Books in the Background 7: Hemingway's Europe

Introduction

            Hemingway's s Europe has generally meant France, Italy, and Spain although he traveled from the Atlantic to the eastern Mediterranean. The Letters of Ernest Hemingway and Brewster Chamberlin's The Hemingway Log record his experience in other countries: in a one-year burst from 1922-1923, he was in Paris, Constantinople, Rapallo, Genoa, Rome, Hamburg,  Milan, the Ruhr Valley of Germany, Madrid, and  Pamplona. Paris, where he lived, was itself an international city with many of its intellectuals coming from Berlin, Moscow, and Vienna: John Richardson's life of Picasso points out that Hemingway was part of a large international group of artists and celebrities with common interests; and Ian Kershaw's history of Europe believes that "modernist writers, including James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and Ezra Pound" (167) knew about the avant-garde in other countries. We tend to concentrate on the personal lives of modernists in Paris, but these men and women often had Europe on their minds.  James Mellow cites Gertrude Stein's intense interest in post-war conditions. She was reading the memoirs of Lord Grey in the early 1920s; and discussing both war and peace with Picasso. She was, in fact, convinced that peace in Europe had "much greater terrors than war." Michael Reynolds writes in Hemingway: the Paris Years that in 1922 Hemingway had to educate himself about British and French policy on Greece and Turkey—and also on Mustapha Kemal's disinclination to care about it. Even in Paris, on a night off, he and other readers would have seen John Reed's column in the Tribune interpreting the bloody, chaotic, indecisive Siki-Carpentier fight as a symbol of the failure of European governments to bring about recovery, let alone a normal world. 

 

To Hell and Back: Europe 1914-1949.  By Ian Kershaw.  New York: Viking, 2015, 593 pp. $35.00.

             John Maynard Keynes thought that the war's effects were multiplied after the Treaty of Versailles.  His book, The Economic Consequences of the Peace, identified two causes of European disruption: vengeful  reparations and the refusal of governments to recognize that society as well as the economy had forever changed. Ian Kershaw writes that the effects of inflation were even greater than they then seemed. In the provinces of Eastern Europe, according to a village mayor in Poland, "If anyone sold anything and did not at once buy something else with the money, he would lose heavily.  There were many who sold house or field, or part of their cattle, only to keep their money either at home or in some bank.  These lost all they had and became beggars.  On the other hand, those who borrowed money and bought things with it made fortunes. There were endless heaps of money. One had to carry it in briefcases or baskets.  Purses and the like were useless.  For things for the house one paid in thousands, then in millions, and finally in billions" (97). The trauma of war was followed by the trauma of peace—Kershaw sees the early twenties in Europe as a second battleground between shifting social classes.

            London and Paris were not exempt. Kershaw says of Britain that if you were a wounded veteran—which is to say lucky enough to survive the battlefield—further treatment might well be ineffectual.  Many of those you knew did not survive the war. Not only was your homeland ideologically changed but chances for employment were low because political parties even in Western Europe had no idea at all of the cost of reintegration. Britain came out of the war in much better condition than its enemies but even so, "by 1921, countless former soldiers, many of them badly disabled, were living in dire poverty, begging on the streets or trying to eke out a living by selling matches and mementoes, eating at food kitchens, sometimes forced to sleep in doorways or on park benches. 'We were no longer heroes, we were simply 'unemployed'" (94).

            Hemingway surveyed "King Business in Europe" (1923) from Italy to Rumania and concluded that the old regimes rested "on a volcano." Kershaw's chapter "Dancing on the Volcano" notes that Paris was the center of Europe from 1919 on and also the location for international meetings that carved up the world.  Hemingway wrote, "the statesmen and their friends were living in the best hotels of Paris during the year 1919 and making the treaty that was designed to Europeanize the Balkans, and succeeded in Balkanizing Europe." The national character of Rumania is about as far from the advice of Gertrude Stein or the effect of Cézanne on writing as can be imagined but those subjects were all on his mind in the early 1920s.  Rumania, which "had been given all the land of her neighbors in every direction that any Rumanian had mentioned," would, Hemingway said, break up like an ice floe when it hits the Gulf Stream. That was because all of the people it had ingested along with these territories had only one desire, "to cease to be Rumanian." His conclusions about nations were drawn from the edges of the European world as well as from centers of culture and civilization.

            The late twenties and early thirties in Europe produced a characteristic frame of mind: "Perhaps, without the Depression imported from the USA, Europe could have progressed along the road of undisturbed economic growth, liberal freedom and democratic rule to the broad sunlit uplands of international peace and harmony.  But a betting man would not have placed much money on it. . . . Serious economic weaknesses within an unstable and imbalanced global economy, magnified by nationalist protectionism and glorified self-interest, offered no firm basis for staving off the shock waves from across the Atlantic.  Cultural divisions fostered extensive levels of prejudice and vitriol that could easily be exploited should there be a downturn in the social and intellectual climate. Democratic, liberal ideas were everywhere on the defensive" (195-96).  Hemingway stated in an interview for Hulton's National Weekly Picture Post in 1944 that the war had in fact been going on since 1936. By the late thirties, there were only eleven democracies on the continent. Aside from the Soviet Union, sixteen European nations lived under authoritarian regimes. Civil rights were derisory. According to Kershaw, "Europe's post-war international order had from the beginning been an extremely flimsy edifice resting on the shakiest of foundations" (247). He examines both political events and ideas generated by them.  New government institutions were designed to invent national ideologies, enlist intellectual arguments against minorities, and convert resentments into theories.  Like Timothy Snyder, who covers the same period so well in Bloodlands, Kershaw describes the process of intellectualizing fascism and communism through ministries, national youth organizations, and party membership. As he puts it, the new dispensation was distinguished by those who made careers out of authoritarianism. Kershaw offers a great deal of information on what Edmund Wilson described as the conversion of culture from religion to politics. His passages on the veneration of Mussolini (281) and the "pseudo-religious sentiment and naive popular piety" (289) of Germany before World War II are based on the analysis of personal documents which is now so large a part of archival research.

Ron Berman, February 9, 2017