A few weeks ago, I was bemoaning how to relate my trip to Ireland in May to my Hemingway obsession and I just came across an article about a new biography of Maeve Binchy, the great Irish novelist who cultivated the cozy neighborhood story to high art and who passed away recently. She wrote many novels, usually about the west country of Ireland which is where I was. Her writing style, her topics, and her resolutions are/were about as far from Hemingway as you can get but the article was fun and began with a famous Hemingway belief.
“It was famously laid down by Ernest Hemingway that the first condition for a writer is to have an unhappy childhood. I assumed that Maeve Binchy was the exception to the Hemingway principle, as she always spoke about the idyllic nature of her childhood.”
So, I qualify! My childhood is a story for some other longer post, probably in some other blog that focuses on Dickensian beginnings. I was born in NJ; my parents died 5 months apart when I was seven; the court became involved, and the story goes downhill from there in certain ways but also uphill in other ways.
Hem in some ways had a good childhood in the sense that his family was large; his father took him hunting and fishing; and there were family vacations at a lake in Michigan yearly that formed the basis of many of the short stories. Hem got his love of the outdoors and nature while on the lake in Michigan with many friends and family. However, Hem’s relationship with his mother was always a struggle and his father was a more shadowy figure in Hem’s life, who ultimately killed himself. His mother later sent the gun to Ernest as a gift. Huh? .
So tell me about a great writer who had a great Rockwellian childhood! I’d like to hear about it.
This is interesting . It’s in Spanish and you can tell that Hemingway was enunciating carefully and considering his answers. It seems that he really tried to be gracious about his fans although he was not thrilled with the publicity after the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes.
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.
If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.
― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
Everyone’s commented on it: Hemingway’s preoccupation with women’s hair. Hemingway’s mother, Grace, whom he purported to hate, had auburn hair that was her pride and joy. She wore it often in the Gibson girl style of the day and was quite proud of it. In almost every work of fiction that Hemingway has written–and nonfiction if you want to count A Moveable Feast–the time spent on the description of any of the main woman’s character’s hair is significant.
Lady Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises had short, swept back hair. She wears it cut “short like a man.” Catherine Barclay had soft hair and “wonderfully beautiful hair. I would lie sometimes watching her twist it up in the in the light that came in the open door and it shone even in the night as water shines sometimes just before it is really daylight.”
Maria, whom Robert Jordan called the rabbit because of her short-cropped hair cut off by the Fascists who gagged her with her own braids which was growing out, had hair the “color of wheat.” See above, Ingrid Bergman as Maria. Gary Cooper as Robert Jordan. In The Garden of Eden, the wife cuts her hair to match her husband’s and they both are attracted to the same woman. The Garden of Eden, however, was published posthumously and as I’ve noted in earlier posts, I don’t think the same standards can be applied to something published after the author’s death since clearly he hadn’t felt it was ready to be published at the time of his death. A huge editing may have been in the offing.
In his actual life, Hadley had lovely red hair. Shortly after their marriage she cut it short. It’s not clear whether she did so to please Hemingway or just for ease of care after she had Bumby. Hemingway seems to be one of the few men who prefer women with short hair.
Pauline had a boyishly short pixie cut. She had very dark hair and it was quite stylish on her. Hemingway liked it. At one point during their marriage, when he was clearly attracted to Jane Mason, a socialite and a stunning, legendary strawberry blond, Pauline dyed her hair blond and arrived home with this completely new look. There is no record of whether Hemingway liked it or reacted to it but she didn’t keep it blond for very long.
Martha had swinging long, blond hair when Hem met her which at times was shorter. Mary had short, swept back curly blond hair that framed her face.
From their first meeting, Hemingway and Gertrude Stein were simpatico. They did have a falling out several years later and despite the fact that Gertrude Stein clearly was living in a lesbian relationship with Alice B. Toklas, he maintained that there was a true animal attraction and that at least from his end he would have liked to have consummated the relationship had the situation been different. He describes Gertrude as having lovely dark immigrant hair and the sentiment is one of admiration. Her hair also was short and swept back at times, a style Hem favored, and at other times, longer and pinned up.
Scholars have pondered for years about whether this preoccupation came from the fact that Hemingway’s mother dressed him in girl’s clothes from a young age. She often represented to outsiders that he and his sister, Marcelline, were twins (they were about a year apart) and Grace maintained his hair at a feminine length. On occasion she called him Ernestine until he was about 6-years old. At that point he rebelled and demanded a hair cut and boy’s clothes as well as to be called by his real name. We can get psychological about the implications but as we all know, he grew up to be the icon of masculine virility.
