Ernest Hemingway — A Life (Part 4) World War II: Paris 1944

Picasso, Shakespeare & Co, and J. D. Salinger

Picasso in the chilly studio 1940s. Source: American Girls Club, Paris

One evening Ernest and Mary went to the studio of Pablo Picasso, where they were warmly greeted by the artist, and ‘his girl’ Françoise Gilot. Mary Welsh describes Gilo as, “ …a slim, dark, quiet girl with serpentine movements.”

Even in late summer Picasso’s large studio at the grand 17th century Hôtel de Savoie, on the rue des Grands Augustus (very chic these days) was very chilly. As Mary describes:

“ He showed us what seemed to be half a thousand canvases, abstractions, two-and three-profiled portraits, some more or less representational landscapes, some few paintings on cardboard or wood, many compositions which I did not even dimly understand.

“The Paris sky was turning violet and Picasso took us to an open window overlooking the roofs and chimney pots on his level and just below. It was a tightly knit composition of lines and shapes, beautiful in tranquil colors. ‘There,’ said Picasso. ‘That is the best picture in my studio.’ He painted it at least, I discovered later.”

The open window, and the lovely old dog again…

Hemingway had first become acquainted with Picasso’s work when visiting Gertrude Stein’s apartment in 1922, where several of the Spanish artist’s work hung. He was taken by them immediately, and never tired of the man’s work, but, alas, back then he could not afford to buy them. Miss Stein agreed that Picasso’s work was out his range, that he had to stick to “…your own military service group, you’ll know them, you’ll meet them around the quarter.”

Picasso’s portrait of Gertrude Stein

It would have been soon after that meeting with Stein that he met the artist, probably at his studio/apartment at 21 rue la Boétie, and learned a rudimentary lesson from Picasso of how to succeed, and how he, Picasso “ always promised the rich to come when they asked him because it made them so happy, and then something would happen and he would be unable to appear.” Hemingway never really learned that lesson, and how to say no.

As the novelist and art critic, John Berger, suggests that perhaps, by 1943, Picasso’s best work was behind him…

John Berger. Source: Apollo Magazine

“There were also positive reasons why Picasso may have wanted at this time to begin a new phase of his working life. Having lived through the occupation and so experienced political events at first hand, as he had not done since his youth in Spain, he was genuinely moved by political emotions. Most of his friends were in the resistance, and he himself, although he took no part, nevertheless became a figure-head of the movement. When at last Europe was liberated, he felt — like millions of others — that he must assist the birth of a new world. And in 1944 he joined the French Communist Party.”

John Berger reminds us that it had taken Picasso fifty years to come to terms with the world around and his own genius. It was rather different for Hemingway? It would take World War II — and his involvement in it — to realise he could not face up to his own past, and his genius. It was a fatal flaw. Picasso had a studio full of paintings that were, according to Berger, some of the best he’d ever done. By 1943 Picasso had done his best, but was able, for the next thirty years, to produce innovative and great art. Hemingway could not. He had his proposed trilogy that he could never stop talking about, but did not have the will to get it done — with the exception of Islands in the Stream, and The Old Man and the Sea. Sadly, he did not wish to assist in the birth of a new world.

When Ernest and Mary left Picasso’s apartment they made a date to meet Picasso and Françoise at the artist’s favourite café nearby, where the four… “dined in a froth of goodwill.”

Walking back to the Ritz through the Tuileries Mary showed signs of not really appreciating Picasso’s work…

“He’s pioneering,” Ernest said. “Don’t condemn them [his paintings] just because you don’t understand them. You may grow up to them.”

Hemingway with Beach 1920s

A few days after that meeting with Picasso, and after an early breakfast in Hemingway’s room at the Ritz, Ernest and Mary headed toward the Luxembourg Gardens where they enjoyed listening to a French military band play a selection from Carmen. Then, after a coffee in the small café under the plain trees, they headed for the rue de Fleurus, which connects with the rue Guynemer that borders the western side of the gardens. Half way up the rue de Fleurus, on the left hand side, is number 27, and here Ernest and Mary stopped and rang the bell of Gertrude Stein’s apartment. There was no answer. They tried again. Still no answer. After a while an elderly lady came out of a small dress shop opposite and told them that Miss Stein and Miss Toklas, having endured the hard years of German occupation, had, on a whim so to speak, taken a small house in the country, but where she did not know.

