Academic journal article Studies in Short Fiction

'A Room on the Garden Side': Hemingway's Unpublished Liberation of Paris

Academic journal article Studies in Short Fiction

'A Room on the Garden Side': Hemingway's Unpublished Liberation of Paris

Article excerpt

Paris change! mais rien dans ma melancholie N'a bouge! palais neufs, echafaudages, blocs, Vieux faubourgs, tout pour moi devient allegorie, Et mes chers souvenirs sont plus lourds que des rocs.

- "Le Cygne," Charles Baudelaire

Paris changes . . . But in sadness like mine Nothing stirs - new buildings, old Neighborhoods turn to allegory, And memories weigh more than stone.

- "The Swan," trans. Richard Howard

On 23 July 1956, Ernest Hemingway wrote to Harvey Breit that he had written "two short stories . . . about the old days with the [Free French] irregulars" and was planning to write "maybe 3 or 4 more" (Letters 866). On 14 August of the same year, he reported to Charles Scribner, Jr. that he had finished five stories about World War II: "A Room on the Garden Side," "The Cross Roads," "Indian Country and the White Army," "The Monument," and "The Bubble Reputation" (Letters 868). Hemingway defended the stories' realistic treatment of irregular troops and combat, of "people who actually kill other people," and their soldierly language ("when one man calls another a cocksucker he calls him a cocksucker"). "I suppose they are a little shocking," he told the always cautious Scribner; "Anyway you can always publish them after I'm dead" (Letters 868). Yet today, more than 30 years after Hemingway's death, only one of these five stories has appeared in print ("The Cross Roads," retitled "Black Ass at the Crossroads" and posthumously published in the so-called Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway). Although the World War II stories were written as a group and can be read together as they involve the continuing adventures of the same characters, each has considerable individual merit. I would like to single out one story, the still unpublished "A Room on the Garden Side," for consideration here.(1)

"A Room on the Garden Side" is set at the Ritz Hotel in the just-liberated Paris of August 1944. The story is told in the first person by an American writer commanding a small cadre of irregular French troops. The narrator is named Robert, but his men call him "Papa," and there is little doubt that he is a thinly disguised version of Hemingway himself (Baker 408-18). The characters Onie and Marcel bear the names of French partisans who accompanied Hemingway on the road from Rambouillet, and his American driver, "Red" Pelkey, also appears. Hotelier Charles Ritz and Colonel Andre Malraux play themselves. The tormented Claude probably has his origins in Jean Decan, a French resistance fighter twice arrested and tortured by Gestapo before joining Hemingway's men. Decan was probably singled out for a name change because the French imprisoned him after the war for collaboration with the Nazis (Baker 419, 453, 459). Hemingway's liberation of the Ritz, of course, is now legendary, and the incident with Malraux recounted in the story also took place, as evidenced by a June 1946 letter from Hemingway to Konstantin Simonov (Letters 607).

"A Room on the Garden Side" is not simple autobiography, however, for the actual events treated in the story are carefully sculpted by the rules of fiction. The Hemingway who had written Green Hills of Africa to see whether "the shape of a country and the pattern of a month's action" could "if truly presented, compete with a work of the imagination" was no stranger to this practice (Green Hills, Foreword). In fact, he was very much involved with it in the late 1950s. In the summer of 1956, he had just set aside an 800-page typescript of a still unpublished book about his 1954 safari. Still ahead of him was The Dangerous Summer, a near book-length account of the Ordonez-Dominguin rivalry in Spain's bullrings. But despite its wartime setting, "A Room on the Garden Side," a story about love and death, writing and not writing, a story about Paris and la recherche du temps perdu, has most in common with Hemingway's most masterful nonfiction novel - A Moveable Feast. In fact, "A Room on the Garden Side" can be viewed as a kind of five-finger exercise for A Moveable Feast. …

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