, she was so uncomfortable and cramped.

Jim was asleep.

He wouldn't move.

She worked out from under him

and sat up and straightened her skirt and coat

and tried to do something with her hair.

Jim was sleeping with his mouth a little open.

Liz leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.

He was still asleep.

She lifted his head a little and shook it.

He rolled his head over and swallowed.

Liz started to cry.

She walked over to the edge of the dock

and looked down to the water.

There was a mist coming up from the bay.

She was cold and miserable and everything felt gone.

Now I would ask his detractors, female or male,

just to read that story.

And could you in all honor, say that this was a writer

who didn't understand women's emotions and who hated women.

You couldn't.

Nobody could.

- So we would love to open this discussion, the next round,

to hear from all of you about how you respond to the clip

and to what Edna has to say.

So I think we'll start with Francine,

'cause your video is up and then we'll go to Joyce.

So Francine, give us your impressions

of "Up in Michigan" and the scene.

- Well, "Up in Michigan," I mean those stories

are the most beautiful.

Those earliest stories are the most beautiful

and you're just swept up

in the gorgeous simplicity of the language.

So I think they're two really,

they're two very different issues.

I mean, Hemingway and language is the most important thing.

I mean, what he did with the language

and how he established the fact

that this is America, American speech.

I mean, he, you know, there was ways,

he was like Jackson Pollock in a certain way.

I mean, that is saying, we're not Europe,

we have our own way of doing things,

and we're not, it's not the 19th century.

but that's different from creating

a certain kinds of characters.

I mean, I would never join the party saying he hated women.

I mean, I just think that's kind of pointless,

but on the other hand, I don't think he was that good

at creating female characters.

I mean, today I did a little game with myself

and tried to remember the names of the women in his novels.

So I remember of course, Lady Brett Ashley

from "The Sun Also Rises," and I was pretty sure

that "For Whom the Bell Tolls," that it was Maria,

but then I thought, well, maybe it was Pilar,

I actually had to look it up,

and then I couldn't remember the name of the woman

in "A Farewell To Arms."

And I thought, you know, I have no trouble remembering

Anna Karenina's name or Emma Bovary's name,

so what does it mean, that they haven't,

that those characters haven't installed themselves

in my mind the way those other women have.

So I think that that's, that's a failing,

and it's not the same as misogyny.

It's something else.

- Interesting. Interesting.

All right, well, I'm curious to hear Joyce,

what was your reaction to "Up in Michigan"

and to what Edna has to say and Francine

and yeah, we'd love to hear.

- Well, it's an interesting story.

It seems to have been strongly influenced by

Sherwood Anderson, I think was his most immediate influence.

I don't know what to say about the whole issue

of how Hemingway presents women.

It's obviously an issue that means a lot to some people,

but you know, one's heart sinks

that a writer of such complexity,

who's a writer of beautiful prose

is kind of categorized as either liking or disliking women.

It seems really a very, almost incidental subject.

The girl in the story is a very simple person

and the story, I don't think is one of his better stories.

It's something that he wrote

without being much immersed in it.

He's obviously superior to these people,

the stories with which Nick Adams

is sort of telling the story so to speak

are much more subtle.

This, I mean this story (cuts out)

it's never been before me that Hemingway hated women.

It's not a thought that I would ever have had myself.

- I think it is a thought

that many people do have however,

I mean, we found, you know,

definitely a prevailing sense of Hemingway

and a question of whether his work is misogynist

or he's misogynistic or his attitude towards women

does seem to be perhaps more of a question, you know,

starting in the seventies until now.

So it's really interesting to hear

your different perspectives.

So we're going to ask Ed, what was your take on all of this?

- Well, this was actually one of the best moments for me

in the (indistinct) film,

and this is a pure plug for film because--

- Thank you!

- After that clip, you have, you quote,

you film someone talking about this story

and I wrote this down, that Hemingway

was drilling down deeper into those dark sides,

and then one person says with this tremendous relish,

and many people didn't want to see that,

and listening to this moment,

I thought this makes sense of Hemingway's great appeal is.

