The Chicago Historical Museum is having a competition for the theme of its next exhibits. One of the four finalists is Chicago area authors. Others are Chicago’s neighborhoods, prohibition, and architecture. All are worthy topics but the author theme includes Hemingway who grew up in a suburb of Chicago, Oak Park.
Aside from being thankful for Hemingway, I wish all a great holiday. The above link is really clever: Literary posters with quotes. Hemingway’s is: WRITE DRUNK. EDIT SOBER. (He actually did not write when drunk, or at least not often.)
Sometimes it feels like you can’t move an inch without hitting something very Hemingway related. From the recent book about Hadley (The Parisian Wife) to Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald’s life story (Z) to a show in the Berkshire’s about Hemingway and Fitzgerald and their last encounter, and Woody Allen’s delightful Midnight in Paris, it seems that Hemingway remains relevant and his ripples are felt regularly, especially in the arts.
The latest entry to this group is the new Robert Redford film, All is Lost. Called by several critics “Robert Redford’s greatest performance,” he has two words of dialogue in the whole film. While stranded on his boat, which has been disabled in the middle of the Indian Ocean, he has a struggle with a huge marlin, not unlike Hemingway’s Santiago, and ultimately is hoping just to survive. While the modern character moans “God,” it’s followed by the universally understaood, albeit uncouth, word of despair, “f***!”
Instead, Hemingway’s dialogue from Santiago is: “I am not religious” he says aloud, alone in his skiff holding the line, hands bleeding, muscles aching, as he battles the great fish. “But I will say ten Our Fathers and Ten Hail Marys that I should catch this fish. And I promise to make a pilgrimage to the Virgin of Cobre if I catch him.”
As I wrote somewhere earlier in this blog, many Hemingway readers are not fans of fishing, bull fighting, war, or hunting. In fact, many of us don’t like those topics at all. However, we are fans of man’s humanity, of man’s and women’s will to live, of surviving despite defeat with head jerked high, and of love that is worth all sacrifice. Those were Hemingway’s themes and topics. It’s what keeps many of us coming back to him.
In a three-page short story, he can move a reader to tears. In The Snows of Kilimanjaro, a long short story, we all understood Harry’s life and what had happened and how he had lost himself. Harry, built loosely on Hemingway himself, had always feared death and now that’s he ‘s faced with it, he steps back and almost analyzes it from the outside. He’s frankly too exhausted and weak with fever to fight it and he accepts it as it’s due, as it lurks outside of his tent, a hideous hyena with bad breath, waiting. What he regrets is that he won’t have time to write the other stories that are in his head and the loss of so many of the things that he loved doing, the loss of love, the hurt to those that were loyal to him. Who can’t relate to that on each of our own personal levels?
That’s why Hemingway never gets old and we overlook some of the things that don’t resonate with us because most of it does. A bullfight is a life struggle; hunting can be a battle to survive; and love can be the greatest loss and triumph of your life.
I just read an article about a man who liked to visit literary places and relate them to the writings. This is an article about his visit to upper Michigan and some Hemingway places there. I liked the last line, something to the effect that he’ll always think of Hem in the sand dunes, crystal lake, beautiful colors of that place.
There are so many places that Hemingway has touched or that have touched him: Paris, Key West, Cuba, Ketchum, Michigan, Spain, Illinois, Kansas City, Toronto, Italy,
Africa. I’m heading to Paris for the first time in June 2014 and will see as many of his places as I can manage. It all sounds so romantic with cafes, languid river boats, elegant boulevards. I’ll report back and let you know if it’s all that or if I was disappointed. Friends seem to either love Paris or shrug at the fuss. I wish I could take my two quasi-Gallic dogs with me but alas, they must stay home.
It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing. The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it. Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway killed himself on July 1, 1961. It’s sad to think about but I think we can say that he was true to himself to the end. His great companion, A. E. Hotchner, wrote an essay about the death and I attach the link here.
Hotchner met Hemingway while doing a story for Cosmopolitan, which was about the future of everything: art, music, theater, and literature. They asked a young journalist to go down to Cuba and interview Hemingway. I won’t repeat what I’ve written before about their meeting.
Suffice to say for this post that Hotchner remained to the end a trusted confidant, hell-raiser when necessary, collaborator on projects, and loyal friend. As he notes in his article, he dramatized many of Hemingway’s stories and novels for TV and the movies, and they traveled through Europe together often.
Hotchner, in his article, notes that Hemingway called him in May of 1960 from Cuba. Hem had been asked by Life magazine to cut a 92,000 word article down to 40,000. A month later, Hem had only cut out about 534 words. He asked Hotchner to come to Cuba to help him. He did go and got the job done, but Hotchner noted that Hem was “bone tired and very beat up.” He assumed that after a period of rest, Hem would be back to his hale old self.
Much has been written about Hemingway’s paranoia and the last year of his life. He felt that the feds, the FBI, the IRS or all were following him and out to get him. During dinner with Hem and Mary (Hemingway’s fourth wife), Hem indicated halfway through the meal that they had to leave because two FBI agents at the bar were watching him. At the time Hemingway was working on A Moveable Feast, having difficultly, although most of the Paris sketches were all set and down on paper. He often spoke of suicide. His father had killed himself.
During the last eight months of Hemingway’s life, he received eleven electric shock treatments at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota. During a short release, he attempted suicide twice with a gun; on a flight to the Mayo Clinic, he tried to jump from the plane. When it stopped in Casper, Wyoming, for repairs, he tried to walk into the moving propeller.
When Hotchner visited him in June, he’d been given a new series of shock treatments and insisted that his room was bugged. When Hochner asked him, “Papa, why do you want to kill yourself,” he replied, “What do you think happens to a man going on 62 when he realizes that he can never write the books and stories he promised himself? And do any of the other things he promised himself on the good days?” Hotchner noted that he’d written a beautiful book about Paris and Hem replied, “The best of that I wrote before. And now I can’t finish it.”
When Hotch suggested he could relax or retire, Hem noted, “How does a writer retire? Everywhere he goes he hears the same damn question: what are you working on?”
The irony is that decades later in response to a Freedom of Information petition, the FBI released its Hemingway file. J. Edgar Hoover had placed Hemingway under surveillance because he was suspicious of his activities in Cuba. Agents filed reports and tapped his phones. The surveillance continued all through his confinement at St. Mary’s Hospital and it’s likely that the phone outside of his room was tapped after all.
Hotch ends the article noting that he believes Hemingway truly sensed the surveillance and that it contributed to his anguish and his suicide.
The above borrows heavily from the article by A. E. Hotchner, so I urge you to read it directly. Hotchner also wrote the wonderful book “Papa Hemingway” and “Hemingway and His World.” I love his writing and his view of Hem as a true friend, not just as “Hemingway.” There’s not a better source, in my opinion, for getting a real flavor of what it was like to be part of Hemingway’s posse and inner circle.