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How sexual rivalry, fist fights and other shenanigans drove Ernest Hemingway

July 1, 2016 at 6:25 PM EDT
A photo of Ernest Hemingway sitting with a mischievous-looking group in Pamplona inspired Leslie M. M. Blume’s new book, “Everybody Behaves Badly.” It was 1925, a year before Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises,” hit. The group was a volatile mix, complete with fights and sexual rivalries that inspired his writing, Blume tells Jeffrey Brown, in the last of our series on summer reading suggestions.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now: another addition to our summer reading list.

It is a look at the origins of one of American literature’s finest works by one of our most celebrated writers.

Recently, Jeffrey Brown talked with journalist and cultural historian Lesley M.M. Blume about her new book, “Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises.”

JEFFREY BROWN: Lesley Blume, welcome to you.

LESLEY M.M. BLUME, Author, “Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises”: Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN: This is interesting that the picture on the cover is a little unusual, but the picture on the cover is actually the starting point for you to this whole endeavor.


So, I was researching another project, and I came across this very enticing photograph of Hemingway with a very attractive and mischievous-looking group of people around the cafe table in Pamplona in 1925.

And there was a woman.

JEFFREY BROWN: Pamplona, Spain, right.

LESLEY M.M. BLUME: I’m sorry. Pamplona, Spain, where they were all gathered for the annual San Fermin bull-fighting festival.

And the woman who was sitting next to Hemingway was this sort of, like, glamorous woman, and she had a sort of coquettish look on her face. And I was immediately intrigued by her.

JEFFREY BROWN: Who’s that and what’s her story?


And it turned out that she — her name was Lady Duff Twysden, and she was the real-life inspiration behind Lady Brett Ashley in Hemingway’s debut novel, “The Sun Also Rises.”

I have long been a Lost Generation obsessive, but I hadn’t realized that that she had been — that Lady Brett Ashley had been drawn from real life. And I wanted to learn more, so I looked for a compelling book that would tell me the real life backstory behind “The Sun Also Rises,” and I didn’t find one.

JEFFREY BROWN: Right. You couldn’t find one, so you decided to do it?

LESLEY M.M. BLUME: I wrote it.

JEFFREY BROWN: Remind us about “The Sun Also Rises,” the story, the novel itself.

LESLEY M.M. BLUME: It came out in 1926, and it is a group of American and British expats that are set up in Paris. They are part of an expat colony. They’re up to no good, but it always sways to nobility, because they’re all there to be writers or artists.

In the case of Lady Duff Twysden, she was there to sit out an aristocratic divorce. So, in real life, as in on paper, this group of expats goes to Pamplona for the festival, and the entire party, shall we say, dissolves into quite a brouhaha.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes, all kinds of shenanigans.

LESLEY M.M. BLUME: Yes, a lot of bad behavior.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. Rivalries, sexual…

LESLEY M.M. BLUME: Sexual rivalry, fistfights, you name it, it happened. And it wasn’t a very good situation for anybody involved, except for Hemingway, who in turn saw this as desperately needed material to stage a breakthrough novelistically.

JEFFREY BROWN: And then suddenly he had a lot of material.

LESLEY M.M. BLUME: Well, he literally took the events that had transpired in Pamplona and Paris and translated them onto paper.

JEFFREY BROWN: To the point where I saw you say some people wondered whether it was actual just journalism or a novel he had written.

LESLEY M.M. BLUME: Well, Hemingway at that time up to that point and after the fact was a reporter. And he was known for being a really good reporter.

And one of the real-life inspirations behind “The Sun Also Rises” characters literally looked at his book after it came out a year later, and said, this is nothing but a report on what happened. How can he pass this off as fiction?

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, this is Hemingway before he was Hemingway, right? This is — he’s all of 25 years old at the time.


Well, Hemingway is a baby when he turns up in Paris, but he’s an ambitious baby. And he has the talent. And he’s there to stage his breakthrough. So many of the expats who were there at that time were there to do precisely that. It was an ambition-fueled town.

Hemingway was looking to make a big splash with a revolutionary new modern style that stretched out adjectives and just really got to the point. There was quite a journalistic element to that style also. He wasn’t the only person in town doing it, but he was the one who knew that he could do it in a commercially successful way.

JEFFREY BROWN: Not only was he the only person in town, but a lot of famous people in town, right, Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound.

LESLEY M.M. BLUME: All three of those people really helped Hemingway significantly, and Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound were stylistic mentors to Hemingway.

But they weren’t selling a lot of copies of their work. Gertrude Stein famously only sold a reported 73 copies of her first book in 18 months or something. Ezra Pound is not selling tens of thousands of copies of “The Cantos.”

But Hemingway, on the other hand, takes what’s viable from their styles and adds it to his own instinct — instinctive style. And he knows that he has commercially successful work, and he’s going to showcase that in “The Sun Also Rises.”

JEFFREY BROWN: And that made his reputation, or certainly helped it, his reputation.

LESLEY M.M. BLUME: It brokered his reputation.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. Yes. How exactly? Was it the style? The character of the man? What was it, do you think?

LESLEY M.M. BLUME: It was a combination of a lot of different things.

Hemingway himself and Hemingway’s writing were both brilliant, brilliant cocktails. And so with Hemingway’s writing, he famously wrote to one of his publishers — he said, you don’t need a high school education to enjoy my writing. And it’s going to titillate the masses. I mean, anybody can relate to it, but the style is so revolutionary that it will titillate highbrow critics, which it did.

And then he said, for people who are not interested in the stylistic components of it, there’s a lot of — quote — “dope about high society,” and that is always interesting. So, there was something for everyone. That was one of the things that helped him bring that revolutionary style to the masses in a way that somebody like Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound is just not going to be able to do.

JEFFREY BROWN: Those always went hand in hand with Hemingway, right, the writing and the biography.

How did — when you think about the ideas, the views of Hemingway, they have bounced around over the decades, right, of how people have seen him. How did you come to see him? Did you like him?

LESLEY M.M. BLUME: It’s an interesting question.

I spent an awful lot of time with Hemingway. And Hemingway had a remarkable ability to reach very noble goals through sometimes ignoble means.

And I think the question is less a question of whether or not I like him or whether you forgive what he did in the service of his ambition. And Hemingway’s talent was so outsized, that I feel like I can forgive him a lot of his trespasses to have achieved what he did achieve.


The book is “Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises.”

Lesley Blume, thank you.

LESLEY M.M. BLUME: Thank you so much.