Once, in Texas, I gave a reading from my memoir Fierce Attachments
HUMANITIES: Passage A is adapted from the essay “Truth in Personal Narrative” by Vivian Gornick. Passage B is adapted from the article “Fact and Fiction in A Moveable Feast” by Jacqueline Tavernier-Courbin.
Passage A by Vivian Gornick
Once, in Texas, I gave a reading from my memoir Fierce Attachments. No sooner had I finished speaking than a woman in the audience asked a question: “If I come to New York, can I take a walk with your mama?” I told her that, actually, she wouldn’t want to take a walk with my mother, it was the woman in the book she wanted to walk with. They were not exactly the same.
Shortly afterwards, I attended a party in New York where, an hour into the evening, one of the guests blurted out in a voice filled with disappointment, “Why, you’re nothing like the woman who wrote Fierce Attachments!” At the end of the evening she cocked her head at me and said, “Well, you’re something like her.” I understood perfectly. She had come expecting to have dinner with the narrator of the book, not with me; again, not exactly the same.
On both occasions, what was desired was the presence of two people who existed only between the pages of a book. In our actual persons, neither Mama nor I could give satisfaction. We ourselves were just a rough draft of the written characters. Moreover, these characters could not live independent of the story which had called them into life, as they existed for the sole purpose of serving that story. In the flesh, neither Mama nor I were serving anything but the unaesthetic spill of everyday thought and feeling that routinely floods us all, only a select part of which, in this case, invoked the principals in a tale of psychological embroilment that had as its protagonist neither me nor my mother but rather our “fierce attachment.”
At the heart of my memoir lay a revelation: I could not leave my mother because I had become my mother. This complicated insight was my bit of wisdom, the history I wanted badly to trace out. The context in which the book is set — our life in the Bronx in the 1950s, alternating with walks taken in Manhattan in the 1980s—was the situation; the story was the insight. What mattered most to me was not the literalness of the situation, but the emotional truth of the story. What actually happened is only raw material; what matters is what the memoirist makes of what happened.
Memoirs belong to the category of literature, not of journalism. It is a misunderstanding to read a memoir as though the writer owes the reader the same record of literal accuracy that is owed in newspaper reporting or historical narrative. What is owed the reader is the ability to persuade that the narrator is trying, as honestly as possible, to get to the bottom of the tale at hand.
Passage B by Jacqueline Tavernier-Courbin
The dividing line between fiction and autobiography is often a very fine and shaky one, and Ernest Hemingway’s autobiography of the artist as a young man is a case in point. As nearly all readers know, Hemingway’s fiction contains numerous autobiographical elements, and his protagonists are often conscious projections and explorations of the self. At the same time, Hemingway’s openly autobiographical writings, Green Hills of Africa and A Moveable Feast, are barely more autobiographical than his fiction, and, in many ways, just as fictional.
A Moveable Feast is particularly complex because Hemingway was clearly conscious that it would be his literary testament. Thus, in writing it, he dealt with issues which had been important to him and he settled old scores. Among the reasons which motivated his portrayal of self and others were the need to justify himself, for he felt that he had been unfairly portrayed by some of his contemporaries, the desire to present his own version of personal relationships as well as the desire to get back at people against whom he held a grudge, the need to relive his youth in an idealized fashion, and the wish to leave to the world a flattering self-portrait. Thus, A Moveable Feast could hardly be an objective portrayal of its author and his contemporaries, and the accuracy of the anecdotes becomes an issue that can never be entirely resolved.
While it is impossible to verify everything Hemingway wrote in A Moveable Feast, one might conclude that he invented and lied relatively seldom about pure facts. When he did so, it was usually in order to reinforce the pattern he had created — i.e., a negative portrayal of literary competitors and an idealized self-portrayal. He clearly overlooked a great deal of mate -
rial, distorted some, and generally selected the episodes so that they would show him as innocent, honest, dedicated, and thoroughly enjoying life. A Moveable Feast, in fact, appears as a fascinating composite of relative factual accuracy and clear dishonesty of intent.
Questions 21–24 ask about Passage A.
21. The main purpose of the first two paragraphs of Passage A (lines 1–16) is to:
A. establish the popularity of Gornick’s book by indicating that people wanted to meet her after reading the book.
B. introduce the idea that the characters in Gornick’s memoir are not exactly like their real-life counterparts.
C. illustrate Gornick’s frustration with some of her readers.
D. suggest that Gornick’s memoir should be classified as fiction, not as nonfiction.
22. Which of the following quotations from Passage A most directly relates to the party guest’s disappointment upon meeting the author of Fierce Attachments ?
F. “We ourselves were just a rough draft of the written characters” (lines 20–21).
G. “I had become my mother” (line 32).
H. “This complicated insight was my bit of wisdom” (line 33).
J. “The story was the insight” (line 37).
23. According to Passage A, Gornick believes the heart of her memoir to be:
A. the walks she took with her mother in Manhattan.
B. the revelation that she had become her mother.
C. her childhood experiences in the Bronx.
D. her shared history with her mother.
24. According to Passage A, Gornick believes that memoirs belong to the category of:
G. personal diaries.
H. historical narratives.
Questions 25–27 ask about Passage B.