Basically what you're doing is flattering the reader

and saying, I'm looking.

You and I unlike all those other people

who don't want to do this

are looking into the dark parts of ourselves

and we don't flinch.

We don't moralize.

We don't beat our breasts.

We don't clutch our pearls.

We are stoic in seeing this ultimate reality.

And what Hemingway was able to do was in effect

say to the reader, the worst thing about yourself

can be a source of pride, because you look at it

dispassionately and clearly

and I think that's what going on in these stories

and that there's, I think it's deeply false in other words,

Mary McCarthy's phrase, every word of this is a lie,

including and and the, and and but,

but it is so flattering and I'm going to use a phrase

from Virginia Woolf, flattering in the way, in the place

where you are most susceptible to flattery,

the part of yourself that you dislike most,

and I think that that's, something like that

seems to be going on in much of Hemingway.

- There's a biographical component too,

which I'm just now beginning

to sort of make some connections

because there's something interesting about Hemingway

being in the writ large, this boarish, you know, brawler

or drinker man about town, big game hunter,

all that kind of junk.

He also critiques a lot of it

or at least is semi-conscious of it.

And there's a point after Agnes has left him, you know,

in a heap and depressed that he says

that he violently rushed several girls

of whom I did not care

and it cauterized the wound.

And I wonder if "Up in Michigan" is a by-product

if not of a literal event very similar to that,

but a perception of that.

And he was writing a little bit about his own pathology.

I don't know, this is just something

that's come to me as we've been thinking about the film.

I'm sorry, Lynn.

- Yeah, that was so interesting.

You know, we're always trying to unpack

things that happened in his life, things he saw or observed

and how he created these stories

and where the material came from.

And he's a little cagey about that sometimes,

so it's hard to know exactly,

but that's been a fascinating project for us,

you know, I think in trying to understand

his representation of women characters

and also representation of the relationships

between men and women and the dynamic

and how that's represented in dialogue and description,

you know, I agree he doesn't have Anna Karenina.

There's not a Hemingway story or novel

in which the woman is the central character, the heroine,

but he seems to be very interested in,

whether for his own experience

or just from observing the world

and how men and women relate to each other

and how complicated that is,

and so, you know, I think that's been,

we've found at least discovering Hemingway for ourselves

making the film,

aspects of his work that we hadn't framed that way, per se.

And so we're going to show another clip

and then we're going to keep our conversation going.

This is a clip of another short story

written a bit later after "The Sun Also Rises"

and before "A Farewell To Arms,"

and it doesn't really need much introduction, I don't think

but we hope it helps us explore

these questions of Hemingway's ability to see

what can go wrong between a man and a woman.

Roll the clip.

- [Narrator] "Men Without Women" also included a story

that is among his masterpieces.

"Hills Like White Elephants."

In it, a couple of waiting in a small Spanish train station

discuss whether or not the woman will have an abortion

without ever mentioning the word.

- What's not said is so wonderful.

Somehow the whole relationship

which will be forever shadowed

if not to say destroyed by this,

you get a picture of it.

(slow guitar music)

Without him spinning out the words.

You see, that's what he did.

That evasion that he mastered

and that control that he mastered

is one of his signature strokes of genius.

- [Reader] "It's really an awfully simple operation,"

Jake, the man said, "it's not really an operation at all."

The girl looked at the ground the table legs rested on.

"I know you wouldn't mind it, Jake.

It's really not anything.

It's just to let the air in."

The girl did not say anything.

"I'll go with you and I'll stay with you all the time.

They just let the air in,

and then it's all perfectly natural."

"Then what will we do afterward?"

"We'll be fine afterward, just like we were before."

"What makes you think so?"

"That's the only thing that bothers us.

It's the only thing that's made us unhappy."

- He knows what he wants.

He wants one thing, to get rid of this thing,

but he can't tell her that.

