No one defined masculinity more thoroughly than Ernest Hemingway, particularly in his best years, i.e. the 30’s and 40’s. I just read a review of a new book out by Lesley M. M. Blume, called “Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway’s Masterpiece, The Sun Also Rises.”
I always liked that quote from The Sun Also Rises. Maybe it’s just cynicism, but I prefer to think that it’s realism. The end of that quote is “Everyone behaves badly—given the chance.”
In addition to discussing the real life people upon whom the characters in the book are based, Ms. Blume’s book discusses the issue of sexuality in “The Sun Also Rises” as well as in Hemingway’s posthumously published 1986 novel, The Garden of Eden with its gender-bending main characters well ahead of their time. Hemingway was “one of the last authors to be a celebrity in his own right, back when ‘manly’ was a good thing.
Lesley Blume with Valerie Hemingway
The book attempts to answer the question of whether Hemingway’s persona of hyper-masculinity was real or fake and notes that “we haven’t solved the problem of how to be a man in the modern age and Hemingway was a caricature of the last generation’s attempt to do so, as Donald Trump may be of ours.” We no longer admire—thank God and for good reason—killing large animals in Africa or watching them die in bull fights. The concept of masculinity is complex and evolving.
Parenthetically, I highly recommend watching the documentary called The True Gen. It’s about Hemingway’s friendship with Gary Cooper. Gary Cooper apparently was always a gentlemen and Hemingway…wasn’t always restrained. Yet, somehow they had an extremely strong friendship that lasted for a lifetime—which was a rarity for Hemingway—with Cooper at times forcing Hemingway to stop with the image and be real. Despite personalities that were almost polar opposites, both worked hard, were more sensitive that you might suspect, and hid parts of themselves for the image each wanted to project. It worked for them. The movie is a gem and is well worth watching.I found it extremely touching. Cooper and Hemingway died 6 weeks apart: Cooper of cancer and shortly thereafter, Hemingway killed himself.
So the book by Lesley Blume sounds valuable and additive to Hemingway analysis. She knows the period well and I expect the book will ring true and be a load of fun to read.
About a year ago, I began doing posts on the wives and got sidetracked on other Hemingway issues. I posted on Hadley and Pauline, then diverted. Hemingway was married to Hadley Richardson for about seven years, i.e. 1921 to 1927. He was married to Pauline Pfeiffer from 1927 to 1940. He was married to Martha Gellhorn from 1940 to 1945. He met her in Key West when she was on vacation with her mother. Tall, attractive, ambitious, blond, smart, witty, and charming, he kept company with her first behind Pauline’s back, including when both were covering the Spanish Civil War. Martha admired his talent and bravery and he admired her looks, her talent and her courage. Hadley, Pauline, and Mary (wife no. 4) were deferential to Hemingway in the sense of wanting to please him. Martha was not. It was the one marriage he claims to have regretted and she certainly wanted nothing to do with him after the divorce.
While Hemingway was hard to be married to, he had a kind, sweet side as well. A biographer of Martha Gellhorn uncovered some letters recently that made clear that he was very supportive of her career and all that she accomplished and could accomplish. That being said, he was at times jealous that she would take off to go on assignments as opposed to staying with him in Cuba when he preferred to have her there.
Martha was a strong woman ahead of her time. She was also a good friend of Eleanor Roosevelt and was a first-rate journalist in her own right. She never had children of her own, but adopted two. When her health was to the point of not being recoverable, she killed herself in London at the age of 89
Ernest Hemingway wrote only one play, “The Fifth Column.” Written in the late 30’s as his relationship with journalist Martha Gellhorn began to take root, the action takes place in Madrid and features an American who is hard drinking and posing as a correspondent although actually he is acting on behalf of the rebels. Much of the action takes place in a room in the Hotel Florida as Franco’s forces surround the city. Hemingway wrote it in the middle of the Spanish civil War and he didn’t know who was going to win the war so he had no benefit of hindsight.
At the time (1938 was when it was published) Hemingway was already a celebrated novelist. His support was solidly behind republican cause against the Franco forces which were following a fascist path.
Martha Gellhorn was a young journalist but she had written a book and was developing a strong reputation as a journalist herself. She’d met Hemingway in Key West and they’d begun an affair and met in Spain again as both covered the war. They later wed but the relationship went sour. They divorced five years later.
The play was not particularly well received. The main characters are Philip Rawlings and Dorothy Bridges and the plot raises the issues surrounding the Spanish Civil War as well as the ruthlessness of the rival factions fighting.
Actor Simon Darwen is playing Philip Rawlings and he notes, “Rawlings is a guy who is very jaded and very tired and his job is taking a toll on him but there is love for Dorothy. He convinces himself he can’t have her and his work so he makes the choice to be so awful to her that she pushes him away.” Although Martha Gellhorn herself was independent and fearless, Dorothy in this play is clingy, needy, and a bit of a light-weight.
The play just opened in London so we’ll see if it is better received than the original. It is running until April 15th.