“ Perhaps Miss Beach at Shakespeare and Company could help, no?”

Ernest and Mary made their way back across the Luxembourg Gardens, past the gallery, and, after two left turns and a right, down to her bookshop, Shakespeare & Company, at 12, rue de I’Odéon. After looking in the window for a moment or two, they stepped inside. Sylvia Beach was sitting at her desk reading; she didn’t look up.

“ Yes, what can I do for you?” she asked.

“ Do you have any books by Ernest Hemingway?” asked a smiling Ernest.

“ Yes, we…” Sylvia Beach looked up with an even bigger smile. “Hemingway. Hemingway, my dear, oh, how lovely to see you.”

Sylvia Beach ran from behind her desk like a schoolgirl greeting a long lost and much loved younger brother, flinging her arms about Ernest’s neck and kissing him repeatedly on both cheeks.

“ Mon cheri, oh, mon cheri, it has been such a long time, and you left us all alone to cope with the filthy Hun. How dare you, oh, how dare you, you dreadful, unprincipled beast?”

The words came thick and fast now.

“ They closed me down, Hemingway, closed Shakespeare and Company down. How dare they, how dare they? One morning a very small and very brutish German officer came in and demanded to buy a copy of Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake — demanded! Have you ever heard of such a thing? I told him I only had one copy left and that it was not for sale, not to him, not to anyone. Not for sale he screamed, do you know who I am, madam? Do you know who I am!? Naturally I didn’t know who he was, how could I? No. I have no idea who you are, nor do I wish to, I responded. But do you know who I am, sir? I am Sylvia Beach, who, in the nineteen twenties, knew D.H. Lawrence, Ernest Hemingway, Ford Maddox Ford, Morley Callaghan, Scott Fitzgerald — well, who didn’t I know, Hemingway — and that I was the first to publish Joyce’s Ulysses when no one else would touch him. Do not come into my shop, whoever you are, I said, and demand anything from me. Do you hear me, sir? Well he went quite silly then, acted like a little boy, started knocking books off the shelves, and then told me the shop was now closed until further notice. Good, I responded, then I won’t have to deal with the likes of you will I, even if you do read James Joyce, who, I told him, would not want his books read by the rapists of Poland, Belgium and France. With that he slapped me twice in the face, and then marched out and placed an armed guard in front of the shop door. Of course the guard was a pussy cat — a Zane Grey fan too — and over the next few days Adrienne and I were able to move all the stock into the apartment, with business pretty much continuing as usual. We moved back in here last week. Did I do well, Hemingway?”

Hemingway enveloped Sylvia in a huge hug, lifting her clear off the ground until she squealed for mercy.

“ Dear Miss Beach you did very well, very well indeed. Could I have expected anything else? No, indeed I could not! Now I would like to introduce you to Mary Welsh, the next Mrs Hemingway.”

Sylvia Beach looked Mary up and down.

“ Mary, my dear girl, welcome to Paris. Do you think you will be the last Mrs Hemingway?”

“ Yes.”

“ Good. I think you ought to be. See to it Hemingway. Now, my dears, come through and I shall make tea and you can tell me all the news about the war, but I have to say I’ve heard some rather disquieting things about you, Hemingway, very disquieting indeed. Things that a writer should not be doing.”

Sylvia Beach boiled a kettle of water on a small paraffin stove in a private room that looked out over the small back garden of her shop. When the kettle eventually boiled she poured a little of the water into a dark brown teapot to warm it. She then tipped the water back into the kettle, and then, after putting three heaped teaspoons of dark Indian tea (precious tea she kept hidden behind a first edition of Dr Johnson’s Dictionary) into the now warm teapot she poured the boiling water over the tea leaves, secured the teapot lid, and savoured the aroma of gently smouldering rosewood that now issued from the spout of the pot. After a few minutes of allowing the tea to brew Sylvia then poured the rich steaming liquid into three delicate, flower-decorated bone china tea cups. It was a ritual she carried out most days, and one Hemingway remembered from his first visit. He would have found the dark amber liquid almost drinkable too had Sylvia not — in the English fashion — then added milk, far too much milk, and sugar. What Hemingway and Mary drank was a warm, sweet beverage that bore little or no relationship to the delicious anticipation of its earlier aroma.