So he says, I only want what you want.

I'll do whatever you say.

Don't do anything that you don't want to do,

but he's pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing.

It is painful to watch this going on.

It is recognizable for most women to,

even if it's not the situation,

the pushing, the insistence, the masculine assertion.

And then she finally says,

and this is I think one of great understated sentences,

She says to him, "Would you please,

please, please, please, please,

please, please stop talking."

We don't know what she's going to decide.

She's maybe, to keep the relationship,

she will do what he says, but if she does that,

the relationship is over.

Maybe she will keep it

and just be with herself and the baby.

Maybe she will get rid of the baby and carry on her life.

Whatever she does, her life will be different.

- [Reader] He drank an anise at the bar

and looked at the people.

They were all waiting reasonably for the train.

He went out through the bead curtain.

She was sitting at the table and smiled at her.

"Do you feel better?" he asked.

"I feel fine," she said.

"There's nothing wrong with me.

I feel fine."

- Well, let's just go among our distinguished panelists

and just talk about how or whether that clip speaks to you.

You know, the central line I think from Miriam is,

this masculine assertion that's being perpetrated in this.

Joyce, would you react to "Hills Like White Elephants?"

- I think this is a beautiful story.

It's beautifully wrought, but the climax of the story

is really, it's not the end, but the girl,

we have a man, we have a girl,

we don't have a young woman.

We have a girl.

She stands up and she walks and looks across the river

at the mountains.

She saw the river through the trees and she says,

"And we could have all of this

and we could have everything,

and every day we make it more impossible."

She is really saying that if we do

what she thinks we should do, have this baby,

we will have everything.

But if she has the abortion, then they will have nothing.

And she says, once they take it away,

you never get it back.

I think that's basically Hemingway speaking,

and I think this is an example of a story

in which a young woman is the moral conscience of the story.

She says exactly what Hemingway thinks,

is probably thinking.

In other words, she's not subservient to the man.

She's not inferior.

She speaks very well,

and so it's a good example of a story

in which Hemingway has portrayed a woman

as very strong and very wise.

- Thank you.

Ed, what's your response to "Hills Like White Elephants?"

- I wanna see it through Joyce's eyes.

I think she's got it exactly right

that Hemingway is making a moral judgment here.

Though I just want to go back to,

while I'm endorsing fellow panelists, Francine,

talking about not remembering the names of the characters.

I think that's because there are no women characters.

There are various stereotypes of women

showing up in different ways that are essentially anonymous

rather than real persons.

I'm not sure there are men either.

Just to respond to the story,

it has that hopelessness in Hemingway,

which I think masks, is a kind of,

which offers itself as a kind of wisdom in other words.

See how deeply I feel and I think, you know,

we, everybody knows what hopelessness is like.

I, you know, I feel it every morning at about 3:30 AM,

if I wake up, but it's not all that I'd feel.

And that Hemingway's, there's a prejudice

in the 20th century and the 21st

that Hemingway is feeding into

which is that the worst thing you know about a human being

is actually the most true thing about that person,

in other words, when they found out who you really are,

and this is what, you know, what men are really like

is what this story says.

And once again, it's a half truth that's a lie

because it's a half truth.

- So it's the continuation of what you were speaking about

with regard to "Up in Michigan,"

that there's a kind of sort of backdoor connection

to the reader in which we agree in a way about these things

and you're seeing this as ultimately cynical

because it's a crime of omission,

not just in the stylistic kudos that we heap on Hemingway,

but of not balancing this out?

- Well, it's not a lie,

because Hemingway really believed it.

In other words, Hemingway really was hopeless

because in some deep way he knew there was nothing inside.

That's the emptiness that he's constantly confronting.

He's speaking his truth and I don't think he's,

he starts seducing readers when he becomes famous,

but I don't think these early stories

have any wish to seduce a reader.

He simply telling you what he sees as the truth.

- That's so interesting.

