on March 14, 2002
Michael Reynolds's Hemingway, The Paris Years is the second volume of his five volume life of Hemingway. Reynolds's takes pains in his introduction to thank and praise Carlos Baker for his Hemingway biography, but Reynolds's work has become acknowledged as the greater of the two. This volume deals with Hemingway's Paris years from 1921 to 1926, the same period that Hemingway describes in his short memoir, "A Moveable Feast."
The twenty-two year old Hemingway is newly married to his first wife Hadley and has been advised by his American literary mentor, Sherwood Anderson, to go live and work among the writers and artist of Paris' Left Bank expatriate pack.
Reynolds present Hemingway's Paris years in detailed chronological order. He occasionally goes into greater detail than is appropriate for good story telling but the book reads for the most part like a novel. Hemingway takes a trip to Italy to visit his WWI haunts in Milan and the riverbank where he was wounded. Hemingway's early work as a reporter for the Toronto Star takes him to some of the major political events of the 1920's. He interviews Mussolini mere months before he seizes power in Italy and attends a 1922 Genoa conference that is eerily similar to the 2001 Genoa conference. He takes exciting bullfighting trips to Spain wherein the development of Hemingway aficion for bullfighting is well described. The details of Hemingway's climb up the literary pecking order are made clear. He is being referred to as the best young American novelist by friendly critics years before he has published a novel.
The painstaking process by which Hemingway fashioned his early, classic short stories is described in you-are-there detail. The pugnacious Hemingway picks fights with perceived rivals, both with fisticuffs and with his writing. The long and difficult negotiation by which his first publisher, Boni and Liveright publish his first widely available book, "In Our Time," is well described. It seems that "In Our Time" was published almost more as a favor to Sherwood Anderson and Hemingway's other literary fans than on it's own commercial merit. Hemingway's dissatisfaction with Boni and Liveright's efforts for him is described as well as Fitzgerald's efforts to bring Hemingway to Scribner's. Hemingway writes the short satiric novella "The Torrents of Spring" to force Boni and Liveright to break their contract with him and then gives his first real novel, "The Sun Also Rises, " to Scribner's.
The book ends with Hemingway on his way home to Paris from New York in winter 1926. He has successfully broken his contract with his first publisher and signed a new contract with Scribner's.
I sometimes feel sorry for the biographers of great men. In this case, the subject, Hemingway, lived his larger-than-life life to the fullest, grabbing all the gusto, having his adventures and love affairs while the poor biographer is trapped in his academic cocoon, poring over old papers, scribbling in notebooks, devoting his own life to writing about someone else's life. Such is the lonely world of biographers. Those thought aside, "Hemingway, The Paris Years" is a one fifth of monumental achievement by Reynolds and a must read for any fan of the great man.
on December 1, 2005
This is an engrossing book that makes you feel like you are actually walking alongside Hemingway during his early years in Paris. I could feel the cold that he felt on his cheek, I could see the smile that Hadley gave him every time he walked into their dark little apartment after a hard day of writing in the cafes. This is due to Michael Reynolds superb, painstaking research, the photographs, and the copies of original manuscript that he included in this biography. I cannot stress enough how unlike an usual biography this is...Hemingway literally leaps out at you from the first sentence and pulls you into his world, lets you experience his poverty and first marriage in Paris, the birth of his son, the arrival of his first mistress, and the amazing literary scene in Paris that has now apparently died for good. Hemingway has amazing quotes on writing, life, living through your failures, and it was a pleasure to get to read the library list of every book he checked out during this time period. This is an amazing book, and the best biography I have EVER read in my life.
on February 24, 2000
Mr. Reynolds continues his bio of EH with the writer's first marriage and Paris years of the early 1920's. Reynolds is excellent in his narrative of EH's developing literary career. The trial and errors of the early stories, the rejection and success of getting the stories published is well told. EH's social life in Paris is well analyzed. Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound are part of EH's life for short periods that EH makes the most of. His life as a reporter and editor are well told too. His life as husband and father is secondary to his work as a writer. Mr. Reynold's skill as a biographer has improved since the first volume. He is less judgemental and lets EH's nasty side reveal itself thru incident rather than excessive criticism. A first rate bio.
on June 20, 2005
I've been trying to read two other books, on top of The Paris Years, but put them both down yesterday so that I could finish this one. The biggest thing that stands out about it is the excellence of Michael Reynolds' prose. He has the rare skills which enable readers to successfully jettison themselves back in time.
