The Making of an Expatriate
Hemingway in Toronto
Paris wasn't the only place Hemingway realized he needed to be an expatriate American writer. (Pictured: This building used to be the Selby Hotel in Toronto, where the Hemingways briefly stayed in the fall of 1923.)
Spanning 1923 to 1925, Volume 2 dives deeper into Hemingway’s legendary Paris years, which were first immortalized in A Moveable Feast. However transformation into an American expatriate writer became complete not only in the City of Light, but also in an unlikely place on the opposite side of the Atlantic: Toronto, Canada.
On August 26, 1923, he and his pregnant wife Hadley boarded the Andania; after landing in Quebec, they made their way to Toronto, where they spent several weeks at the Selby Hotel on Sherbourne Street (which is still standing today). The plan was not only to allow Hadley to give birth, but also save up much-needed money during the fall, since Hemingway had accepted a position as a full-time staff writer at the Toronto Daily Star.
In an October 11 letter to Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas, at first he sounds optimistic about the move: “But really good for Hadley and the novillero [his son Bumby], healthy, cheerful etc. and allowing us to bank all accruing money gainst the return to Paris while we live off my salary and should be able to save around seven or eight hundred from it beside.”
It is impossible for me to do any writing of my own. The paper wanta all day and all night. Much longer and I would never be able to write [a]nymore.
However, within weeks of working at the Star, things quickly worsened. Hemingway frequently butted heads with Harold Hindmarsh, who at the time was the assistant managing editor. (Hindmarsh went on to become the president of the newspaper in 1948.) Clashing over deadlines and assignments, he felt stifled by his boss’ authority as well as the punishing pile of work.
“Been on four long out of town trips and returned to find stuff piled up that would keep working all nights to catch up,” he writes to his mentor Ezra Pound. “Cant keep food down due to stomach shot from nervous fatigue.”
Hemingway also felt increasing pressure to provide for his family. Despite his initial idea that living in Toronto would be cheaper, in reality he struggled to make ends meet.
“It is impossible to live here,” he confides to Sylvia Beach. “I make about the same as in Paris and here an apartment costs 18,000 francs a year and there is nothing to do in it.”
While traveling on assignment throughout the Midwest and East Coast, Hemingway realizes that he misses Paris more than ever. He finds New York City, though full of impressive buildings, a difficult place to live in: “New York looked very beautiful in the lower part around Broad and Wall streets where there is never any light gets down except streaks and the damndest looking people. All the time I was there I never saw anybody even grin…. Wouldn’t live in it for anything.”
But above all, the lack of free ime to write was unbearable for Hemingway. He admits to one of his friends, Edward J. O’Brien:
Working so that you’re too tired at night to think let alone write and then in the morning a story start in your head on the street car and have to choke it off because it was coming so perfectly and easily and clear and right and you know that if you let it go on it will be finished and gone and you’d never be able to write it. I’m all constipated up with stuff to write, that I’ve got to write before it goes bad in me. And am working 14 to 18 hrs a day to keep the show going until the 1st of the year.
By December, however, Hemingway had had enough. He submitted his resignation letter to the Toronto Star, and by January they are en route to Paris from New York. The fall months spent in Toronto may have been a dark period in Hemingway’s professional and personal life, but it was a crucial period in which he realized two crucial aspects about himself: that he could only be writer full-time, and that he would not live again in North America.