Francine, can you respond to what both Ed and Joyce

have said about, and "Hills Like White Elephants,"

if you've got thoughts on that?

- Well, I think, I mean, I think one of the things

that's so interesting about it is that the subject

of how one human being manipulates another human being

into doing something that the other human being

doesn't necessarily want to do is endlessly interesting.

I mean, fortunately, unfortunately

it never goes out of style and it's never,

and you can watch that transpiring in the story.

I mean, you can't, I do want to say you can't blame a writer

for the way that his work has been used,

but I do think that the way the story is taught,

you know, especially the high school classes,

is here's how you write a story.

You don't say the most important thing in a story,

which is not always had a good effect on young writers

because that's the trick.

I mean, the story doesn't feel like a trick,

but just to leave out the one piece of essential information

is a trick which you have to be Hemingway to get away with.

And that's not always the case.

- The iceberg theory, yes.

- Well, we also have potential of, not say censorship,

but obscenity rules at the time.

I'm not sure you can publish a story in, you know,

mainstream America and using the word abortion.

I'm not sure.

I don't know, but I, you know, a lot of times

he's avoiding saying the thing

because he can't actually say it

and that inspires a certain amount of creativity,

but I'm imagining an audience

then also would know immediately what is being said,

because people didn't use that word in polite company.

It's hard to use that word today, so.

Or not as much, but yeah.

So it's a really interesting, interesting question.

Wow. All right.

So we have one more clip to share

and then we're going to open it up

to some questions from the audience

and for the last clip we chose not a short story again,

from "A Farewell To Arms," and I don't think

we really need to say too much more about this.

I think the clip will pretty much speak for itself.

(sorrowful piano music)

- [Narrator] In the novel Lieutenant Henry deserts

and flees to neutral Switzerland with Catherine Barkley.

They hope to marry and build a life together

once the war is over.

She is pregnant.

But something goes terribly wrong in the delivery room.

Doctors perform a Caesarian.

The baby is stillborn.

Catherine's life ebbs away.

Hemingway agonized over the ending,

writing 47 versions of the final pages

before he was satisfied.

- [Reader] I went to the door of the room.

"You can't come in now," one of the nurses said.

"Yes, I can," I said.

"You can't come in yet."

"You get out," I said.

"The other one too."

But after I had got them out and shut the door

and turned off the light, it wasn't any good.

It was like saying goodbye to a statue.

After a while, I went out and left the hospital

and walked back to the hotel in the rain.

(flowing piano music)

- Parts of "A Farewell To Arms"

could have been written by a woman.

Now I regard that as a compliment.

Hemingway might regard it as an insult,

but I don't because it is the androgyny

in a man or a woman

that allows them, even if briefly, not utterly,

to be able to put themselves inside the skin

of the opposite thing.

In many ways, I think it's his greatest novel.

I do.

It's the truest.

It's also heartbreaking.

I remember crying and crying and crying.

He gets the, all the, the boy stuff, the man stuff.

He gets the horror of the war.

When paper put that book down, what do they remember?

They remember a woman dying in childbirth.

- [Reader] If people bring so much courage to this world

the world has to kill them to break them.

So of course it kills them.

The world breaks everyone and afterward

many are strong at the broken places,

but those that will not break, it kills.

It kills the very good and the very gentle

and the very brave impartially.

If you are none of these, you can be sure

it will kill you too,

but there will be no special hurry.

- I think we have time for our panelists to respond, Lynn.

- Yes, that'd be wonderful,

and then we'll take a few audience questions.


Yeah, should we go whichever order,

but this is a very interesting way of um,

when I read this, I keep on thinking

about the seminal experience of the nurse

breaking his heart and then he sort of has his revenge

and that he gets to change the way the story ends,

but that's a very simplistic understanding

of just how novelists takes the grit

from their personal experiences

and turns it into something very different.

But, you know, it's a really tragic ending

to a very beautiful book in our opinion.

So who would like to jump in?


So Joyce?

- Beautiful novel.

