Man at Work
Hemingway Days are well in the past, but we thought we’d check in with Ernest one last time. The occasion is the opening of Paris Review’s massive archive of interviews—great news if you want to hear Jack Kerouac talk about “Yeatsian semi-trance,” but also great news if you want to pick up a few of Hemingway’s drinkin’-and-writin’ stories.
Our favorite finds the great man in full myth-making mode, detailing how he wrote The Sun Also Rises, and giving the story of a one-night binge that produced three of his best shorts.
Let’s see. The Sun Also Rises I started in Valencia on my birthday, July 21. Hadley, my wife, and I had gone to Valencia early to get good tickets for the feria there which started the twenty-fourth of July. Everybody my age had written a novel and I was still having a difficult time writing a paragraph. So I started the book on my birthday, wrote all through the feria, in bed in the morning, went on to Madrid and wrote there. There was no feria there, so we had a room with a table and I wrote in great luxury on the table and around the corner from the hotel in a beer place in the Pasaje Alvarez where it was cool. It finally got too hot to write and we went to Hendaye. There was a small cheap hotel there on the big long lovely beach and I worked very well there and then went up to Paris and finished the first draft in the apartment over the sawmill at 113 rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs six weeks from the day I started it.
I showed the first draft to Nathan Asch, the novelist, who then had quite a strong accent, and he said, “Hem, vaht do you mean saying you wrote a novel? A novel huh. Hem you are riding a travhel büch.” I was not too discouraged by Nathan and rewrote the book, keeping in the travel (that was the part about the fishing trip and Pamplona) at Schruns in the Vorarlberg at the Hotel Taube.
The stories you mention I wrote in one day in Madrid on May 16 when it snowed out the San Isidro bullfights. First I wrote “The Killers,” which I’d tried to write before and failed. Then after lunch I got in bed to keep warm and wrote “Today Is Friday.” I had so much juice I thought maybe I was going crazy and I had about six other stories to write. So I got dressed and walked to Fornos, the old bullfighters’ café, and drank coffee and then came back and wrote “Ten Indians.” This made me very sad and I drank some brandy and went to sleep. I’d forgotten to eat and one of the waiters brought me up some bacalao and a small steak and fried potatoes and a bottle of Valdepeñas.
The woman who ran the pension was always worried that I did not eat enough and she had sent the waiter. I remember sitting up in bed and eating, and drinking the Valdepeñas. The waiter said he would bring up another bottle. He said the Señora wanted to know if I was going to write all night. I said no, I thought I would lay off for a while. Why don’t you try to write just one more, the waiter asked. I’m only supposed to write one, I said. Nonsense, he said. You could write six. I’ll try tomorrow, I said. Try it tonight, he said. What do you think the old woman sent the food up for?
I’m tired, I told him. Nonsense, he said (the word was not nonsense). You tired after three miserable little stories. Translate me one.
Leave me alone, I said. How am I going to write it if you don’t leave me alone? So I sat up in bed and drank the Valdepeñas and thought what a hell of a writer I was if the first story was as good as I’d hoped.
- — Russell Brandom