Thursday 27 August 2015

Another look at Hemingway's Paris

Ernest Hemingway left an impression on Paris unlike any other writer working in the English language, to the point where his mark has almost become pollution. A vast number of guides and walking tours exist that claim to offer a glimpse into his city, an industry the man himself would no doubt have thoroughly disapproved of.

I'm not particularly fond of Hemingway the writer, and even less enamoured of the man himself, but I was pleasantly surprised by a recent book I received, "Hemingway's Paris: A Writer's City in Words and Images", by photographer Robert Wheeler.

It so happened that I received the book at the same time as I was re-reading 'A Moveable Feast' for my book project. It proved a perfect fit and I would recommend combining the two to all who may be interested, particularly as almost none of the 'words' mentioned in Wheeler's book title come from Hemingway himself.

This omission - surely due to the fact that quoting Hemingway's prose would have been project-cripplingly expensive - proves to be the book's major weakness. Wheeler's text is charming and clear, expressing the ardour of a true fan, but Hemingway himself - and his first wife Hadley - seem strangely absent from the book.

In many ways it therefore becomes a tale of one man's search for the essence of Hemingway in today's city. This is not a simple photographic record of all the places Hemingway mentioned in his writings, but rather a series of suppositions on how Hemingway and Hadley may have interacted with the places Wheeler has captured. A statue in the Tuileries for example is described as something that for Hadley "might have been a constant reminder of being let go."

The real power of the book comes from Robert Wheeler's photos. Attempting to capture Hemingway's Paris is a perilous exercise, working in locations that are now over-familiar clichés of the city. Wheeler though always manages to find a new angle and a dynamic framing which ensure his black and white photos drip with atmosphere and a certain melancholia - which certainly matches the mood of Hemingway when he wrote his Paris memoirs.

Invisible Hemingway? 

I asked Robert Wheeler to suggest a location in Paris that few people would associate with Hemingway. Here is the photo and text he sent me.

"This statue, located at the southern end of the Jardin du Luxembourg, secretly shouts to all who know the truth of Hemingway’s time in Paris with his first wife, Hadley. They moved to the City of Light together in December of 1921. Hemingway learned quickly and worked hard to carve out his sparse style, while his adoring wife supported him every step along the way. Six years later, with the publication of his first novel, 'The Sun Also Rises', Hemingway left Hadley, alone in the city they had once called their own. Although at first devastated, in the end Hadley went on to share a lovely life with a new husband, while Ernest toppled through three other marriages. To all who know the story of Ernest and Hadley, this statue shouts—reminding them of the power and the endurance of unconditional love, devotion, and support."

Being by nature curious, I wanted to find out more about this location. The statue is called 'Aurore' (Dawn), and was created by sculptor François Joufroy towards the end of the 19th century. It can be found in the "Jardin des grands explorateurs Marco Polo et Cavelier-de-la-Salle", not actually within the Jardin du Luxembourg itself.

The Jardin du Luxembourg though is a place where Hemingway often walked, especially "in the early days when we were very poor and very happy." Rather than looking for symbolism and inspiration in statues though, it seems he primarily walked through the gardens to avoid temptation. "The best place to do it," he wrote, "was the Luxembourg gardens where you saw and smelled nothing to eat all the way from the Place de l'Observatoire to the Rue de Vaugirard."

In these walks he was in essence cutting off his hands, something that coincidently also seems to have happened to the statue, with comparitively recent photos showing the female figure holding a bouquet of flowers. Wheeler's photo therefore also captures something lost, much like Hemingway in "A Moveable Feast"!

1 comment:

e said...

Lovely post and thanks for the links. I've never been a fan of Hemingway, either but do enjoy the work of various photographers. This book will be an interesting read.

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