This is the perfect companion to A Moveable Feast and elucidates the historical nature of the characters present in The Sun Also Rises as well. Reynolds, although sometimes pretending to do otherwise, is a psychologizing narrator. The good news is that most of his observations have the ring of truth. The biographer seems to understand his subject which is of great benefit to the rest of us. Hemingway's first marriage is discussed extensively and the coming of Pauline Pfeiffer is also elucidated at the very end. Hemingway had Ford and Pound as his philandering role models, and, eventually, he proves to be a most capable student.
What I liked best about the book was the way in which Reynolds lets us know what Hemingway's writing process was; the daily habits he undertook which allowed him to excel at his craft. He struggled mightily to master the short story and, throughout this work, his emergence as a novelist is far from certain. The scenes in Pamplona are vivid as is the depiction of the cafe life in Paris. You may well want to go back and tour it as badly as I do by the time you're done. Ah, the past. Anyway, it is unfortunate that more on F. Scott Fitzgerald was not included, but you'll understand Ford Maddox Ford almost as well as Hemingway once the last page is turned. Overall, it was simply outstanding, I may well read the other editions of the biography now based on what I discovered here.
on February 21, 2014
I am actually in my third reading of this book, as I'm reading it aloud to someone. The first time I read it, it was engrossing and, frankly, I found it more interesting than my first reading of The Sun Also Rises. But, Reynolds's carefully researched book gave me a new view on Hemingway and totally transformed The Sun Also Rises, which I then read avidly. After reading The Sun, I then read the bio again!
In the meantime, I also read a series of memoirs by various Hemingways, and a series of novels and biographies about Hemingways. Upon return to Reynolds, I realized just how much work went into his book and how thorough it is. It is not perfect (sometimes he discounts people's recollections - disproportionately discounting the recollections of the women in Hemingway's life, by the way - because "it doesn't make sense" that someone would think or do something). Lots of people do things that don't make sense (that's what Hemingway is writing about) and so I don't find apocryphal the same things that Reynolds finds apocryphal. Sometimes, I think he permits voices like Chink's to enter in without any suspicion about their longterm memory, because, well, it's Chink and we all know Chink is to be trusted. In other words, if Hemingway distrusted Kitty, then Reynolds does too (but he does a wonderful job of letting the reader make up their mind about Kitty by including so much about her).
The absolute best part about Reynolds, though, is his own literary viewpoint. He does not style himself as a literary critic and only very occasionally weighs in on his own perspectives of the Hemingway works covered in this volume (and they are many). When he does weigh in, his viewpoints are so well put together and hang together through the four volume set of biographies that I would say Reynolds should be regarded as a definitive voice on the work of Ernest Hemingway.
The second best part is the way that we see the various Hemingway writings put side by side in chronological order: letters, notebook bits, excised parts of stories, published stories, on and on. Naturally, Reynolds cannot include entire short stories or novels, but he does *such* a good job of extracting quotes, summarizing the stories and novels, I've never read better synposes of complex works anywhere else.
