Post Road Magazine #34

Literary Godparenting and the Hemingway Bundle: Stein and Hemingway in the Little Review

Justin Reed

On March 10th, 1923, Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley left Milan for Cortina. Hadley had recently revealed her pregnancy to her husband. This was an unwelcome surprise to Hemingway—news that would soon be bound to his fiction and his relationship with Gertrude Stein. Over the next two weeks in Cortina, Hemingway finished six brief prose vignettes depicting bullfights and armed conflict. Among these was his account of a 1922 evacuation from Adrianople—now Edirne, Turkey—at the end of the Greco-Turkish War. The vignettes eventually appeared as "In Our Time" at the beginning of the "Exiles' Number" of the Little Review—in which Stein also featured. Founded and edited by Margaret Anderson, the Little Review was one of the foremost publishers of experimental writing. On March 23rd, Hemingway, upset and alone, returned to Paris for a week and visited Stein. Given her mentorship of him, it is probable that he read, or gave copies of the vignettes to Stein during that visit. He certainly would have had his work with him after the disastrous (and infamous) event of three months before: the previous year, in December of 1922, Hadley left Paris to join Hemingway in Lausanne with a trunk of nearly all of his manuscripts. The trunk was stolen from her train compartment. Hemingway would not write again for over two months, and even then he avoided leaving his in-progress work behind with his wife.

Between this meeting and the publication of "In Our Time" in the Little Review, six months elapsed—ample time for Stein to create her own contributions for the issue, which directly followed Hemingway's vignettes. The magazine was published late; the seasons of renewal and growth had already passed. The release of the "Exiles' Number" in spring 1923 nearly coincided with the birth of Hemingway's first son John in the early fall of that year. The issue's title is strangely reminiscent of Hemingway's relationship with his own son. During and even after the pregnancy, Hemingway became both exiler and exiled. At times, Hemingway ignored his wife's pregnancy and later his newborn son. Soon after Hemingway discovered Hadley was pregnant, he wrote to Ezra Pound. He does not mention Hadley's pregnancy, but notes: "I been sick in bed in Milano here. Angina." There is no reference to the pregnancy in his next letter to his father, either. Unwilling to accept this drastic change in his life, Hemingway eschewed the infant John at first. The anxiety of Hemingway's life—a son he did not want, a wife who had lost his life's work—found an outlet in the place where he was not an exile: his writing.

It was during this turmoil that Hemingway and Stein wrote their contributions for the Little Review. Hadley's pregnancy was certainly on Hemingway's mind as he wrote the Adrianople vignette, in which a woman gives birth during the chaotic evacuation. It is likely that the pregnancy and the "In Our Time" vignettes were on Stein's mind as well when she wrote her poem "A History of Giving Bundles." Read side by side—as they would be in their original published form—one cannot help but notice similarities in the overall structure of Hemingway's vignette and Stein's poem. The pieces are bound together, by virtue of Hemingway and Stein's relationship, and within the context of the magazine. There is a repetition and reworking of images and words, and each piece, though a series of distinct vignettes or poems, are collected under larger headings: "In Our Time" for Hemingway, "Idem the Same" for Stein. This collecting also takes place within the vignettes and poems themselves, within single sentences, even with the repetition of single words. Combined with precise images, the collecting technique serves as a conversation about, and a reflection of, the authors' attitudes toward childbearing and parenthood.

The third vignette of "In Our Time" is a moment of evacuation from Adrianople. The vignette as it appeared in the Little Review is as follows:

Minarets stuck up in the rain out of Adrianople across the mud flats. The carts were jammed for thirty miles along the Karagatch road. Water buffalo and cattle were hauling carts through the mud. No end and no beginning. Just carts loaded with everything they owned. The old men and women, soaked through, walked along keeping the cattle moving. The Maritza was running yellow almost up to the bridge. Carts were jammed solid on the bridge with camels bobbing along through them. Greek cavalry road hard on the procession. Women and kids were in the carts crouched with mattresses, mirrors, sewing machines, bundles, sacks of things. There was a woman having a kid with a young girl holding a blanket over her and crying. Scared sick looking at it. It rained all through the evacuation.