I have heard people criticize the passage

that was quoted as being very sentimental.

And of course, making the woman die in childbirth

is something that the author did,

wouldn't have had to have happened in that way.

And in the story "Hills Like White Elephants,"

the issue is should a woman have the baby

of this man with whom she's been living

or should she sort of obey his wishes

and have an abortion.

In other words, the man

is kind of the creator of the situation.

In both cases he's impregnated a woman,

in both cases, the woman seems to be victimized by the man.

But I think as a novel it's very effective

and Edna O'Brien said she cried and cried.

You know, how many writers can have that effect on readers?

- Yeah, agreed.


- Yeah, well hearing all these beautiful passages

from early Hemingway kind of makes me wish

that I'd never read late Hemingway,

because by the end it really does change.

I mean, by "The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber"

and "The Snows of Kilimanjaro,"

the women really are alien beings and kind of monstrous.

So all of that tenderness slowly evaporates

out of the work as it goes through,

and, you know, the reason I say I wish I hadn't read it

is because it does cast you back on the beginning.

I mean, it makes it hard to see those beautiful early works

without the sort of layer of ickiness

that was applied to them by the later work.

- Well that's yeah, in the film

I think we really, you do see his relationships

with the women in his life, like we said at the beginning

having a very significant effect

on how he sees women in general.

And I always wonder if I had been married to Hemingway

and read "The Snows of Kilimanjaro"

in which the wife, or "The Short Happy Life,"

even though it's fiction, it would be pretty devastating

if your husband wrote that while you were married to him,

I would have to say.

So I have thought about that.


- It is obviously very affecting, but you can tell

that she has to die early on in the book,

because for one thing, they're not persons

having a relation.

She says things like, "I am you."

There is no separate me over and over again.

There's this statement of them merging into each other

and everybody quotes passages from Hemingway

in "The Garden of Eden" when the woman enters the man.

One reason Hemingway falls in love with Catherine,

took me a while to remember her name also,

falls in love with Catherine is that she gives him an enema

and there's a line in which she says,

"you're clean inside and out,"

and two lines later he says, "I'm in love with you."

The trouble here is that because there are no persons,

you can't imagine a future for them.

I mean, in the real future

Frederick would be leaving the toilet seat up

and Katherine would forget to put the cap on the toothpaste

and they'd be really annoyed with each other.

The only thing, one of them has to die

because there was no way to imagine them as two persons

making a life together as persons.

- Wow.

- Edna had comments related to this, Ed,

throughout the film in that he in some ways

sort of had to burn down the house

in order to get new material.

That he had to leave whatever existing structure

and not just leave it by closing the door softly

and tiptoeing out, but slamming the door

and maybe setting it ablaze.

And there's, I'm speaking metaphorically,

there's an interesting parallel

to what you're saying about that.

And I think it leads into, you know, as we began to think

about talking about the film after it was finished

and leading up to the broadcast, you know,

we exist in a society today that's very interested

in having a simplistic on off switch

about a whole bunch of stuff.

And we wondered whether the misogyny

or whatever people want to call it

and many other aspects of Hemingway

that are less than attractive

would in some way compel him to some new dustbin,

but it has not happened.

And I think an interesting thing is something Lynn,

we've been doing lots of interviews

and having lots of conversations.

Lynn told me about a conference that she and Sarah Bosstein,

our senior producer went to.

Lynn, can you tell that a little bit

about what the makeup of it was?

And if you look back at our film, it's populated,

you know, not a super majority,

but a majority of the commentators are women

for a guy who at least in our superficial culture,

we're supposed to be at this point disposing of.

So just, Lynn?

- Yeah, well, we really benefited from the fact

that there are so many women scholars, biographers,

and literary scholars and writers

who were interested in Hemingway these days.

And Sarah and I went to a conference four or five years ago,

five years ago, I guess.

Every two years the Hemingway Society has a conference.