The third best part is how he shows a writer at work. This is a difficult subject about which surprisingly little is written or known. There is no such similar book, for example, about T.S. Eliot or Ezra Pound. There is lots known about those two poets, of course, but Hemingway left behind many more clues about his process. He was observed at his work by many. The Sun Also Rises is so autobiographical and the dates during which it was written are so well known that Reynolds can reconstruct the process - even though Hemingway didn't understand it, himself, at the time. He shows how Hemingway revised certain sentences, how he honed certain "tricks" to make his stories and novels more modern. He shows how Hemingway may have misled people into thinking that, like Joyce, every single sentence took him a day or two to write (that may have been true, Reynolds says, in the first year in Paris - but it was certainly not true by the time of Torrents of Spring). Indeed, much of Hemingway's work seems to come out in a rush of nearly manic energy, as so often happens with creative people (that doesn't make Hemingway manic-depressive, btw, but it is suggestive). Hemingway also has to work hard at self-editing. He puts things in drawers, goes back to them, makes apparently minor edits that are transformative - Reynolds's eye for catching and describing those moments is very good.
Reynolds himself is an elegant, outstanding writer. I guess that almost goes without saying, if I'm giving him 5 stars on a book about Hemingway. Having finished Paris Years for the second time (and still rereading it), I'm also rereading the third part (Homecoming). Pauline Pfeiffer remains an enigma, but Reynolds's view on her seems to me to be as charitable as it can possibly be made. I am left disliking Pauline strongly nonetheless, but not because of Reynolds; he remains neutral.
on June 11, 1999
This 2nd volume in Michael Reynolds's definitive 5 volume biography of Hemingway draws the reader into the richness of both Paris and Hemingway's life. Reynolds's terrific style combines painstaking research with a gift of storytelling to create intriguing books which explore Hemingway's complicated personal and artistic development. Hemingway is often seen simply in terms of his hyper-masculinity, but Reynolds's books show how much more there was to Papa: they show him scared, in love, full of bravado, homesick, uncertain, fascinated with life and how to live it. The Paris Years describes one of the more romantic and exciting periods of Hemingway's life: his youth in Paris when he was learning his craft. The Paris Years shows us the excitement of Paris in the 1920's through the eyes of a young writer from Illinois, one who is uncertain of himself and his craft, but trying hard to learn, and learning fast. These were the "miracle years," during which he wrote many of his best short stories, and The Sun Also Rises, which he wrote in a six-week rush. It's a great bio about a fascinating guy -- go read it!
on August 13, 1999
This book is wonderfully (and obviously pain-stakingly) crafted. It reads like a novel, but it illuminates Hemingway's personality through subtle, and not so subtle, touches. This is an excellent telling of the early years in Paris and Toronto and of how Hemingway taught himself to write. I especially enjoyed the details of the Hemingway, Ford Madox Ford relationship regarding the Transatlantic publication, and I also enjoyed learning better what Stein gave to Hemingway's writing -- but overall I enjoyed the book evenly from start to finish. This book can stand alone. It was the first one in the series that I'd read. I look forward to reading the others.
I can only remember using associating the word "definitive" with one biography I have ever read. This was in reference to Janet Browne's two volume work dealing with the life and times of Charles Darwin. Well, I have to use it again in describing this five volume biography on the life and times of Earnest Hemingway by Michael Reynolds. I may be wrong, but I cannot see how this work will ever be surpassed. Of course I thought that when I read Carlos Baker's one volume on Hemingway, but I admit fully that I was proven wrong in that case. We shall see.
Michael Reynolds passed away in the year 2000 of pancreatic cancer at the age of 63. He was one of the, if not the, leading Hemingway scholars in this country. He received his Ph.D. from Duke University and spent his life from 1976 onward in the study of Hemingway the man and the works of Hemingway the writer. He was known, and rightfully so, for his meticulous research and his seemingly uncanny ability to not only understand Hemingway's work, but also Hemingway the man.
This second volume of his classic work covers the time period between 1921 and 1926, the time Hemingway spent in Paris learning his craft and art. Not only do we get a vivid account of the great writer's life, but we also are treated to an astute look into the literary life of the city where American fiction was changed forever; a period which could be classified as the "changing of the guard" so to speak. There are several factors which make this biography somewhat unique.