The vignette risks overwhelming the reader and losing any sense of place at all. Because we are above the plain, the vastness of the setting—thirty miles of jammed carts on the road—is visually staggering. There is no "end and no beginning." The space is both finite and infinite. It is unwieldy. It approaches the unimaginable. Everything is pressed together, which causes the sensation of zooming in on this immense scene. The feeling is claustrophobic. Likewise, the lines of the vignette itself—a block of tidy text—function as a compacted, contained unit. Yet the linear element of the vignette focuses attention. While the long line of the evacuation stretches across boundless two-dimensional space, it is also compressed. The carts are "jammed" together; the "Greek cavalry herded along the procession."

The vignette avoids specificity as it lists the various elements of the landscape. Specific characters, animals, and objects are rarely described. Instead, it lists a collection of people, possessions, movement, and human suffering all jammed together. The carts are "loaded with everything they owned." What can a person own? The evacuees certainly own material possessions. Immaterial possessions are figuratively tied together with the material objects of the carts.

The vignette tells us: "Women and kids were in the carts crouched with mattresses, mirrors, sewing machines, bundles, sacks of things." Up to bundles, this list of physical objects is the most specific moment of the vignette. Yet just when one might begin to feel some narrative purchase, "bundles" is included among the possessions. Bundles of what? The Oxford English Dictionary definition of "bundle" indicates they have the potential to contain anything: "A collection, 'lot' (of things material or immaterial); usually either with contemptuous implication, or with allusion to a figurative 'tying together'. To be bound in the bundle of life (a Hebraism derived from the Bible): to be foreordained to continued life." Bundles have the potential to contain anything, and as the vignette says, the carts do contain everything the evacuees owned. This is the Hemingway bundle—only possible at a time of duress—which itself is bundled off from Adrianople, as the verb form of the word suggests: "To put or send (persons or things) away, in, off, out, etc., hurriedly and unceremoniously." These bundles carry a heft of meaning, themselves bundled with pain, the sorrow of lives lost, and doubt.

One common association with bundle is the idiom "a bundle of joy"—the birth of a child. The lines that immediately follow Hemingway's use of the word in the vignette take readers to that event: "There was a woman having a kid with a young girl holding a blanket over her and crying. Scared sick looking at it. It rained all through the evacuation." This is the moment of specificity and the climax: the vignette finally delivers individual characters in a particular scene of action. An earlier draft of this scene reads: "A husband spreads a blanket over a woman in labor in one of the carts to keep off the driving rain. She is the only person making a sound. Her little daughter looks at her in horror and begins to cry. And the procession keeps moving." While still bleak, this version has the potential for relief. The family is a complete unit. The final, published version denies the family the husband and dooms them to even more hardship. His absence is unexplained, and thus judgment is suspended: we do not know if he has been killed or if he has abandoned his family.

In any case, he is freed from this moment and the difficulties of parenthood that would follow. There is no possibility for the joy that a bundle might promise. Instead of a mother bundling a newborn baby—implying adult care and protection—a young girl, perhaps the woman's daughter, bundles the mother. There is no predictable safety. It will rain all throughout the evacuation—and one cannot help but sense the grim dual meaning of that word. This Hemingway bundle is not invested with a sense of potential for the future, only a sense of what is lost. Hemingway wrote this soon after discovering his wife was pregnant. Of all the Little Review vignettes, this account of the evacuation is the only one written from firsthand experience.

Never one to pass up a chance to instruct, Stein effectively revises Hemingway's bundles in her contribution to the Little Review, "A History of Giving Bundles." Like Hemingway, Stein sometimes suggests the simultaneity of often seemingly opposed events in her poems. "A History of Giving Bundles" directly follows "In Our Time" in the magazine, and begins with one of these composite moments:

We are able to notice that each one in a way carried a bundle, they were not a trouble to them nor were they all bundles as some of them were chickens some of them pheasants some of them sheep and some of them bundles, they were not a trouble to them and then indeed we learned that it was the principal recreation and they were so arranged that they were not given away, and to-day they were given away.

