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Posts Tagged ‘Ernest Hemingway’

Being Discovered: An Interview with Calvin Tomkins

October 20, 2014 | by

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Gerald and Sara Murphy with Cole Porter and the Murphy’s friend Ginny Carpenter, in Venice, summer of 1923. Gerald had come to collaborate with Porter on their ballet Within the Quota.

In the late fifties, Calvin Tomkins, a longtime staff writer for The New Yorker, moved his family from New York City to a little community on the Hudson River called Sneden’s Landing. “The houses are built on the side of a hill fairly close together,” Tomkins told me by phone this past summer, “but in those days there were no real property lines. Everybody knew each other, and the kids wandered all over.”

Tomkins’s two daughters, Anne and Susan, eventually found their way to Gerald Murphy, then in his sixties, pruning his rose garden. As kids do, they struck up a conversation with Gerald, and when Tomkins and his wife caught up with them, Sara, Gerald’s wife, emerged from the house, taking orders for ginger ale.

“The Murphys didn’t talk about the past in those days, and it was some time before I realized they were the people F. Scott Fitzgerald had used as models for Dick and Nicole Diver in Tender Is the Night,” Tomkins wrote in 1998. In the twenties and early thirties, the couple, along with their three children, spent part of the year in the south of France, on the Riviera, and the rest of it immersed in the salad days of modernism and surrealism in Paris, where they had befriended, among others, Picasso and his first wife, Olga Khokhlova; Ferdinand Léger; Dorothy Parker; Cole Porter; the Fitzgeralds; the Dos Passos; and the Hemingways. It was a fascinating life, though shrouded in mystery and tragedy.

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Gerald Murphy with Picasso.

Tomkins urged Murphy to write a memoir, but Murphy “scoffed at the notion … he had too much respect for the craft of writing, he said, to attempt something which could only be second-rate.” Tomkins reported the piece instead. It was called “Living Well Is the Best Revenge,” a reference to the seventeenth-century poet George Herbert’s mordant epigram, which Murphy had once jotted down on a piece of paper. The piece ran in The New Yorker on July 28, 1962. By the time Tomkins had expanded it into a book, in 1974, “Gerald had been dead for ten years, and Sara, who died in 1975, was no longer aware of the world around her.”

Fortunately, Tomkins was, and Living Well Is the Best Revenge remains one of the most ingeniously reported profiles of the Lost Generation, with the Murphys serving to illuminate the nearly century-old American expat scene that flourished in Europe between the two World Wars. The book had gone out of print until MoMA reissued it earlier this year in a beautiful flex-cover format. I spoke to Tomkins, who’s now eighty-eight, about the Murphys’ past, Gerald’s career as an artist, and his reporting for the book.

Before you got to know them, did you know much about Gerald and Sara Murphy?

I had heard about them. The Murphys were legendary because people knew vaguely about their life in Paris in the twenties, but nobody really knew them very well. They had a party a year, I think—a garden party with candles in paper bags. More or less the whole community was invited. But otherwise, they kept to themselves. We were all very curious about them. It seemed to us that we had these exotic creatures living in our midst. Read More »

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Where Are They Now? Part Four

August 28, 2014 | by

The fourth in a week-long series of illustrations by Jason Novak, captioned by Eric Jarosinski.

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Throw the Book at Him, Ernie, and Other News

August 12, 2014 | by

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Manhood not pictured.

  • Hemingway once slapped a critic in the face with a book. Here’s what that critic wrote: “Hemingway lacks the serene confidence that he is a full-sized man … ”
  • One of many bizarre real Victorian novel titles: The Egg, Or The Memoirs Of Gregory Giddy, Esq: With The Lucubrations Of Messrs. Francis Flimsy, Frederick Florid, And Ben Bombast. To Which Are Added, The Private Opinions Of Patty Pout, Lucy Luscious, And Priscilla Positive. Also The Memoirs Of A Right Honourable Puppy. Conceived By A Celebrated Hen, And Laid Before The Public By A Famous Cock-Feeder.
  • “What no one wants to accept—and no doubt there is an element of class prejudice at work here, too—is that there are many ways to live a full, responsible, and even wise life that do not pass through reading literary fiction. And that consequently those of us who do pursue this habit, who feel that it enriches and illuminates us, are not in possession of an essential tool for self-realization or the key to protecting civilization from decadence and collapse. We are just a bunch of folks who for reasons of history and social conditioning have been blessed with a wonderful pursuit.”
  • As Hollywood continues to reboot every franchise in sight instead of developing new concepts, one cultural critic has some strong advice: Keep up the good work! “Our cultural mythologies exist not to be venerated and preserved in amber, but to be played with, reconstituted, reconsidered, dismantled, dissected, and stripped for parts.”
  • Remembering Idris Muhammad, one of the greatest drummers in jazz, who died last week.

