That Summer in Paris: Memories of Tangled Friendships with Ernest Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald
by Morley Callaghan


CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

BUT the day and night I always remember came a week later. The May weather was so fine I didn’t want to stay in the apartment in the afternoons and work. Bit by bit, looking at paintings had become part of our daily fare. Everybody in Paris seemed to paint, and in store windows in strange little streets you would see reproductions of Matisse, Derain, Rouault, Chirico, Modigliani, Picasso, Utrillo, and in the Quarter the surrealists Picabia and Miro were famous names. At that time there was still a common language of paintings; the language hadn’t got broken up. The painters hadn’t quite entered their tower of Babel.

Some writers like to sit for long hours at their desks. Not me. At that time the New Yorker had written asking if I had any stories. I began to work on some. And I was also working on the novel that was to be called It’s Never Over. But the Paris streets were my workshop. While loafing along the streets ideas for stories would grow in my head. Little street scenes would seem to distract me, Would indeed get my full attention: the intent expression On the faces of men hurrying to the street urinals; workingmen quarrelling under the eyes of a gendarme, each seeking the triumph of provoking the other to strike the first blow and get arrested. Or some little street whore would make me wonder, “Why are so many of these girls of the same short solid build as the whores Lautrec loved to paint?” A writer is always working. I can’t remember watching the ease and style with which Lacoste and Cochet handled Big Bill Tilden in the Davis Cup tennis matches and telling myself it had something to do with style in writing. When I got back to the apartment I would sit by the window overlooking the prison wall and write rapidly, most of the work having been done in my head before I came home. Often it rained. It was the time for reading. Very late at night was also a good time. From the window I could watch the bicycle patrol, the three tough French cops no one wanted to tangle with, come pedalling slowly down the street.

Even when reading a writer is busily at work watching how an affect is achieved on the page. But whether I was reading D. H. Lawrence or Tolstoy or Virginia Woolf I would notice that when I hit certain scenes I would be so carried away I would cease “to be aware of style or method. What then made good writing good? That was always the question. Freshness? Verbal felicity? No, there always seemed to be some other quality. There had been at the time a quarrel about the methods of Arnold Bennett and Virginia Woolf; Bennett’s or Zola’s camera eye and Virginia Woolf’s interior flow of impressions. But it seemed to me, reading so late at night in my room overlooking the prison wall, that there could be no quarrel at all. The temperament, the character, the very identity of the writer was in his kind of eye. Virginia Woolf had a sensibility so fragile it must have been always close to the breaking point; she couldn’t have written any other way. And Lawrence? Again the writer’s own character gave his work its identity. He must have been an Anglo-Saxon puritan with an inborn uneasiness about female flesh; he must have hated this uneasiness, and hungered for the expression of ecstasy; therefore the natural poetry of sex. But then I would wonder why Lady Chatterley’s correct copulations didn’t move me as much as one surrender by Anna Karenina, or one of poor Emma Bovary’s fugitive rolls in the hay.

At the cafe, of course, one could always get an argument on these questions. But I knew what I was seeking in my Paris street walks, and in the typing hours—with Loretto waiting to retype a chapter. It was this: strip the language, and make the style, the method, all the psychological ramifications, the ambience of the relationships, all the one thing, so the reader couldn’t make separations. Cezanne’s apples. The appleness of apples. Yet just apples.

Wandering around Paris I would find myself thinking of the way Matisse looked at the world around him and find myself growing enchanted. A pumpkin, a fence, a girl, a pineapple on a tablecloth—the thing seen freshly in a pattern that was a gay celebration of things as they were. Why couldn’t all people have the eyes and the heart that would give them this happy acceptance of reality? The word made flesh. The terrible vanity of the artist who wanted the word without the flesh. I can see now that I was busily rejecting even then that arrogance of the spirit, that fantasy running through modern letters and thought that man was alien in this universe. From Pascal to Henry Miller they are the children of St. Paul.

Often we would go to the Luxembourg Museum and then, when tired, sit in the gardens and watch the little girls in their severe black frocks sailing their boats on the pond. On this particular day we had spent hours in those galleries on the rue Bonaparte. We had eaten at a small cafe down that way. It was dark when we wandered up to Montparnasse. Sitting at the cafe I had got to thinking about Fitzgerald. Until then we had counted on Hemingway letting us know if he had news of the Fitzgeralds. But what if they were in Paris and hadn’t as yet got in touch with Ernest? I had a hunch it was time to go looking for them ourselves.

