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.
The largest collection of Hemingway letters and memorabilia is in Boston, Massachusetts at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum. Mary Welch Hemingway, Hem’s fourth wife, made that selection. While Hemingway and John Kennedy never met, Kennedy respected Hemingway’s writing and person. In his own Pulitzer Prize winning book, Profiles in Courage, Kennedy cited Hemingway’s description of courage, writing that, “This is a book about the most admirable of human virtues — courage. ‘Grace under pressure,’ Ernest Hemingway defined it.”
Hemingway was invited to President Kennedy’s inaugural address but he had to decline due to ill health. The inauguration was in January 1961 and Hem died in July 1961. While there was a ban on travel to Cuba in 1961 due to the tension from the Bay of Pigs incident, Mary was permitted to return to the Finca, their home in Cuba, to retrieve papers and personal possessions. The Kennedy Administration worked to make this possible. Fidel Castro personally promised safe passage for Mary so that she could collect and ship artwork, notes, letters, and beloved possessions.
There were many suitors for these prized items. Mary maintained her connection with the White House and was the guest of President and Mrs. Kennedy at the White House dinner for the Nobel Prize winners in April, 1962. Hem was honored as one of America’s distinguished Nobel laureates and Frederic March read excerpts from the works of three previous Nobel Prize winners, Sinclair Lewis, George C. Marshall, and Hemingway – the opening pages from his then-unpublished Islands in the Stream.
In 1964, Mary contacted Jacqueline Kennedy and offered her husband’s collection to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, which was still in the planning stage with the intent that it be a national memorial to John F. Kennedy. The collection included drafts of various novels of Hemingway, rewrites, and a sense of how he wrote and revised.
In 1972, Mrs. Hemingway deeded the collection to the Kennedy Presidential Library and began depositing papers in its Archives.
On July 18, 1980, Patrick Hemingway, Hem’s older son with his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis dedicated the Hemingway Room in the JFK Library.
I’m going to visit it again in a few weeks. If any of you have been, I’d love to hear your impressions. I always get a thrill seeing a photo that I haven’t seen before. It makes it all come alive for me anew.
Actually he drank a lot but it didn’t start out that way. He drank socially although significantly. He did not drink while working. On one occasion when asked by a journalist if he drank while writing his novels and short stories, he said,
“Jeezus Christ! Have you ever heard of anyone who drank while he worked? You’re thinking of Faulkner. He does sometimes – and I can tell right in the middle of a page when he’s had his first one. Besides, who in hell would mix more than one martini at a time?”
Hi favorite drink, contrary to some claims, was not the mojito, but a very dry martini, very very cold. He also, contrary to other claims, did not invent the Bloody Mary (the claim being that it was named after his fourth wife, Mary), during what was to be the equivalent of a period of drinking celibacy and that he used the tomato base to disguise the vodka. Good story but not true.
Drinking began early, probably at age 17 and then more drinking while in Italy during the war. Then, once he moved to Paris with Hadley, “thecafes, bars and bal musets became rallying points, look around the table and you might see the brightest minds of the Lost Generation—F. Scott Fitzgerald insanely drunk on champagne, Ezra Pound sipping absinthe, Gertrude Stein enjoying a fine red, James Joyce savoring scotch and Ford Maddox Ford sending back a brandy for the fourth time. They drank up liquor, they drank up life, they drank up each other.” Quote from Hooching with Hemingway by Frank Rich.
Hem was highly critical of Scott Fitzgerald’s drinking in their salad days, claiming it sapped Scott’s creativity, in addition to Zelda doing the same. He was annoyed by Fitzgerald’s alcoholism and occasionally criticized his writing in public. Hem and Zelda hated each other and there was never a détente in those feelings. Hem clearly did not see himself falling deeper into the alcoholic lifestyle as the years passed.