I know probably many people are watching

from the Hemingway Society

and we were really interested to see that

probably half the people there were older white men,

I would say, older, you know, 60, 70, older,

kind of seeming to be trying to embody

what the image of Hemingway that I would have thought--

- In safari jackets.

- Yeah, I mean to some degree, right?

And then the other half were younger women,

many women who were gay, women who were trans,

or people who were trans,

there was this a very interesting collection of people

who were looking at Hemingway through a feminist lens,

through a queer lens, through a gender fluid lens,

and looking at aspects of his work

that are kind of exploring

what Ed was basically just speaking about

and this sort of lifelong fascination with androgyny

and kind of peeling away the layers of this masculinity

that we, you know, see us kind of posture, you know,

a mask and looking deeper into who he really was

or maybe we will never know who he really was,

but looking through his work to find these breadcrumbs

and kind of connect a whole different set of dots.

So it was truly fascinating and really helped us shape,

at least going into this project

what kinds of questions were we going to be asking

beyond the ones that we had started with

before we went to the conference.

So, and speaking of that, I do have a few questions

from the audience and would like to try to bring in a few

that kind of tie into this conversation.

So Danielle from Racine asks,

do you think, anyone here please jump in,

that he just didn't understand women,

and was he frustrated that he couldn't

or was he frustrated that they couldn't identify with women,

which is a different question.

So, you know, that's either in his biography or in his work,

you know, does Hemingway actually understand women?

- Just a few things, I think there's a real tenderness

in some of Hemingway's portraits of male bonding.

There was an early story called "The Battler"

where there's a Black man, and then there's a white man

who'd been a boxer and suffering

from a kind of Parkinson's disease.

He's really not completely rational,

but the bond between them,

while it's not everyday full-in camaraderie,

it's very tender.

And Hemingway may have felt insecure

in sort of, he couldn't trust women,

I noticed that many of the questions

had been about his relationship with his mother

which we haven't talked about.

I think he just couldn't feel that he could trust women,

that he could rely on them.

- Yeah.

- Well, by the end I mean, by the,

that's quite true, I mean, by the end really,

I mean "The Short, Happy Life of Francis Macomber"

essentially says you can't trust women

not to shoot you in the head

if that happens to be your, you know,

you're in the wrong place.

So I think that's quite true, but and also I think he,

you know, regardless liking a gender

or not liking a gender is quite different

from being able to imagine your way inside a person,

inside another person,

and that was the thing that I think

that was harder for him.

I mean, you can see pieces of himself

appearing in different characters,

but you can rarely, much more rarely see him

completely losing himself and entering a character,

a female character I would say.

- Yeah.

Okay, I'll throw in.

Oh, Ed, yes.

Go ahead.

- Oh, I just wanted to jump in that

the question implies that somehow there's a category

of women that you can understand.

I'm not sure Hemingway can make sense of a person

who you could understand.

He's always presenting this one stereotype version of men

and one stereotype of women.

One thing that's striking this, I'll do this very briefly.

I'm teaching a lecture course in Virginia Woolf,

this term on Virginia Woolf

and all of our characters have a whole lifetime.

All of Hemingway's characters seem to exist

in about three days of light at the most.

In other words, they don't have

what makes real human beings persons.

They have histories.

And Hemingway's characters don't have that.

- Well, I don't think you'd go to Hemingway

for astonishing revelations of psychological depth.

I don't think that's what he did,

but I mean, there are million other things

he did beautifully and he wrote so beautifully,

but I don't think that's, you know what I mean,

I don't want to drag Anna Karenina in here again,

but it can't, you know--

- I think you can drag Anna Karenina in here again.

- Yes, definitely.

- That's sort of the, you know,

that willingness to go under the layers

and under the layers and under the layers of exterior

often is not there for him.

- So what do we go to Hemingway for, Francine?

- Well, language principally, I think.

I mean, just, he wrote so beautifully

and there are sentences and paragraphs you can,

and the rhythm of the language,

and I think that's what Toby Wolf meant

when he talked about him changing the furniture in the room.