I will not look at them again.

They will not look for them again.

They have not seen them here again.

They are in there and we hear them again.

The poem opens with concrete actions: multiple observers watch multiple people, each one carrying a bundle. Yet it continues: "they were not a trouble to them nor were they all bundles as some of them were chickens." Another reversal happens later: "they were so arranged that they were not given away, and to-day they were given away." Any sense of action or narrative propulsion—this specific event happened at this time—is disrupted by these contradictions. Instead, Stein raises questions: Were they carrying bundles? Were the bundles given away? The options for answers are not just yes and no, but rather: yes, no, and both at once.

The various forms of "they" add further potential to this construct. "They" is undefined, indeterminate, and without antecedent in this poem except for the first "they," which refers to "bundle." Afterward, "they" points to no one in particular. And it is because "they" points to no specific person or thing that the pronoun becomes another instance of bundling. The possibilities are limitless, and they (this collection of people) are bundled together by the pronouns. If there is no relief for the Hemingway bundle, Stein's bundles are full of potential. "A History of Giving Bundles": the title also gestures toward the simultaneity of events. A history implies a collection of unique moments that evolve temporally as they occur. Each time the action—here, the giving of bundles—is enacted, it is not only an extension of history, but an evocation and modification of every instance of the act. We are invited to watch each enactment in the history of bundle-giving, including the moment when bundle-giving takes its next evolutionary step in this poem: toward delivery.

In the context of its original publication, the opening paragraph of "A History of Giving Bundles" calls to mind the evacuation scene of Hemingway's Adrianople vignette. A group of people carry bundles and various animals. This, as the poem ironically says, is their "principal recreation"—as it would be in a time of evacuation. The bundles have been "so arranged that they were not given away, and to-day they were given away." "Given away" might imply a benign handing over, or it could mean a betrayal. The lines that follow suggest the latter:

I will not look at them again.

They will not look for them again.

They have not seen them here again.

They are in there and we hear them again.

These lines are separate from the opening. They thrust down the page, distancing a reader from the moment the bundles were given away. The pronouns are ambiguous and location is confused. There is pain here, but it is not the same pain as in the Hemingway vignette. The bundles are dearer. They do not encompass pain itself; pain is caused by their loss.

Next, a moment of relief: "In which way are stars brighter than they are. When we have come to this / decision. We mention many thousands of buds. And when I close my eyes I see them." Buds are bundles of stored potential, gestating flowers set to bloom. Bud itself is contained within bundle. Although the poem "will not look" back at the lost bundles, it sees these buds-as-bundles when its eyes are closed. The poem ends on a moment of renewal, joy, and progress beyond the chaotic past: "She is very lovely and mine which is very lovely." The moment is ecstatic, climactic. The babble that pours forth is an expression of nearly sexual pleasure: "She is sweetly here and I am very near and that is very lovely." The British sexologist Havelock Ellis, of whom Hemingway was an avid reader, believes that "when the culminating act of life is about to be accomplished, the individual thus reaches his supreme state of radiant beauty." (Hemingway sent a volume of Ellis's Studies in the Psychology of Sex to his friend Bill Smith in 1921; he sent three volumes of the collection to Hadley, and they traded essays on their reading.) At this moment, Ellis writes, there "is sometimes the tendency to utter broken and meaningless words." Although Stein's rush of words mirrors the "broken and meaningless words" of orgasm, they are in fact an assertion of ownership, authorship, and creation. Furthermore, when read alongside Ellis, Stein's finale is not just the conclusion of an author's creation, but a creative act that is one with "the culminating act of life." Stein revises Hemingway's alternate history of bundles, wherein lie pain and loss and uncertainty. It is a birth not as evacuation, but as delivery and deliverance. It is the newest instance, the next step in the history of giving bundles.