25. According to Passage B, the protagonists in Hemingway’s fiction are often:
A. composites of Hemingway’s friends.
B. based on Hemingway’s family members.
C. projections of Hemingway himself.
D. completely made-up characters.
26. Based on Passage B, the question of accuracy in A Moveable Feast is particularly difficult because:
F. Hemingway used the book to create a particular portrait of himself and his contemporaries.
G. Hemingway’s contemporaries were writing conflicting memoirs during the same time period.
H. Hemingway could not produce any documents to support his stories.
J. Hemingway said his memory was excellent, but others doubt this.
27. Which of the following statements best expresses the opinion the author of Passage B seems to have about A Moveable Feast ?
A. It stands alongside Hemingway’s fiction as one of his best works.
B. It is a complex example of a book that combines fact and fiction.
C. It provides an accurate look at a specific time in Hemingway’s life.
D. It should be read with other books from the same time period.
Questions 28–30 ask about both passages.
28. Based on the passages, Gornick’s and Hemingway’s approaches to writing their memoirs are similar in that both writers:
F. put real characters into wholly fictional situations.
G. wanted to portray themselves in a flattering way.
H. were motivated to settle old scores and present their own versions of personal relationships.
J. used only material from their lives that served the story they each wanted to tell.
29. Based on the passages, it can most reasonably be inferred that Gornick and Hemingway would agree that when it comes to a writer’s responsibility to be truthful in a memoir:
A. the degree of truthfulness should be the same as that for fiction.
B. if a writer can’t remember the exact details of a certain event, that event should be left out of the memoir.
C. it is more important to create an artistic whole than to relate only facts.
D. the writer should only include incidents that have documented evidence to support them.
30. Another author wrote the following about the role of truth in memoir:
A memoir is a story, not a history, and real life doesn’t play out as a story.
Which passage most closely echoes the view presented in this quotation?
F. Passage A, because it offers a story about what happens when you meet someone who doesn’t live up to your expectations.
G. Passage A, because it stresses that what happens in life is only raw material for a memoirist.
H. Passage B, because it states that Hemingway viewed A Moveable Feast as his literary testament.
J. Passage B, because it states that Hemingway seldom lied about pure facts.
21. The best answer is B because the first paragraph of passage A reveals Gornick’s belief that her mother and the character of her mother in her memoir are not exactly the same; the second paragraph reveals Gornick’s belief that, similarly, the narrator of the memoir and her actual self are not quite the same. Together, in the context of the passage as a whole, these paragraphs serve to introduce the idea that the characters in Gornick’s memoir differ from the people they are based on.
22. The best answer is F because lines 8–16 explain that the party guest was disappointed because she felt Gornick was “nothing like the woman who wrote Fierce Attachments!” The quotation “We ourselves were just a rough draft of the written characters” exemplifies the discrepancy between an actual person and a character depicted in a memoir that led to the guest’s disappointment.
23. The best answer is B because Gornick identifies the heart of her memoir in lines 31–32: the revelation that “I could not leave my mother because I had become my mother.”
24. The best answer is J because the author claims that “memoirs belong to the category of literature, not of journalism.”
25. The best answer is C because the first paragraph asserts that Hemingway’s fiction contained autobiographical elements and his “protagonists are often conscious projections and explorations of the self ”.
26. The best answer is F because the passage explains that “A Moveable Feast is particularly complex because Hemingway was clearly conscious that it would be his literary testament” and that he thus used the book to portray himself and his contemporaries in a certain light. Lines 73–76 state that “A Moveable Feast could hardly be an objective portrayal of its author and his contemporaries, and the accuracy of the anecdotes becomes an issue that can never be entirely resolved.”
27. The best answer is B because the author of passage B states that “A Moveable Feast is particularly complex” and that it “appears as a fascinating composite of relative factual accuracy and clear dishonesty of intent”. These statements, in addition to details the author provides throughout the passage about Hemingway’s purposeful blurring of fact and fiction, support the idea that the passage author believes A Moveable Feast to be a complex example of a book that combines fact and fiction.
28. The best answer is J because in passage A, Gornick’s point is that her memoir was not necessarily literally true; what mattered to her was portraying “not the literalness of the situation, but the emotional truth of the story”. She explains that the characters in her memoir differed from the actual people they were based on in that “these characters could not live independent of the story which had called them into life, as they existed for the sole purpose of serving that story”. Similarly, throughout passage B, Hemingway is described as selectively using material from his life and blurring fact and fiction in order to best serve the story he wanted to tell: “He clearly overlooked a great deal of material, distorted some, and generally selected the episodes so that they would show him as innocent, honest, dedicated, and thoroughly enjoying life”.
29. The best answer is C because in passage A, Gornick explains her belief that, in memoir, complete literal accuracy is not necessary but that the point is to convey the “emotional truth of the story”, “trying, as honestly as possible, to get at the bottom of the tale at hand”. She states that “what actually happened is only raw material; what matters is what the memoirist makes of what happened”.
Similarly, in passage B, Hemingway is portrayed as focusing on the particular stories he wanted to portray rather than focusing on factual accuracy: “He invented and lied relatively seldom about pure facts. When he did so, it was usually in order to reinforce the pattern he had created . . .”. Thus it seems that both Gornick and Hemingway would agree that creating a cohesive, meaningful, and artistic whole is more important than detailing plain facts in a memoir.
30. The best answer is G because the main idea expressed in passage A is that Gornick believes that “what actually happened is only raw material; what matters is what the memoirist makes of what happened”. This idea echoes the quotation, which indicates that there is necessarily a difference between a memoir, which is a story, and the details and facts of real life.