Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Paris and U.S. were night and day for Hemingway

Dancer wore only a fur coat and a smile

Express Staff Writer

Photo courtesy Sun Valley-Ketchum Chamber & Visitors Bureau Ernest Hemingway, second from left, shows off the bounty of a pheasant hunt. Hemingway was passionate about hunting, in Idaho and elsewhere.

After a black youth was stoned and drowned after wandering into a whites-only area while swimming at Lake Michigan in 1919, a race riot followed in Chicago.

Over the next two weeks 38 people died, 500 were injured and rioters burned hundreds of homes. The state militia was called out, and there were riots in at least 20 U.S. cities that summer. America in 1919 was not a place that Ernest Hemingway wanted to be—for a lot of reasons.

This was just one example that Susan Beegel, a Hemingway scholar and editor of "The Hemingway Review," gave for Hemingway and other American ex-patriots wanting to return to Europe after the end of World War I.

Beegel spoke on "America in the 1920s: Why Hemingway Went to Paris," on Friday, Sept. 21, at the third annual Ernest Hemingway Festival in Sun Valley.

For more than an hour Beegel took her audience at Carol's Dollar Mountain Lodge through a series of examples contrasting the moods of the two countries. What played in Paris did not play in Peoria.

There was "a full-scale war on culture" going on in the U.S. between the two world wars, said Beegel, likening it to what's going on today. Racism, the fundamentalist "Scopes Monkey Trial," prohibition and a stolid rigidity were all aspects of the American scene at the time, she said.

The all-black, segregated 369th Regiment from New York fought along the French Army during the war, and many returned to Paris after the war where they were revered, said Beegel.

"It (Europe/Paris) especially welcomed black jazz musicians with open arms," she said.

The young Hemingway earned his writing spurs in a setting that no one could mistake for his hometown, Oak Park, Ill. He wrote of "the wild night music of Paris" and of dancing with black entertainer Josephine Baker who "wore a fur coat with nothing on underneath," Beegel said.

Hemingway's grandson, John Hemingway, gave the keynote speech to open the festival and agreed the City of Light was the bedrock beneath his grandfather's soul.

"Paris is fundamental to everything that has to do with my grandfather," he said. "He wanted to go native wherever he went."

In France, the saying goes, they have 300 types of cheeses and one religion. While in the United States we have 300 religions and one kind of cheese. This paradox exemplifies the differences in the two societies after World War I, Beegel said.

This puritanical, anti-alcohol atmosphere of the U.S. in the 1920s was the flip side of the free-wheeling, anything-goes sexual experimentation zeitgeist of Paris, and it had a lot to do with why Ernest Hemingway and friends took up residence there. Another reason was booze.

The temperance movement, the largest reform movement in America and led mainly by women, took hold in the shape of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution prohibiting alcohol. It was ratified in January 1919, one week after Hemingway returned from the war. Hemingway's mother was in Temperance Union.

After drinking heavily in an Italian hospital while recovering from a war wound, Hemingway already had "a developing addiction," Beegel said. While back in Illinois the young journalist kept liquor in the trunk of his car, and it was legal in Canada where he freelanced for the Toronto Star.

"For the Lost Generation drinking becomes a political or ideological gesture" much like drug use in the 1960s, Beegel said.

The Lost Generation also launched its own sexual revolution. In Paris short "flapper" dresses and wild dancing were the rage while in the U.S. the Foxtrot and Tango were considered "over-exciting," Beegel said.

Beegel said even the writer's mother got into the act, weighing in on the "The Sun Also Rises," a paean to the generation.

She said that "Hemingway's own mother called it one of the filthiest books of the year."

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