Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another. Ernest Hemingway
It has been said someone bet Hemingway that he couldn’t write a story in six words that would make you cry. Try this on for size, ye of little faith.
FOR SALE: BABY SHOES, NEVER WORN.
If that doesn’t tear your heart out from the inside out and make you gasp for breath, then you have no soul.
Hemingway was complicated. For those of you who’ve read this blog from the beginning, and especialy the Mask post, the Hemingway bluster and the macho “stuff” were both real and a mask for what Hemingway felt he should be. Please remember his devastation at the death of his cat, Willie.
The above, for me, says so much. Can you in six words sum up anything? In my women’s group, we did a similar exercise. In six words, sum up your life. We had three tries ( three versions) if so inspired. It’s not easy. Mine were something like: ” Good Girl, Bad Girl, Okay Woman” and “Love as the answer, not sure.”
This will be a short post. I find the above so thought-provoking and devastating that I think it’s enough. Hemingway is anything but a one-trick pony.
Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut. Ernest Hemingway
MYTH 1 Hemingway cultivated the macho image because he wasn’t really.
Actually he really was all that and more. Macho that is. While we can quibble about what macho means, for the purpose of this post, I’m defining it as what is typically deemed manly, not terribly sensitive, and swaggering. Webster’s defines it as ” characterized by qualities considered manly, especially when manifested in an assertive, self-conscious, or dominating way.”
He was all of that although Hem had tons of sensitivity or he could not have written as he did.
There is no doubt that Hem was brave. In book after book that I’ve read, Hemingway is admired and lauded for true bravery. He was self-sacrificing in Italy as an ambulance driver going back for the wounded when he could have chosen not to. The wounds from Italy stayed with him all of his life.
He was crazy but courageous in Pamplona. That was all in youthful fun. it was more serious in Spain. While a journalist in Spain, during the civil war, his steadfast nerves during bombings and his intent focus on getting the story out in as true a form as possible, and helping others who were in jeoparday, are all legendary. (Martha Gellhorn by the way was equally brave. She was in the thick of it and a stalwart. Hem loved that about her and their love truly blossomed while in Spain and in the midst of war. Both behaved beyond admirably.)
While living in Key West and then Cuba, Hem ran the “Crook Factory” and trolled the Carribean with his cronies for German subs and bombs. They could have been blown up themselves. While perhaps Hemingway was always a bit of a boy looking for adventure, he was anything but a coward. What I’ve always liked about Hemingway is he walked the walk. Even when he had money and could afford the easy way out, he rarely took it (although he did like his comforts and his booze while braving the elements and the enemy. When in China with Martha on a trip he had not wanted to take, Martha hated the dirt, the rustic accomodations, but that did not bother Hem at all. He was happiest talking to the locals at a pub, or simple home. He was no snob. Usually by the time Martha got home, an entourage was assembled and drinking, much to her distress)
Still he was real, strong, and brave. No phoney there. Other myths will be discussed although not necessarily next week. I’ll surprise you. Write to me please about your favorite myths. Also many of you out there know more than I do so chime in if I’ve got it wrong or if you think he was a phony. I’m interested.
Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt, use it-don’t cheat with it. Ernest Hemingway
Is it just me or are we seeing Hemingway everywhere?
In the movies: Hemingway and Gellhorn
Midnight in Paris
In books: The Paris Wife
In the news: Alternate endings to A Farewell to Arms
The Cats in Key West
The Revised Moveable Feast
His Great Grand-daughter who is modeling
The Ethan Allen collection
But is anyone reading him? Is his image yet again over-shadowing his writing?
As Roger Ebert wrote in an article about being well-read or actually on the tragedy of not being well-read:
Consider: who at this hour (apart from some professorial specialist currying his “field”) is reading Mary McCarthy, James T. Farrell, John Berryman, Allan Bloom, Irving Howe, Alfred Kazin, Edmund Wilson, Anne Sexton, Alice Adams, Robert Lowell, Grace Paley, Owen Barfield, Stanley Elkin, Robert Penn Warren, Norman Mailer, Leslie Fiedler, R.P. Blackmur, Paul Goodman, Susan Sontag, Lillian Hellman, John Crowe Ransom, Stephen Spender, Daniel Fuchs, Hugh Kenner, Seymour Krim, J.F. Powers, Allen Ginsberg, Philip Rahv, Jack Richardson, John Auerbach, Harvey Swados–or Trilling himself?”
Ebert went on to talk about a professor and his last legacy:
I’ve written before about the mentor of my undergraduate years, Daniel Curley, he of the corduroy pants, Sears boots and rucksack. In English 101 he assigned us Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, James, Forster, Cather, Wharton, Joyce, Hemingway. I still read all of them. In 1960, he told us, ‘What will last of Hemingway’s work are the short stories and The Sun Also Rises.’Half a century later, I would say he was correct.