The hour was about nine thirty, and as we saw it, a reasonable hour to go calling. If the Fitzgeralds had been out for dinner, well, by this time they might be home. And Max Perkins had said, “Don’t write to Scott. Don’t be formal. Just drop in on him.”

The Fitzgeralds lived near the Church of St. Sulpice in an old stone building which must have been a great house at one time. As soon as we got out of the taxi I said to Loretto, “Why, this place isn’t more than a stone’s throw from Hemingway’s place. Or at least a stone thrown twice.” It was a fact I was to remember later and brood on. Standing in the little vestibule, we scanned the apartment nameplates. There, indeed, was the Fitzgerald name.”We rang the bell. No one answered. As we turned away disappointed, at loose ends standing in the shadowed doorway, a taxi drew up. A man and woman got out. They were under a streetlight. We would see their faces. “Why, there’s Fitzgerald,” I said to Loretto. In that light, even from a distance, he looked like the handsome, slender, fine-featured man whose picture I had so often seen, whose profile, in fact, appeared to be copied again and again by magazine illustrators. Coming towards us slowly, they couldn’t see us. We were half hidden in the shadows. The vestibule light touched Zelda’s blonde hair. A handsome woman, her features were as regular as Scott’s. I don’t know why it upset me seeing these fine classic heads coming into the vestibule shadows where we waited.

Stepping out I said, “I’m Morley Callaghan and this is Loretto.” Startled for a moment, they had no words for us. They seemed to be trying to get used to the sight of us on their doorstep. “Well, hello, how are you?” Scott said. Then, half confused, he added, “Why didn’t you let us know you were in Paris?” We all shook hands. Opening the door he led us in.

His manner was correctly courteous. All the little gentlemanly amenities seemed to be important to him. There was nothing lazy or slovenly about his speech or his movements. His light brown hair was cut cleanly and combed exactly, and he spoke with a quiet precise firmness. He was slender and of medium height. In the cut of his jaw, in his little gestures, there was a forcefulness, almost a sense of authority. Perhaps it was the manner of a man who knew he should always appear in this light; yet he did seem to assert a deep confidence in his own importance. It was attractive and somehow reassuring. Later on it came out that this sense of his importance both sustained and tormented him. Yet meeting him there for the first time I can see now that if he had been told that night that he would become the Phoenix of modern letters he would not have been surprised. A proud man, he would have taken it as his due. And his wife too had the appearance, I say the appearance, of this strange confidence. In her handsome face there was a firmness that was almost a stubbornness, a kind of challenging confidence that didn’t put one quickly at ease with her, and yet made one believe in all the wild stories one had heard about her. They both looked as if they were cut from an expensive pattern that included the big apartment.

It was a big elegant apartment, a far more elaborate apartment than Hemingway’s place, and whereas I could think of Hemingway’s or Joyce’s apartments as having living rooms, in this place of Scott’s I knew I was in a drawing room. It had period furniture, too. We all sat down and looked at each other, not apprehensively or critically, just trying to get used to each other quickly. Then Scott explained that they had been to a theatrical performance, I forget whether it was a ballet or a play. From what we had heard of Zelda we expected perhaps a grand gesture, a rippling laugh or some romantic absurdity. Instead, she sat with a little smile, studying us. They asked if we had seen the Hemingways. When we said indeed we had, Scott wanted to know when, and asked if we often saw Ernest. He got drinks for us. Then we all seemed to relax and grow animated, and I could see that Scott was a man of sudden quick enthusiasms who, after he had made up his mind that you were temperamentally akin to him, wasn’t concerned about withholding anything of himself. I liked him immediately. In fact it was a joy to see that he was so much like the picture of him I had kept in my thoughts.

Soon we were talking about anything and everything, all getting a little closer to each other. Suddenly he asked if we had read A Farewell to Arms, Only some parts of it? Hurrying to his study he returned with a manuscript copy, and glowing with enthusiasm, he fumbled through the pages till he found the part he wanted. “Just listen to this,” he said. He read that passage, “—if people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them—” He read it with emotion. When he finished he asked quietly, “Isn’t it beautiful?”

“Well, yes it is,” I agreed, “but…” Maybe I frowned as I deliberated. It was hard to describe the impression the passage had made on me. Finally I said, “Of course it’s beautiful, but…”

“But what?” Scott asked gravely.

“But maybe it’s too deliberate. Maybe the rhythmic flow is too determined, and the passage emerges as a set piece.”

Certainly is was lyrical, Scott said, shrugging and changing his tone, but for that matter the whole book was lyrical. He waited, watching me, then he shrugged. “All right, it doesn’t impress you.”

