Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story of Hemingway’s Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises is a fascinating biography by Lesley M. M. Blume, though it is more the biography of Ernest Hemingway’s book than merely a biography of Hemingway. In telling the story of the creation and publication of The Sun Also Rises, Blume also tells the story of post World War I Paris, the ex-pat culture that developed there and of course, the vibrant, virile and explosive Hemingway.
Some might think it easier to admire Hemingway if you know nothing of him, but if you read his books, there is the bra honest, this relentless violent vigor that informs any astute reader that the author is no choir boy. He writes like a hard man and that is what he was. I have read other books about that time including most recently Villa America by Liza Klaussmann and Carl Rollyson’s biography of Hemingway’s third wife, Martha Gellhorn. Still, I found Blume’s exploration of Hemingway’s seeking out mentors, sponsors, and advocates, all of whom he betrayed viciously was disturbing. He was so manipulative and cruel.
Of course, I knew this. I knew The Sun Also Rises was not just the first of a new kind of writing, but also a betrayal of friends and colleagues. I did not know how thoroughly and completely he betrayed them though. His charisma must have been something almost otherworldly, the way that people forgave him and made peace with him again and again when he did unforgivable things.
I also appreciated how this book restores a lot of dignity and grace to Hadley, his first wife, who is often portrayed as unworthy by literary biographers. Not by Hemingway. Even if he done her wrong, he still admired her all his life and A Movable Feast reveals that deep, abiding love. Blume never treats her with the subtle disparagement that is common with those more taken by this more fashionable, more independent wives. Instead, she recognizes that without Hadley, there might never have been a Hemingway the author. She supported him with uncomplaining loyalty through all the years when he was struggling and poor and was cast off the instant he achieved his dreams. Blume never lets that be okay.
Most of the time, I ignore the end notes unless I am looking for something specific, but that would be a mistake with Everybody Behaves Badly. The endnotes are full of little stories and additional information and skipping them would be a crime. They read like the tittle-tattle and gossip of the cognoscenti. I loved them so much that I read them after each section while the text was still fresh.
I enjoyed Everybody Behaves Badly very much. I have long loved Hemingway’s work. I carried some of his books with me when I went to Spain. I made a pilgrimage to Restaurante Botín, his favorite restaurant in Madrid, and ordering his favorite meal, cochinillo asado with rioja alta and getting very, very drunk. I learned new things about Hemingway, many of them unpleasant which is par for the course with him. But, I also learned a lot about how he came to be the writer he was, how hard he worked at his craft and how very deliberately he developed and evolved his writing style. It was fascinating and inspiring which is exactly what a biography should be.