By the time Hem left Paris, his drinking habits had changed. “Where before he’d been a classic binge drinker, he now kept a steady bottle-killing pace. The transition had taken place just months earlier, after Hadley had lost a trunk containing most of his early work, literally years of labor. Crushed, Hemingway turned to alcohol as a means of drowning his bitter rage—when the anger came, he would slip down to the cafe and drink brandy and carouse with friends until happiness seeped back in. Quote from Hooching with Hemingway by Frank Rich
Martini: drink of choice
Hem also had fun with it. When Jigee Viertel revealed one evening that she had never had a drink of hard liquor, Hem was astounded. When she indicated a desire to try one, he suspended all that he was doing to consider whether Jigee— now in her mid-thirties— should end her tee totaling and if so, what the proper first drink was. Hem thought she should at least try a drink. He ran down options from a Bloody Mary, to a Manhattan to various gimlets. Finally he decided only a Scotch Sour would do. Jigee broke into a smile at the first sip, and Hem said, “It’s a good omen.” (A.E. Hotchner Papa Hemingway Page 60-61)
Hem brought his own booze to Spain or had it supplied; he kept it on his boat in great abundance. While he went through periods of abstinence, it never lasted and it was his pacifier of choice. My own reading leads me to think that initially, he became even more gregarious than he normally was when he drank. Once a certain point was passed, he perhaps became overly verbose and cantankerous. There is that thin line between wonderful raconteur and domineering ego-maniac who keeps going to the point of becoming a boor and a bore.. I don’t know if that was so in Hem’s case but I think it happened in the later years.
Sadly, alcoholism did play its role in Hem’s demise and decline. It appears to have ravaged other relatives after him too. Sad to consider other works that Hemingway may have written absent depression and alcoholism.
The below site talks about Hem’s drinking and some specifics. Interesting article. Check it out.
We don’t like bull fighting. It’s cruel. We care for and hope the bull will win. We, meaning Americans in general, don’t get it or understand how any civilized people could watch such a sport and actually sit through it and even applaud. I adore animals. I cannot watch the maiming and killings. So what did Hem see that we don’t? He loved animals and he had great heart and empathy.
I have to start by noting that I have always found The Dangerous Summer, Hemingway’s chronicle of a summer following two competing bullfighters, to be a wonderful, original and absorbing book. It started as an Esquire article and expanded to the book. I really loved it but for the killing of the bull scenes. I even understand and can accept the drama of the matadors, their dignity and honor. As much as all of us shun this sport, please take a chance and read the book for the saga and adventure that it was. It is excellent writing and you become part of the pageantry, of the training, and of the honor of being a bullfighter.
Pamplona of course is a key portion of The Sun Also Rises and Brett runs off temporarily with the young matador. She then does her noble act of leaving him so as not to ruin him. Because Spain and Pamplona are so wrapped in the Hemingway image and lore, it is important to know a bit about it, although not imperative to accept that bullfighting is in fact noble in its enactment of the life and death cycle.
So that brings us back to the old philosophical question: Must we avoid a writer because we hate his subject matter? My first post talks about how I don’t like hunting, fishing, war, bullfighting, heavy drinking and yet I love Hemingway. How is that possible? Because in the fewest words possible, Hemingway gets to the heart of what matters, what makes all of us tick, what it means to die and to live. The arena may be war or fishing or bullfighting but it’s about love, hate, living and dying. Thus you don’t have to love his forums to love his books.
I just read in Hemingway’s Cats, a truly lovely book by the way, that Papa lost his love for big game hunting as well as for bull fighting in his last years. He chose later in life to photograph animals in Africa, not shoot them, and felt that bullfighting had become a commericial and depressing spectacle. I admire people who can change opinions and he could. Ah, just more for me to like.
By the way, I just came across the below which is some footage of Hem that I enjoyed. Please don’t take offence by the title of the link. I just copied it! But it is a treat to see Hemingway moving, walking, in his home. Take a look. I loved it.
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.