While too much can be made of this element of Hemingway’s writing, it is something to think about and it is an interesting theme that runs through the novels in particular.
The first draft of anything is shit. Ernest Hemingway
It is not my intent to “plug” my novels on this blog but once in a while it fits so I’ll write a bit about my first novel and Hemingway. My book is called Tell Me When It Hurts. La Femme Nikita meetsThe Horse Whisperer. That’s my novel. Healing, second chances with a few horses and a few dogs thrown in for good measure. One Amazon critic noted that it is more horse whisperer than femme nikita although she wrote a favorable review. She just thought the book jacket description suggested an action packed gun-fest. Fair enough comment. It is more romance than thriller. And as for reviews, small –no tiny–fry that I am, it is a rush to read a good review from someone across the country or nearby, and an icepick stab in the heart to read the bad ones. I only have a few of them but they hurt.
A few good dogs
A few good horses.
Hemingway inspired me in a few ways. I don’t think anyone can pull off his style without it reading like an entry into the best of bad Hemingway contest. (Some of the entries in the Best of Bad Hemingway are a hoot and are quite entertaining. Hmm, that’s another post for another day.) Still, here is what wormed its way into my book by osmosis from Ernesto.
1) Hem always worked steadily and with discipline and daily when working on a book. He might get drunk at the end of the day but while working, he worked. He demanded that he write a certain number of words and produce every day. And he revised, revised, revised.
You all know, I’m sure, that he wrote the last line of The Sun Also Rises something like thirty different ways, with slightly different inflection. And it was a short sentence! “Isn’t it pretty to think so?” Every word mattered to him and he wasn’t looking for the ten dollar word. It was how he put the simple words together.The point is that even a creative literary genius like Papa had to work it. It didn’t flood down from heaven and then come flowing out. He had to work, rework, revise, cut, add, revise. That was reassuring and inspiring for a mere attemptor like me.
F. Scott Fitzgerald gave him invaluable advice on The Sun Also Rises. He crossed out Hem’s original beginning and said “start it here.” Hem did and the rest is history. As my best writing mentor put it, “New writers are always telling me to stick with their story, that it really gets good. I tell them to start it where it really gets good.” INVALUABLE ADVICE.
2) The main character in my novel is named Archer Loh. She cites Hemingway often and not just the ever popular grace under pressure comment. She has one scene in which she gets drunk and renacts a conversation with Jake Barnes pointing out his lack of empathy for Brett’s point of view and issues. Her dog is named Hadley. I think it works. You be the judge.
3) Hemingway tended to know where his books were going. To even talk about my book and its planning in the same breath as Hemingway is so absurd as to be insane. My only observation is that when I planned my novel, I knew the beginning and the end. I did not have the center all set out in outline form with detail but I did know where I was going. For me, it gave me freedom to see where the writing took me but I always knew where I had to end up. I think Hem knew exactly where he was going if not in every detail.
Many of the finest writers know the entirety of their books before they set it down. I can’t imagine that John Irving doesn’t have the details in mind before starting. If anyone knows if this is so, or not so, I’d be interested. His plots are just so intricate and yet connected despite seemingly random plot elements that to me they must be preordained.
Hemingway is not as prominent in my second novel, with a working title of The Rage of Plum Blossoms. There is one reference to one character collecting Hemingway First Editions but that’s about it. And I of course wish I’d written The Paris Wife before Paula McLain. Sigh sigh. Sigh, sigh. Sigh.
It should have been me
All good books have one thing in common – they are truer than if they had really happened. Ernest Hemingway
Hem was infatuated with Adriana. She seems to have been fond of him but did not return love. In fact, at times, it seems that his interest embarrassed her and she turned from it. It was an open secret that he modeled Renata in Across the River and into the Woods after Adriana. Hemingway delayed its publication for ten years to avoid any scandal.
Hem and Adriana met when she was an ingénue of nineteen and he an icon of forty-nine. She was lovely in an old world Venetian way, not a modern girl look. From an aristocratic family in Italy that was no longer wealthy, Adriana met Hem through her brother who hooked up with Hem at a bar and they struck up a friendship.
As is to be expected, Mary came to resent Renata. She and her mother visited them in Cuba and stayed quite a number of months. Mary first tried to be motherly and charming until she saw that Hem’s interest was more than casual. He became abusive to her, as if wanting her to leave. Mary however was made of stronger stuff. She liked being Mrs. Ernest Hemingway but not just for the reflected glory. She loved him. She loved him and their life. She made clear that she wasn’t leaving and he needed to deal with this girl.
