After finding Shakespeare and Company,, Hemingway reads Turgenev, Gogol, Tolstoy, and Chekhov. He tries to read stories by Katherine Mansfield but he finds that reading them after Chekhov is like hearing “the carefully artificial tales of a young old-maid compared to those of an articulate and knowing physician.” Hemingway is impressed by Dostoevsky and by Tolstoy’s descriptions of war. He feels that having these opportunities to read in Paris where he can “live well” even while being poor is a “great treasure.” One day he asks Ezra what he thinks of Dostoevsky, and Ezra admits that he hasn’t read “the Rooshians.” He suggests that Hemingway stick to the French.
Hemingway is an eager young apprentice, keen to absorb as much as possible from a wide range of literary traditions. This puts him in contrast with Ezra, who is happy to dismiss an entire national literature that many believe to be the greatest in the world. On the other hand, Hemingway himself is not without unfounded prejudice. His review of Katherine Mansfield is clearly laced with misogyny, as shown by the fact that he calls her a “young old-maid.”
Hemingway goes to meet Evan Shipman at the Lilas. Hemingway describes Evan as “a fine poet” who wears a “worn and wrinkled grey suit” and his fingers are “stained darker than his hair.” Hemingway asks Evan how he is, and Evan admits that he is “a little down.” Hemingway is concerned that Evan doesn’t dress warmly enough; Evan assures him that he knows his coat is “somewhere safe” because he left a poem in it. The men order two whiskies. They discuss Dostoevsky and the merits of Constant Garnett’s translation of War and Peace. Evan argues that Dostoevsky was “a shit” who was “best on shits and saints,” and Hemingway resolves to read The Brothers Karamazov again. They discuss the future of the Lilas—which is changing management—and of their waiter, Jean. They insist to Jean that they do not want more whisky, but he brings more anyway. Hemingway notes that if Dostoevsky knew Jean, “he might have died of drink.” The next week, Hemingway comes back to the Lilas and asks the barman about Jean. The barman tells him that Jean received the Croix de Guerre and the Médaille Militaire in the war. Hemingway tells the barman to send Jean his and Evan’s regards, but the barman replies that Jean and Evan are currently gardening together.
One of the most striking things about Evan and Hemingway’s conversation is the extent to which their critique of literature is defined by their highly emotional, subjective reactions to the texts they discuss. Although they do debate the technical merits of Dostoevsky’s writing and Garnett’s translation, they talk about Russian literature in similar terms to the way they discuss people’s personalities. Once again, this emphasizes the way in which art and life are entirely interwoven in Hemingway’s Paris. Meanwhile, Hemingway’s statement about Jean and Dostoevsky takes on a darkly ironic significance in light of the trajectory of Hemingway’s life. Hemingway’s mental and physical decline and his eventual suicide are widely considered to be partially the product of his lifelong alcoholism. Although Hemingway is talking about Dostoevsky, on some level he is arguably expressing anxieties about his own life.