It’s common knowledge that Mr Ernest Hemingway was one of the early 20th century’s most pioneering and influential authors. His groundbreaking, portentously titled books, including WWI epic A Farewell to Arms and the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Old Man and The Sea, defined a new, disarmingly spare literary style for the so-called “lost generation” of the interwar years, doing away completely with the florid novelese of the 19th century in favour of stark, clipped sentences and close-to-the-bone realism. Of course, his contributions to literature have been duly recognised, as well as his enthusiasm for drinking – the first by his 1954 Nobel prize for literature and the second by the Bar Hemingway at the Ritz in Paris. But what is not-so-common knowledge is how Mr Hemingway became so marvellously brilliant in the first place – by stitching up his friends.
This is the story told by the rather wonderfully titled new book Everybody Behaves Badly, written by Vanity Fair and Wall Street Journal contributor Ms Lesley MM Blume. Chronicling the genesis of Mr Hemingway’s breakthrough debut novel, The Sun Also Rises (which turns 90 this year), it dives into his squalid, booze-soaked early days in Paris, where he moved with his first wife Hadley in 1921. With a sense of wry inevitability, it investigates the blossoming and demise of Mr Hemingway’s personal relationships with modernist greats such as Mr Ezra Pound and Ms Gertrude Stein, as well as the feckless Parisian socialites, including moneyed Guggenheim descendant Mr Harold Loeb and sozzled aristocrat Lady Duff Twysden, who would accompany him on a fateful 1925 trip to Pamplona and then be brutally lampooned in semi-fictional form in The Sun Also Rises.
All-in-all, it’s a fascinating portrait of an unpredictable and sometimes rather infuriating character, who was nonetheless somewhat worshipped by almost everyone he met. “He was at once noble and petulant; deeply ambitious yet strangely humble at times,” says Ms Blume of her subject. “He was charming and could be wildly generous, yet he could also be spiteful and even hateful, especially to those closest to him. He found ways to punish practically everyone who ever helped him.”