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In Praise of the Compact Disc, and Other News

July 9, 2014 | by

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A microwaved compact disc. (Also enjoyable: non-microwaved compact discs.) Photo: D-Kuru, via Wikimedia Commons.

  • Faulkner and Hemingway had a famously snippy rapport—Will was all like, “He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary,” and Ernie was all like, “If you have to write the longest sentence in the world to give a book distinction, the next thing you should hire Bill Veek [sic] and use midgets”—which makes Faulkner’s one-paragraph review of The Old Man and the Sea all the more surprising in its candor and courteousness. “Time may show it to be the best single piece of any of us, I mean his and my contemporaries.”
  • The case for compact discs, which are, at this juncture, the least hip medium in music: “There’s a lot of pressure in our culture right now to essentially imagine CDs out of existence … CDs currently exist in a cultural no-man’s-land recently defined by singer-songwriter Todd Snider as ‘post-hip, pre-retro’—the format is passé, but not so passé that it qualifies for reclamation.”
  • “No matter how many buildings, spacecrafts, and sentient robots Michael Bay explodes, the director can’t seem to get any respect.” So why do they perform so well at the box office, and what, exactly, motivates Bay’s style? “This video may at least help his detractors articulate their distaste with a greater degree of specificity.”
  • The artist Mark Dorf’s new series, “Axiom and Simulation,” attempts to illustrate how “the human race is constantly recording data and transforming elements of our physical surroundings into abstracted and non-physical calculations.”
  • Offices across the land are under the thumb of that insidiously vague dress code, corporate casual. “No one was quite sure what corporate casual meant. We googled it. The gist of every article is that no one knows what corporate casual is.”

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Papa’s Risqué Mash Note, and Other News

March 12, 2014 | by

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Publicity still of Marlene Dietrich in No Highway. Image via Wikimedia Commons

  • “Drunk and naked I would advance from the rear, or your rear, wearing evening clothes.” A ribald note from Hemingway to Marlene Dietrich is soon to be auctioned—their relationship was, alas, never consummated, but if the price is right, you could own a record of their long flirtation, replete with such swooning phrases as “whore blood,” “foaming at the mouth,” and “Dearest Kraut.”
  • Talking doors, gossip machines, super-duper turntables: here’s what Philip K. Dick, writing from the vantage point of 1966, thought 1992 might have been like. Would that it were.
  • While we’re on sci-fi: the New Museum’s new exhibition, “Report on the Construction of a Spaceship Module,” plunges you into the old socialist vision of space travel. “Filko has a wall-mounted tablet nearby where, donning a wall-tethered headset that brings your forehead unnaturally close to the screen, you can ponder his ruminations on the fourth dimension.”
  • “Tomorrow starts here.” “One course at a time.” “Be the difference.” The surprisingly vacuous phrases copyrighted by universities.
  • A newly reprinted 1856 essay gives German comedy quite the drubbing: “German humor generally shows no sense of measure, no instinctive tact; it is either floundering and clumsy as the antics of a leviathan, or laborious and interminable as a Lapland day, in which one loses all hope that the stars and quiet will ever come.”

 

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There’s Not an App for That, and Other News

February 13, 2014 | by

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Do you really want to write like this guy, anyway?

  • The last thing the world needs is another Hemingway imitator, but a new app purports to help you write like Ernest Hemingway. It lops off adverbs and corrects instances of passive voice, but “it’s pretty tricky to distill instructions into computer code and make a machine into an editor.” Phew. Job security.
  • Why are writers such inveterate procrastinators? “We were too good in English class.”
  • Another question: Why do literary biographers insist on portraying “a positive moral image” of their subjects, many of whom were ethically lax?
  • The Tournament of Cookbooks has begun. There will be blood. And bruised egos. And bold Mediterranean recipes.
  • An 1882 pamphlet—“The Nonsense of It!”—sunders the flimsy arguments against giving women the vote. “‘The polls are not decent places for women at present.’ Then she is certainly needed there to make them decent … the presence of one woman would be worth a dozen policemen.”

 

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