One of Stein's goals as an author, as many critics have pointed out, is to undermine the patriarchal perception of authorship—author as the "father" of his text—that is omnipresent in the Western literary tradition. Stein scholar and novelist Harriet Chessman, for instance, asserts that Stein also addresses "the difficulties inherent in the metaphor of the author as mother." In Stein's mode of creation, the mother is also author insofar as she creates or authors flesh. Chessman quotes William Gass, who believed that to read Stein was to experience the "word made flesh." The converse is also true in Stein's art, wherein the flesh is made into word. In Stein's incarnational art, word and flesh, writing and creation, birth and art are one.

"Hemingway said he undoubtedly intended to be a writer," Stein writes in the Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas in 1934. "He and his wife went away on a trip and shortly after Hemingway turned up alone. He came to the house about ten o'clock in the morning and he stayed, he stayed for lunch, he stayed all afternoon, he stayed for dinner and he stayed until about ten o'clock at night and then all of a sudden he announced that his wife was enceinte and then with great bitterness, and I, I am too young to be a father. We consoled him as best we could and sent him on his way." This visit was six months before the publication of the "Exiles' Number" of the Little Review.

Hemingway asked Stein and Alice B. Toklas to be John Hemingway's godmothers. This relationship between Stein and the infant John parallels the relationship between Stein and Hemingway, who took "Hemingstein," alongside "Papa," as a lifelong nickname; the moniker was often shorted simply to "Stein." Hemingway as literary godchild of Stein is a fitting analogy, particularly given their intense early relationship, which was followed by lifelong distance. "Writer or painter god-parents are notoriously unreliable," writes Stein in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. "That is, there is certain before long to be a cooling of friendship [….] and just as naturally it is a long time since any of us have seen or heard of our Hemingway god-child." Here, "Hemingway" stands for both the father and son.

Stein exerted her godparent influence in the "Exiles' Number." In this issue of the Little Review, the two authors' work appeared side-by-side six months after Hemingway learned he was to be a father. Hemingway's vignette was written at a moment of desperation. "A History of Giving Bundles" is a counterpoint to the bleak Adrianople vignette, wherein birth is a creation that obstructs and destroys. Stein rejects the painful, sorrowful bundles of Hemingway's writing. Stein's poem was written from a distance, allowing for birth and writing to be depicted as inclusive, interconnected creative acts; she offers a nuanced rendition of creation. At the same time, she indirectly instructs Hemingway—in the way a godmother might instruct a godchild.


Works Cited and Consulted

"bundle, n. and v." OED Online. September 2013. Oxford University Press. Web. 8 Nov. 2013.

Chessman, Harriet Scott. The Public is Invited to the Dance: Representation, the Body, and Dialogue in Gertrude Stein. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989. Print.

Ellis, Havelock. Studies in the Psychology of Sex. Vol. 5. 1921. Archive.org. The Internet Archive, 2008. Web. 11 May 2014.

Hemingway, Ernest. Dateline: Toronto: The Complete Toronto Star Dispatches, 1920-1924. Ed. William White. New York: Scribner, 1987. Print.

---. Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters, 1917-1961. Ed. Carlos Baker. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1981. Print.

---. In Our Time. 1925.New York: Scribners, 1970. Print.

---. "In Our Time." The Little Review. 9.3 (1923): 3-5. Print.

---. The Letters of Ernest Hemingway. 1907-1925. 2 vols. Eds. Sandra Spanier and Robert W. Trogdon. New York: Cambridge UP: 2011-2013. Print.

Joost, Nicholas. Ernest Hemingway and the Little Magazines: The Paris Years. Barre, MA: Barre Publishers, 1968. Print.

The Little Review. 9.3 (1923). Print.

"The Paris (and Toronto) Years." fifteeneightyfour. Cambridge University Press. 24 Sept. 2013. Web. 9 Nov. 2013.

Reynolds, Michael. Hemingway: An Annotated Chronology. Detroit: Manly, 1991. Print.

Sanderson, Rena. "Hemingway and Gender History." The Cambridge Companion to Ernest Hemingway. Ed. Scott Donaldson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. 170-196. Print.

Stein, Gertrude. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. 1934. New York: Penguin Books, 1977. Print.

---. "Bundles For Them." The Little Review. 9.3 (1923): 8-9. Print.



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