I mean, you know, Joyce mentioned Sherwood Anderson,

but even if you look at Sherwood Anderson,

his ability to sound the way American sounded on the page

wasn't as good, it wasn't the same as Hemingway's.

I mean, something, you know, something changed

when Hemingway started writing.

- I got this point, but one thing the film showed

was the way in which Hemingway's rhythms

come out of Johann Sebastian Bach.

I've read this before, but I've never experienced it

until hearing the Bach in the background in the films

and that sense of what he could do aesthetically

comes out very powerfully.

- Well, there's mom again, you know,

which makes it all the more interesting.

I think Lynn's kind of thing

that she's been fixated for a long time

about Agnes leaving him as being this huge moment.

- I confess. - I agree completely,

but I think mom as being this overdramatizing person

and very critical of him later on,

particularly at a very important moment in his life,

but instilling in him this love of music

and the repetition and counterpoint,

counterpoint and repetition, as we say in the film

in the work of Bach, then helps you understand,

for example, the music, literally the music,

Francine, of the opening of say "A Farewell To Arms"

with, you know, all the ands and the dust and the troops

and the this and all of a sudden

it has a kind of musical characteristic to it

that's just sublime

and maybe, Ed, the characters

don't have to last more than three days.

They're all, you know, mayflies of something.

- Well, we have, I think we have

an interesting question from Elizabeth.

I don't know where Elizabeth is from,

but do you think Hemingway would have been a writer,

would have written what he wrote or written,

had he been born 50 years later?

It's hard for me to imagine him without the wars

and the masculine identity of the time.

And I think, you know, that we'll never know

the answer to that, but just how much is his work

grounded in his time and the forces that shaped him

versus some eternal, you know, where does the,

why do we still go to him, as Ken was saying?

Anyone want to?

- Well, I think it's interesting to compare

Hemingway with Faulkner in some sense.

I guess the sense that Edward

doesn't really like Hemingway a good deal.

I mean, I can understand that he's maybe not doing

the sort of thing that Virginia Woolf is doing,

but, you know, we all are trying different things

and we're all trying to get by.

So what Hemingway did very well,

I think he was dramatizing, is holding a mirror

up to what he considered his life.

And to him, it was totally bounded by death

and that at any moment, one could step off the edge and die.

All of his character seemed to be isolated and alone.

They don't have children, they don't have families,

they're not really embedded.

When you compare him with Faulkner,

you see the vast difference.

Just the style alone.

The Faulknerian sentences are very rich

and eloquent and elaborate.

And almost everything a Faulkner character does

is a relationship to something in the past.

And he's writing in this very allegorical,

but also about the American South.

Hemingway has no interest in that.

He's much more like a dramatist,

just like Shakespeare, he's presenting a dramatic scene

and there is great beauty and it's thrilling

to be a dramatist and to dramatize something

that's happening in real time,

nevermind about everything around the edges.

- Wow.

- There's one, I mean, clearly people

are going to write differently in any era.

One thing that the film brought out to me was,

again really surprised to see,

hearing Hemingway's erotic life described

is one of the things,

he sounds exactly like Percy Bysshe Shelley

who's always finding some ideal woman

who was the perfect example of a woman.

And then six months later, she was the worst monster

who ever lived because she didn't live up

to Shelly's ideal of what a woman ought to be.

And Shelly simplified life in a way

that made tremendous, made for tremendous popularity

and fame in a way that, again, flattered the reader

but it was always about,

it's always hovering above reality in some way,

and sort of reducing human beings

to some kind of abstraction.

And by the way, of course, that's,

Victor Frankenstein is a portrait of Percy Bysshe Shelly

by his wife.

- As you've introduced the psychosexual dimension to this,

can you carry that into what you just said?

I mean, with regard to, if you can't last six months,

if it's perfection the first time,

and you're gone in six months, what does that say?

- Well, I mean, Victor Frankenstein

is someone who doesn't want to have sex

with beautiful Elizabeth who wants to marry him.