First, there is the author's understanding of Hemingway's work and his meticulous examination of the writing process; the learning if you will, which Hemingway went through in these early and informative years. Hemingway's ability as a writer was really only matched by Hemingway's powers of observation, of learning and his ability to separate the good advice from the bad; his ability to incorporate the strong features of the work of others and ignore what was bad.
Secondly, even though this is a scholarly work, Michael Reynolds wrote it as if it were a novel. Reynolds had the ability to copy style and the reader will find that Reynolds' biography reads much like his subject's writing. His descriptive and analytic powers are indeed powerful.
Thirdly, the author has gone out of his way to separate the fictional legend surrounding Hemingway (Much of which was built and created my Hemingway himself), and present only verifiable facts. If there is doubt as to one of the many "Hemingway stories" the author is quick to point them out or leave them out of his text all together.
I feel that Reynolds has treated Hemingway quite fairly. Yes, this is not a work that will satisfy those who have turned "Papa" into a sort of literary God-like figure due to the fact that he, Hemingway, was a very flawed individual in addition to being a genius. Reynolds calls them the way his research falls and records the complete good, bad and ugly.
Several of the persistent myths surrounding the subject are either shattered or well explained by the author. As most will note, almost everyone who was associated with Hemingway during the Paris years wants a piece of the pie and lays claim to being a major influence on his writing; Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pond, Ford Maddox Fort, Sherwood Anderson, et al. There is some truth, some wishful thinking and some simply untruths here and the author has done an excellent job of putting some perspective to the entire situation. I was particularly impressed with the way Reynolds handled the Ford Maddox Ford, Henry James and Earnest Hemingway triangle.
As noted above, we do see that Papa had a very nasty side which reared its head over and over again. Hemingway's treatment of individuals who started his career, and where the most helpful to him, such as Sherwood Anderson range from tacky to horrid. We also, in this volume begin to see what is the beginning of his bipolar condition which, along with alcohol abuse, eventually led to his taking of his own life.
The author, in his forward, has given Carlos Baker much praise and thanked him for his wonderful work. But I must tell you that Reynolds's work does indeed surpass that of Baker's .
Of the more than 75 biographies written about this author, this is quiet likely the best in my opinion and is most certainly a must read for those interested in either Hemingway's work or Hemingway the man.
on June 12, 2013
A favorite game that historians play is to sit around over coffee or beer and ask each other "if you could go back in time and live in another era, which one would you choose?" My vote always goes to Paris in the 1920s. What a romantic time and place. Young writers and artists, working and gossiping in sidewalk cafes in the most beautiful city in the world. You could hang out at Sylvia Beech's bookstore, travel to Pamplona to run with the bulls or travel to Switzerland for the skiing. Plus you could write a great novel, which is what some of the expats in Paris did in the twenties.
Short of a time machine, Michael Reynolds' book on Ernest Hemingway's years in Paris is as close to being there as I'll ever get. With Hemingway always in the forefront, Reynolds pictures the good, the bad and the ugly of Paris in the 1920s. He also demonstrates the evolution of Hemingway as a writer, showing the influences of people like Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound. The picture that emerges of Hemingway is neither saint or demon. The man could exaggerate his past to shape the growing Hemingway legend, he could pick petty fights with friends and viciously turn on people who helped him climb the ladder of literary greatness. He could fall into dark moods, cheat on his wife and bail out on his publishers. But Hemingway also reflected a single minded devotion to his art that has been an inspiration to generations of writers. He could also be a loyal friend and loving husband.
Its a cliche to say that a work of non-fiction "reads like a novel" but this one really does. Reynolds includes great descriptions of Paris and builds tension and suspense along the way. The book is actually the second volume of a five volume biography of Hemingway and I can't want to start reading the next installment. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the life and writing of Hemingway as well as anyone interested in American literary history.
on March 11, 2014
I have read many books about Hemingway the man. He never stops fascinating me as I gain more insight to his complex personality. This book provided knowledge of his struggles to become established. What bothers me is his selfishness and lack of loyalty to the women who believed in him and played a major role in his success, but were not truly appreciated and respected, Hadley especially.