“ Would you like a biscuit, Hemingway? Scottish shortcakes.”

“ Cookies? No, no thanks, Miss Beach.”

“ Mary?”

“ Oh, yes Please.”

“ Where, in God’s name, did you get cookies from, and tea, and milk, and sugar for chrissakes?”

“ One has friends, Hemingway. And they are such simple pleasures don’t you think?”

“ Yes they are, but it’s usually the simple pleasures that are the first to go in war.”

“ You are quite right. Let me just say that many people showed a kindness toward me that I had not expected, not at all. Now, Hemingway, what is this I hear about you becoming a soldier with your own private army when you should have been reporting the war like the writer you are?”

Hemingway could find no answer. He just looked at Sylvia Beach as if she were a stranger, and not the gifted, generous woman who had helped him to become a writer. She was right though, he thought, she was right.

“ Do you still have that copy of Winner Take Nothing, Miss Beach?” he asked.

“ I do, Hemingway, one moment.”

Sylvia left the room to return just a few seconds later with a slim volume she handed to Hemingway.

Hemingway read from the flyleaf of the book.

“ To Miss Beach, in memory of Spain, 1937, Ernest Hemingway.”

Hemingway then took a fountain pen from his top pocket and added to the inscription:

‘Lu et approuv. I sure as hell do. August 1944.’

He was probably not referring to the tea.

After tearful farewells Mary and Hemingway slowly made their way back to the Ritz Hotel where Mary held Ernest in her arms for what seemed like forever. In the evening the couple hosted a mighty party at which Hemingway became suddenly very aggressive toward his future wife, accusing her of disloyalty. Mary started to challenge Hemingway but stopped as soon as she saw his dark, frightened, far away eyes.

J D Salinger. Source:

Just a few days later Ernest Hemingway met a young American soldier who wanted to be another Hemingway, but a different sort of Hemingway. And he wanted badly to meet his idol. His name was J.D. Salinger

The meeting and the conversation probably went something like this.

Salinger sipped his champagne as Hemingway went over his ideas for his trilogy of novels about the war and the sea, but this time he introduced a new theme, that of an old Cuban fisherman who knew little or nothing about the war in Europe, but had his own war to fight in trying to catch the big old marlin he knew was out there, somewhere in the Gulf of Mexico.

Hemingway explained that it was a good allegorical theme that could weave its way in and out of the three novels. What did Salinger think?

“ Well, Mr Hemingway…”

“ Call me Ernest, Jerome.”

“ Well, Ernest, I think it is a story that should stand alone. It has no place within the other books. Although it is a good allegory for man’s endeavours in this troubled world; I feel you should write it as a straightforward story, pure and simple.”

There was a long silence. Salinger knew he’d overstepped the mark. Christ he’d only just met the man and here he was giving one of America’s greatest novelists advice. The champagne turned to poison in his mouth.

Ernest Hemingway looked hard at the young writer, and then bellowed out at full volume:

“ Jacques, get another bottle of that damn Bollinger, I have just met a man who knows what he’s talking about! Jacques?”

Jacques emerged slowly from behind the bar.

“ But all the Bollinger has gone, monsieur Hemingway. I have a rather good Moet, not as dry as the Bollinger, but acceptable.”

“You speak English, Jacques? ”

“ Just a little. I spent some time at the Ritz in London before the war, a young woman taught me many things, including a little English. The Moet?”

“ The Moet.”

Jerome David Salinger, known as ‘Sonny’, was born in the fashionable Park Avenue district of Manhattan, New York, in 1919. His father was a wealthy Jewish importer of kosher cheese and a man Salinger hated, so much so he never even went to his funeral. His mother — whom Salinger adored — was of Irish and Scottish descent. It was a fiery mix that turned Salinger into a man who, on the one hand, sought privacy, yet, on the other courted fame at every turn. He was, like Hemingway — like all of us — a contradiction.

In 1934, after leaving school, Salinger enrolled at the Valley Forge Military Academy, leaving in 1936 without graduating. The following year he spent several months in Europe playing the part of the expatriate American writer when the last remnant of that romantic ideal had left with Henry Miller.