“If you ask me, it sounds pretty damned Biblical,” Zelda said firmly. Perhaps she had heard the passage read to her many times. Anyway, she seemed to be relieved to have someone else on her side. “If you’re not impressed, it’s all right, Morley,” Scott assured me. With an injured air he riffled through some more pages of the manuscript, then paused, pondered, came to some firm decision, closed the book, but it aside and sat listening as Zelda became talkative about prose generally. But even on that first night I became aware that Scott kept an eye on her. He let her talk on, saying little himself, just listening; then abruptly, to our surprise, he told her that she was tired. She did look tired. She should go to bed, he said firmly. Turning to us, he explained she was taking ballet lessons and had to get up early; he hoped we would understand. We didn’t quite understand; she left either too meekly or too willingly.

We were left with Scott, who was sitting by himself about eight feet away from us, regarding me too solemnly. Having poured himself another drink, he began to ask my opinion of some American writers. All my answers were frank. Making no comment, he kept on drinking, smiling encouragement. Then I became aware that he was nodding to himself, as if agreeing with himself, not with me. Leaning forward, his face suddenly pale, he said, “Let’s have lunch tomorrow, Morley.”

“I’d be glad to have lunch,” I said. Perhaps I should have expressed more warmth and enthusiasm, but his tone and his pallor now worried me. The way he watched me began to make me feel unhappy.

“Whom would you like to have lunch with us?” he asked mildly, his head on one side.

“It doesn’t matter, Scott.”

“Clive Bell, the art critic, is in town. Do you know his work?”

“I’ve read his book.”

“No,” he said, pondering and still watching me intently. “No, I don’t think he impresses you enough.”

“I’d like to meet him, if you’d like to have him along,” I said, laughing awkwardly. In a swift glance at my wife I saw she was as uneasy as I was. In our hurt embarrassment we both waited. Though Scott had an awful pallor, and I knew he was getting drunk, he smiled sweetly, his head on one side again, as he considered some grave problem. “No, I don’t think Clive Bell impresses you, Morley,” he said, with his deceptive smile. Then half to himself, “Who does impress you, Morley?”

My face began to bum, and my wife, stiffening, sat helplessly on the edge of her chair, no doubt remembering all I had told her about Scott. With her eyes she was pleading with me to go. But before I could speak, stand up, make the necessary polite little remarks, Scott himself stood up slowly. “Would this impress you, Morley?” he asked sweetly.

Suddenly he got down on his knees, put his head on the floor and tried to stand on his head. One leg came up, and he tried to get the other one up and maintain his balance. And while he was swaying and flopping at my feet, my shame and anger became unbearable. I thought of that afternoon on Fifth Avenue when I had walked up to the Plaza, wondering about him, moved by his generosity in going into Scribner’s with my story, and how anxious I had been for his friendship. Now here he was on the floor of his own drawing room, trying to stand on his head to mock me. In my anger and anguish, I felt there must be some dreadful flaw in my character which he had immediately perceived. Then he lost his balance and sprawled flat on his face. I got up and helped him to his feet. “You’re a little drunk,” I said. “No, not at all,” he said, and he was almost convincing, for as soon as he got to his feet he had good balance and control of himself. It was nice meeting him, we said. Untroubled, he walked us to the door and shook hands politely. We said good night.

Outside, heartbroken and humiliated, I walked along beside Loretto. “He was drunk, that’s all,” she said sympathetically. “Yet how did it happen to him so quickly?”

“Even if it was the alcohol,” I said bitterly, “it only helped him to show what he thought of me.”

Then Loretto stopped suddenly and turned to me, shaking her head in wonder. “Do you know you have the craziest friends?”

“Nobody else has been crazy.”

“All along the way they’ve been crazy. Look. I met Sinclair Lewis. What does this great man do? Puts on a first-class vaudeville act.”

“He was very nice and you know it.”

“He was wonderful. I loved him. And McAlmon?”

“He does crazy things, I admit.”

“And the great Joyce plays an Aimee Semple McPherson record for a laugh. And Ernest? Imagine! He spits blood right in your face. It’s insane.”

“I like him and so do you.”

“I like them all. They’re all so attractive. All so wonderfully upsetting. How do I know what’s going to happen next? We’ve just met a man we’ve always wanted to meet. What does he do? He doesn’t spit. He stands on his head for us. Absolutely crazy too.”

“Aren’t you lucky?” I said. “I’m the only one who is calm, objective and rational.”


Next Chapter 19


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