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Books: The Sun Also Rises (Contd.)

5 minute read

THE WAY IT WAS (310 pp.)—HaroldLoeb—Criterion ($5.95).

Early in 1924 in Paris, Harold Loeb was the proud possessor of: 1) a little magazine with big pages called Broom; 2) a mistress; 3) the manuscript of a novel, soon to be accepted with the publisher’s proviso that Loeb put back all the “a’s” and “the’s” he had deliberately left out; and 4) the friendship of a fledgling expatriate writer, amateur boxer and soso tennis player named Ernest Hemingway, who dubbed Loeb “one of the better guys of all time.” By the end of the fiesta at Pamplona, Spain in the summer of 1925, Broom had folded, Loeb had all but parted from his mistress. His novel was still unpublished, and the friendship with Ernest Hemingway had so cooled that Hemingway would shortly bury it with his waspish portrayal of the Loeb-inspired Robert Cohn in The Sun Also Rises.

These shifts account for much that is fascinating in Author Loeb’s memoirs. They also help to explain the seemingly endless appeal of the ’20s. The Lost Generation had one abiding faith—that something would happen in the next 20 minutes that would utterly change one’s life. From this great expectation sprang the wild parties, the free verse and the freer love. In the spirit of the ’20s. changing partners meant changing patterns.

The Papa of Dada. Harold Loeb changed more patterns than most. His father was a Wall Street broker, his mother a Guggenheim. Like his cousin Peggy Guggenheim, Harold found the climate of wealth intellectually suffocating, the security guilt-edged. After working in a construction gang in Alberta and tending a bookstore, Harold found himself, in 1921, by founding Broom. Names famed and forgotten spill from Author Loeb’s pages like unstuck pictures from a family album. There was Ezra Pound, “dressed like one of Trilby’s companions” in “black velvet jacket and fawn-colored pants”; James Joyce, dour and uncommunicative on everything but French provincial cooking (he loved it); and Tristan Tzara, the papa of Dada, leading his esthetic Bolsheviks with a wave of his monocle.

And then there were the parties. There was the night Isadora Duncan, plump and middleaged, yelled her favorite toast (“To Life and Love”) and complained to Harold: “The others—they are so heavy.” There was the night Louis Aragon and Malcolm Cowley started a living-room bonfire of books they didn’t like, but full-bladdered e. e. cummings acted as a one-man fire department. There was the artists’ ball at which Harold danced with a friend’s wife, who was dressed in green powder and a black string.

Enter Brett Ashley. Chances are that Harold Loeb would never have been a character in a Hemingway novel if Duff Twitchell had not riveted his eye in the mirror of the Select Cafe in Paris and said, in her low, exciting voice, “It is the only miracle”—meaning love. Duff took love and drink in immoderation. Depending on the flow of checks from England, she and her upper-Bohemian lover, Pat Swazey, lived on champagne or birdseed. Duff called strangers “darling” and friends “good chaps,” had a title by marriage, and as anyone may guess, was the model for Hemingway’s Lady Brett Ashley. Though happily married, Hemingway was apparently just enough involved with Duff himself to be oath-muttering mad when she and Harold took off for a two-week seaside idyll at St.-Jean-de-Luz.

At the fiesta in Pamplona the tensions boiled over. Pat and Duff were back together, but the lovesick Harold could not quite believe that the great affair had ended. He irritated Hemingway by finding the bullfights less than rapturous, indeed “shameful” (Loeb momentarily rode a young bull’s head, broncobuster fashion, in the amateur frolic). On the last night of the festival, they stepped into an alley to slug it out. “I don’t want to hit you,” said Harold. “Me either,” said Hemingway. The hairy-chested novelist saved his punch for The Sun Also Rises.

The Gatsby Syndrome. There is no counterpunching in The Way It Was, except for the implications of the title itself. Loeb, 67, has fashioned an independent career for himself as an economist, but in the ’20s, his personal position was that of a man caught between two worlds. He had turned his back on the world of money, but had just enough left to be treated as an easy mark by many writers and artists. As a writer he had just enough talent to wonder if he had enough.

In The Way It Was, love and memory are enough; he has fashioned a timeless frieze of the titans and the lotus eaters of the ’20s. It is perhaps typical of Loeb that a decade later he was a devotee of technocracy. His generation could never escape the Gatsby Syndrome, the belief in “the green light” ever beckoning toward an elusively perfect tomorrow.

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