Instead, he wants to create a perfect human being

in a laboratory.

You know, we know how well that worked out

and with Hemingway, there's the same kind of

psychosexual drama going on.

There's an avoidance of a real person.

- Can I just, something-- (Ed talking indistinctly)

- Can I just speak a little bit of a defense of Hemingway?

I think we're expecting something of him

that he wasn't not able to provide.

Why don't we think of him as someone

who is haunted by death,

his father had committed suicide, he was deeply insecure,

he made of the material of his life

and a very beautiful and lasting monument

to just getting through it.

He live to be about 62 and then he killed himself,

but maybe he might've died much younger.

The same thing could be said of Virginia Woolf.

There's something heroic in these people

enduring as long as they do,

especially Hemingway was haunted by the possibility

of dying and suicide all through his life.

- And I think we tried to do that in the film, Joyce,

to show that the, not just the suicide,

but the ideation and the PTSD from World War I

and, you know, the abandonment, all of that,

and which he writes about extremely well.

Francine, I'm sorry.

- Oh, sorry.

Well, one of the things I think that makes Hemingway

so modern was his, the frankness

with which he wrote about anxiety.

I mean, sexual anxiety, life and death anxiety,

and I mean, no one thinks of Hemingway and Kafka

as inhabiting the same universe really.

But when you look at them and you look at the way

in which that kind of existential terror

just animated so much of what they did,

they're very modern in that way.

There wasn't that much of that

before they came along really.

- Yeah. That's great.

Lynn, do you have any other questions from folks?

- I just got one more, sorry.

Oh my goodness. Okay.

Did any of his female, this is from Ariadna.

Did any of his female characters resemble his mother?


No, he, I mean, I will say he does have scenes

of the doctor and the doctor's wife,

that's probably the most scathing portrayal of his mother

where, yeah, that's, there are no happy portrayals

of a woman of that generation who is a mother figure

in his work that come off well

that I can think of unfortunately.

- I think Mrs. Macomber was his sort of

terribly darkly idealized vision of his mother

who was a woman who very improbably, I mean,

it's just not likely to really be able to happen,

but to shoot her husband, I think he felt

that the mother, didn't the mother send the gun

the father had used to commit suicide?

Didn't she send the gun to him?

- Well, he asked for it, he asked for it.

He asked her to send it, but yes, she did.

- But that action, sending the gun to his son

that had been used by the father to kill himself,

I mean what kind of an arrow to the heart is that?

- Mm hmm. Yeah.

- Well, this has been an extraordinary evening.

I hope that the three of you

used to much more lengthy discourses and deeper dives,

we've found it, Lynn and I, have found it

so fascinating and so interesting.

It's helped us, it hardly now seems fair

that this is the last of the conversations.

It's promoted so many new ideas for us.

Thank you, Joyce.

Thank you, Francine.

Thank you, Ed, for illuminating discussion

and thank you to The New York Review of Books

for hosting us this evening.

We're very, very grateful.

Thank you too to our production partners

throughout this series, PBS, the stations,

and our funders, Bank of America,

The Better Angels Society,

and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

to name just three, and of course, all of you

for joining us over the last few weeks,

those stalwart groupies that have been listening

to all of this.

We encourage you to read Ernest Hemingway.

And of course, we encourage you

to read many others, Virginia Woolf,

that sounds like a good recommendation from this evening.

Support your local bookstores!

You can find copies of the Hemingway stories,

which is, Scribner's has just put out a collection

of short stories accompanying our film

with a wonderful introduction by Tobias Wolff,

who is one of the commentators in our film

and at bookshop.org.

Please remember to tune in starting April 5th

on your PBS station or on any PBS platforms,

including pbs.org.

This is, on behalf of Lynn Novick and myself,

we wanted to say thank you for this evening

and look forward to future conversations

about other films in the works.

Have a good evening.

Thank you very much.

- Thank you.

- Thank you.


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