After returning to the US in 1938 Salinger enrolled at Ursinus College, and then New York University. By 1939 Salinger had decided to become a writer, taking a course in short story writing at Columbia University.

His first short story was published by Story Magazine in 1940. With the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, and America’s declaration of war, Salinger found himself drafted into the army, and by 1943 was in Britain training for the invasion of Europe. He landed at Utah Beach on the 6th June 1944 as a member of an infantry regiment’s counter-intelligence corps (CIC). As part of a forward operations unit Salinger encountered some of the bloodiest fighting in Normandy, fighting that would culminate for him in the senseless Hurtgen Forest campaign of the winter of 1944–45, where Salinger saw hundreds of his fellow infantrymen die every day.

To fight in a dense forest at the height of winter and against well dug-in German troops, who are just a few miles from their own border, was probably one of the worst decisions ever made by the American high command during World War II. Instead of by-passing the forest and leaving the Germans cut-off without supplies, where they could easily be destroyed at a later date from the air with napalm and high explosive bombs, the American generals ordered the forest taken. After countless unsuccessful attempts, that cost tens of thousands of American lives, the campaign was eventually abandoned. It was the First World War mentality all over again. It was a campaign that Salinger never really recovered from, and one that Hemingway also witnessed first hand.

To get a feel of that dreadful, murderous campaign in the Hurtgen Forest — often called the ‘Death Factory’ by the GIs who fought there — take a look at John Irvin’s harrowing 1998 film, When Trumpets Fade, which, doesn’t pull any punches.

After the war Salinger began writing again, with many stories published in such magazines as Cosmopolitan, Esquire, and the Saturday Evening Post. In 1951 his most famous, and enduring novel, The Catcher in the Rye, was published and still sells around 250,000 copies a year.

Although Salinger always spoke kindly about Hemingway, and the advice he’d given him that day in Paris in August 1944, he did become more and more critical of Hemingway’s work, and like Hemingway himself — who cruelly parodied Sherwood Anderson’s work in his early novel The Torrents of Spring.

But at their meeting in Paris in 1944 Salinger, after several more glasses of champagne, knew his tongue was going faster than his brain, but he felt pretty good, and Hemingway listened as well as he talked, and he’d said some good and encouraging things about his idea for a novel about the adventures of one Holden Caulfield, and that young man’s hatred of the phoney adult world. Hemingway had said that the theme was nothing new of course, that Mark Twain had done the same thing with Huck Finn, which was not a bad comparison.

Note: The trilogy would probably have been Across the River and Into the Trees (War),The Old Man and the Sea,(Sea) and Islands in The Stream (sea, war, and art). It was certainly to be a big theme, with the ‘Old Man and the Sea’ probably no more than a large chapter within ‘Islands in The Stream’, and likewise with ‘Across The River’, which has never really stood the test of time very well, whereas ‘Islands’ is a very strong piece of work indeed.

Read Part 5


Carlos Baker — Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story (Wm. Collins, London, 1969); Bernice Kert — The Hemingway Women (W. W. Norton & Co, New York, 1983); Ernest Hemingway — Islands in the Stream (Wm. Collins, London, 1970); Mary Welsh Hemingway — How it Was (Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London,1977, & Alfred A. Knopf, USA,1976); Charles Whiting — Hemingway Goes to War (Charles Sutton, UK, 1999); Hemingway’s Boat — Paul Hendrickson (The Bodley Head, London, 2012); An Historical Guide to Ernest Hemingway — Edited by Linda Wagner-Martin (Oxford University Press, Oxford & New York, 2000); Caroline Moorehead — Martha Gellhorn: A Life ( Chatto & Windus, London, 2003); A. E. Hotchner — Papa Hemingway: A Personal Memoir ( Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London, 1967); Lillian Ross — Portrait of Hemingway (Simon & Schuster, New York, 1961); Jeffrey Meyers — Hemingway: A Biography (Harper/Collins, London, 1985); John Atkins — Ernest Hemingway: His Work & Personality (Spring Books, London, 1952 & 1961);…

Note: I shall always be indebted to Charles Whiting for the many conversations we had with regard Hemingway Goes to War, and his own experiences during WWII in the same field of operations as Hemingway.

Playwright, Historian, Biographer & Freelance Writer Living and Working in Shakespeare’s Stratford

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