I recently read Hemingway in Love: His Own Story, A Memoir by A. E. Hotchner, which delivered a different dimension to Ernest Hemingway’s self-inflicted torture from the affair he’d had during his first marriage to his beloved Hadley. Hemingway wound up marrying the other woman, Pauline; a move that wasn’t as appealing as he’d first believed it would be.
Hotchner was like a son to Papa and this book recalls the conversations he had with him about his enduring love for Hadley and the regret he had for letting her go. I enjoyed the read, however, to me, in A Moveable Feast, Hemingway laid bare all that he’d been holding in since she left him. Printed posthumously, the book is essentially a letter to her, for her. While I’m glad to have read Hotchner’s book, Hemingway’s take was plenty for me. For a class I’d taken some time ago, I’d chosen the chapter, “The Pilot Fish and The Rich” to decipher and pull apart. It was the one that had moved me the most, so it was an easy decision.
On “The Pilot Fish and the Rich”
by Tonya Rice
This piece in A Moveable Feast evoked the most emotion from me. Hemingway’s life in Paris was life with Hadley, his first wife, and it was simply her. His reflection on the demise of their marriage, written so many years later after their divorce, was a gripping reading experience. Throughout this memoir, he fondly recaptured her presence. After having read a novel about her, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, a few years ago, I welcomed his take on those days.
In an earlier essay, “Winter in Schruns”, he recalled the tragic season of deadly avalanches at their favorite vacation location. He conveyed the conflicting pain and sorrow from so much loss in a place perceived for joy. In his opening of “The Pilot Fish”, he noted that the following year, in which the woman he’d later marry showed up in their lives, was even worse than that. There’s no better statement of conflict at this point.
Hemingway soon follows with an engaging exercise of delayed exploration, presented as a powerful stream-of-consciousness narrative in second person point-of-view. This rising action is a swift thinking process with the clarity of a contemporary journal entry. It fosters more questions about this pilot fish, the deceptive character who infiltrates their lives for the patronizing souls of others and in this particular case for her own personal gain. He reflects upon that last calculation in depth. At this point he is married a fourth time and these sketches were among the last he wrote when he died. He’d begun to unravel the thread that had barely been holding together the wound from his breakup with Hadley.
He recalled the time he was separated from Pauline for a long time, leaving him bound only to his wife. He was happy and free from any thoughts of Pauline – until she returned to their lives. Looking back, he realized that Remorse had then become his shadow. It remained with him throughout his subsequent marriages. It was with him as he wrote this book in which Hadley was the heroine. He seemed to be enlightened by his own thoughts in this piece as he reached the climax of recognizing the moments his life had shifted by his own hand. There’s a sense of release, a breath he took, when he wrote, “I wished I had died before I loved anyone but [Hadley]”. (p. 218)
That line sucked me in. My image of the big, burly man in his Key West home, also known for knocking down big game and hauling large fish from the ocean, was further impressed by such an emotion. In “Winter in Schruns”, he had also begun to contemplate his betrayal as he indicated his acceptance of Hadley’s life without him: “[She] married a much finer man than I ever was and could hope to be and is happy and deserves it…” (p. 123). This wasn’t Jake Barnes longing for Brett Ashley. This was Ernest Hemingway – raw. The final paragraph, his resolution, was a heart wrenching. He and Hadley were happy in Paris. Before Pauline. In spite of their poverty, which some resources say drove him to Pauline, he and Hadley were simply happy and he should have relied on that.
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