I have to disagree. I think that For Whom the Bell Tolls is his masterpiece; I think The Dangerous Summer remains an amazing memoir of a summer following the bullfight circuit; and while not his best writing (and I have a peeve about critiquing writers who are published posthumously when by definition, the writer DID NOT intend the book for consumption in its abandoned form), A Moveable Feast is fun, fascinating, and interesting. Is The Snows of Kilimanjaro counted as a short story? I’m not sure but it stands the test of time for impact and weight.
I am sorry if no one is reading Hemingway anymore because he is the source and core of much of the writing at the end of the twentieth Century.
A cat has absolute emotional honesty: human beings, for one reason or another, may hide their feelings, but a cat does not. Ernest Hemingway
Who knows what’s real?
“According to those who knew him well, Hemingway was a sensitive, often shy man whose enthusiasm for life was balanced by his ability to listen intently. . .. That was not the Hemingway of the news stories. The media wanted and encouraged a brawnier Hemingway, a two-fisted man whose life was fraught with dangers. The author, a newspaper man by training, was complicit in this creation of a public persona, a Hemingway that was not without factual basis, but also not the whole man. Critics, especially, but the public as well, Hemingway hinted in his 1933 letter to [Maxwell] Perkins, were eager ‘automatically’ to ‘label’ Hemingway’s characters as himself, which helped establish the Hemingway persona, a media-created Hemingway that would shadow–and overshadow–the man writer.” (Michael Reynolds, “Hemingway in Our Times.” The New York Times, July 11, 1999)
The mask, in fact, seems indicative of a great portion of Hemingway’s life and his characters. We all think of Hemingway as the great hunter, aficionado of bull fighting, guns, and fishing, everything that is macho and, to some extent, in modern culture, these are interests bordering on offensive to many. I think Hemingway would admit readily that his image took over who he was although the image was part of him, too and he mined it regularly.
A collection of letters recently presented to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, generously established by his widow Mary, has been cited in several articles recently for their disclosure of a much more tender side of Hemingway. In particular, one letter recounted his grief at the death of one of his cats. In February 1953, Hemingway wrote to an Italian friend about the death of his beloved cat, Uncle Willie. The cat was found with its two right legs broken and Hemingway needed to shoot it to put it out of its misery. The same day, a tourist arrived at his door. “I still had the rifle and explained to them that they had come at a bad time and to please understand and go away,” Hemingway wrote from Cuba. “But the rich Cadillac psycho said, ‘We have come at a most interesting time just in time to see the great Hemingway cry because he has to kill a cat.”
The fifteen new letters in and of themselves have an interesting history. The letters were written to Gianfranca Ivancich, a long-time Italian friend of Hemingway’s and the brother of Adriana Ivancich, who is believed to be Hemingway’s late-in-life muse, particularly for Across the River and into the Trees. The letters have never been published and claim to reveal a gentle side to the writer. The John F. Kennedy Library purchased the letters from Ivancich whom he met in Italy in a hotel bar in Venice in 1949.
“There is this very machismo image of him which is what everyone knows” said Susan Wrynn, the Curator of the Libraries of Ernest Hemingway Collection. “These letters bring a great deal more of depth to his personality. It’s charming.” Hemingway in the letter goes on to note that while he has had to shoot people, it was never anyone “I loved for eleven years nor anyone that purred with two broken legs.” It’s a sad tale but also shows a side of Hemingway that has had little exposure.
John Kennedy was a fan. Although he never met Hemingway, in his Profiles in Courage, Kennedy cited Hemingway’s definition of courage: grace under pressure. Kennedy had invited Hemingway to attend his inaugural but that was in January 1961 and Hemingway was not up to it. He respectfully sent his apologies. He died in July 1961. The library’s Hemingway Collection is the largest repository in the world of his manuscripts and letters with more than 2,500 letters written by him and 7,500 letters written to him. When Wrynn went to Italy to pick up the letters, she had a six hour layover in Heathrow inLondon describes a very nervous experience guarding of the file folders that were in her carry-on. It’s a bit reminiscent–and I’m sure this passed through her mind–of Hadley losing Hemingway’s early manuscripts on the train.
In any event, these letters arrived safely.
All this leads me back to masks. Jake Barnes of The Sun Also Rises had the mask of being able to woo Brett when he couldn’t; Brett had the mask of the philanderer when she yearned for some sort of stability–or did she? Robert Jordan was a warrior in For Whom the Bell Tolls but really all he wanted was to find a little quiet spot inMadrid with Maria. The idea of the persona behind the mask is a recurrent one in Hemingway and is played out in his personal life. Thus, I chose it for my header.