hemingway and stein gab about homosexuality

I delight at the gaffes of creative geniuses. Not from any sense of schadenfreude, but simply as a reminder that even the brightest among us are capable of appalling stupidities. Reassurance can be squeezed from any stone, I suppose. That’s why I chuckled when V.S. Naipaul said of women writers in an interview last year that no woman novelist is his literary match. “I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it’s by a woman or not.” It’s unequal to me, he adds. Apparently women writers only produce “feminine tosh. I don’t mean this in any unkind way,” he says. No, of course not. Kindness or unkindness aside, I definitely got my chuckle, just as I did this morning when I was reading Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. He recounts a conversation with Gertrude Stein on sex. Homosexuality, to be precise. Hemingway admits to a certain prejudice against homosexuality. “I knew it was why you carried a knife and would use it in the company of tramps when you were a boy….” Stein attempts to dislodge the coarser aspects of his prejudice. But in doing so, she exchanges one prejudice for another, and words it so bluntly that I feel the stirrings of the old familiar pleasure. “The main thing is that the act homosexuals commit is ugly and repugnant and afterwards they’re disgusted with themselves. They drink and take drugs, to palliate this, but they are disgusted with the act and they are always changing partners and cannot be really happy…. In women it is the opposite. They do nothing that they are disgusted by and nothing that is repulsive and afterwards they are happy and they can lead happy lives together.”

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6 Responses to hemingway and stein gab about homosexuality

  1. cbjamess says:

    More than a few biographers have wondered just how often Hemingway had to use that knife during his days as a ‘tramp.’ Their attitudes seem typical for the time to me. They are part of the reason why Moveable Feast is a love/hate book as far as I’m concerned. Parts of it I do love, but parts of it feel like Hemingway settling scores often with people who were no longer around to give their side of the events.

    • Interesting, my mind snagged on the use of the word “knife.” I thought, ever the hunter and outdoorsman. In the passage I cited, Hemingway says he’s a boy. I suppose I can imagine him carrying a knife for self-defense, assuming such a posture is warranted. As for settling scores, I suppose I should be careful. “Stein” in my post isn’t the historical Stein, for all I know, but merely Hemingway’s Stein.

  2. Biblibio says:

    I call moments like this “head-smack-sighs”. On the one hand, there’s the dark humor in the situation, but on the other is the unsettling aspect of statements we as readers do not necessarily agree with. I always find myself wondering for a moment if I shouldn’t be more outraged – I’ve stopped reading other authors for far less – but my conclusion has been that it’s a highly personal call and that I cannot predict my reaction. So I either cut the author off or decide that it isn’t worth it, smacking my head and sighing instead to display my disagreement…

  3. khalid mir says:

    Great blog, Kevin. Stumbled here looking for something on Bellow and Spinoza.

    Salams,

    b.

  4. anokatony says:

    Once in a while there is a writer who is relentlessly wrong-headed but still writes interesting novels. A good example for me is the French writer Celine who was a Nazi yet still wrote ‘Journey to the End of the Night’. I suppose a more modern example would be Naipaul whose Miguel Street is very good. Yet there are several woman writers I rank above Naipaul including Alice Munro, A.S. Byatt, and Louise Erdrich. .

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