Hem is reported to have told more than one person that he was too old to divorce again and it would cost him too much. Adriana had no interest in marrying Hem but she seemed to like the attention and adoration. In 1980, some nineteen years after Hem’s suicide, Adriana wrote a book called The White Tower ostensibly to tell her story of the relationship. She said,
“I let the scandal freeze into oblivion and my sons grow up but I owe this book to Papa. This was a responsibility I had to face. I am the missing link in his life.” With all due respect to Adriana, I don’t think she was the missing link in his life. It’s a bit grandiose to think so.
The book did hit the best seller list in Italy with the omnipresent photo of Adriana leaning into Hem’s chest shyly. At the age of fifty, she claimed,
“What happened when we met is a little more than a romance. I broke down his defenses; he even stopped drinking when I asked him to. I’m proud to remember I led him to write The Old Man and the Sea.”
Across the River has long been considered Hemingway’s worst novel. “Yes, naturally he wrote it for me, thinking of me, but I didn’t like the book and I told him so,” Adriana says. “I always criticized him when I felt something was wrong, and he changed, and something in me changed too. I shall never stop being grateful to Papa for that.”
Adriana committed suicide in 1983. Are you seeing a theme here?
Okay, Happy thoughts. THE COOKBOOK GIVEAWAY! The first and fifth comments on the next blog post will be two of the winners of the Hemingway cookbook. If you are one of those two, I’ll announce that here and ask that you provide your email address and I’ll get your mailing address when I email you. Seriously, the cookbook is hard to get . It has anecdotes and great stuff in it!
As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand. Ernest Heminway
Mary Welch was the only one of Hemingway’s wives who was not from the St. Louis area. She was from Minnesota, was a journalist in her own right, had been married twice and was married to Noel Monks when she met Ernest Hemingway in London. Ernest was still married to Martha but things were not good. Martha often referred to him as “the pig.”
Mary was not tall, about 5’2, stocky, brown hair, and blue eyes. Her features were sharp and she was smart. As usual, the relationship started out well and full of laughs and fun. Hem still could be biting and sarcastically caustic when all was not going well. Mary took it all.
Hem took her to the finca in Cuba, a bit awkwardly since it had been his place with Martha. Gigi was cool to her initially. He loved Martha. Patrick also loved Martha and found it hard to adjust to another new love. However, he liked seeing his father have some order in his life and Mary was nice. Jack, charming and adaptable, found Mary easy company and could fit in well with her without compromising his loyalties to Pauline and Martha as well as to his own mother, Hadley.
Hem filed for divorce against Martha on grounds of desertion and the divorce went through on December 21, 1945. The sting of her rejection stayed with him always. Martha read about the divorce in the newspaper, although she didn’t care. She was anxious for the divorce to begin and be done. No alimony, no financial orders.
Mary had doubts about marrying Hem. He was . . . not easy. And yet . . . he could be wonderful. Hem, sensing her drift away, sent flowers and love note. They married in Cuba on March 14, 1946. Fights ensued as did a pregnancy at Mary’s age 38, advanced age for 1946. She longed for a daughter for Hem. An ectopic pregnancy with crisis and quick, brave action by Hem ended with Mary surviving, and owing that survival to Hem.
Mary was with him in Ketchum and suffered through Papa’s health declines, his paranoia, his slump and success with The Old Man and the Sea, his rejection, his calling her a scavenger and that she had the face of Torquemada. She suffered through the whole Adriana infatuation. Both however reported an excellent sex life and Hem had earlier complained of Pauline and Martha in that department.
At times, Hem’s drinking increased, then he’d stop for a while on doctor’s orders. Mary was bewildered and badly hurt. However, she wanted to continue to be Mrs. Hemingway for mostly good reasons. She loved his children; she loved him; she loved the position; she was dependent on him financially. Still, she was protective to the end of Hem and his legend.
As Papa became more mentally unstable, Mary did her best. At the end, Hemingway was released from the Mayo Clinic against Mary’s wishes. The day after his release, Hem got up early, got his favorite gun, and shot himself in the head. Mary reported it as an accident while cleaning a gun. It clearly wasn’t. She nurtured the Hemingway legacy as long as she lived and set up the Hemingway collection in the Kennedy Library. She did her best under trying circumstances with little complaint and with dignity.