The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector.
― Ernest Hemingway
Hemingway was notoriously generous to young writers and fans seeking his input. A.E. Hotchner who became a good confidante and friend met Hem in the Spring of 1948 when he was dispatched to Cuba on assignment by Cosmopolitan magazine to get an article on Hem about The Future of Literature. The magazine was putting out an issue about “the future” of everything: architecture, cars, art, etc. You get the idea. So why not have the lion of literature give an interview on the future of literature.
Hotchner sent a note to Hem saying that he’d been sent down on “this ridiculous mission but did not want to disturb him, and if he could simply send me a few words of refusal it would be enormously helpful to the The Future of Hotchner.” A.E. Hotchner, Papa Hemingway. Page 4.
Instead, Hem rang him the next day.
“This Hotchner?” he asked
“Dr. Hemingway here. Got your note. Can’t let you abort your mission or you’ll lose face with the Hearst organization, which is about like getting bounced from a leper colony. You want to have a drink around five? There’s a bar called La Florida. Just tell the taxi.” A.E. Hotchner, Papa Hemingway, page 4.
. And thus began a beautiful friendship.
I recently read an article that detailed how one Arnold Samuelson hitchhiked 2,000 miles, from Minnesota to Florida in 1934 to meet Hemingway. Samuelson was trying to make a go of it as a writer and was so impressed by the short stories that he traveled to get advice from his idol.
Samuelson wrote, “It seemed a damn fool thing to do, but a twenty-two-year-old tramp during the Great Depression didn’t have to have much reason for what he did.”
Ultimately, Samuelson found Hemingway who provided him with insights, and soon hired him on as his assistant. Hem gave him a list of 16 books essential to any complete education. The list is interesting to consider.
Drum roll: the list is:
1. “The Blue Hotel” by Stephen Crane
2. “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane
3. “Madame Bovary” by Gustave Flaubert
4.”Dubliners” by James Joyce
5. The Red and the Black” by Stendhal
6. “Of Human Bondage” by Somerset Maugham
7. “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy
8. “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy
9. “Buddenbrooks” by Thomas Mann
10. “Hail and Farewell” by George Moore
11.”The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
12. “The Oxford Book of English Verse”
13. “The Enormous Room” by E.E. Cummings
14. “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte
15. “Far Away and Long Ago” by W.H. Hudson
164. “The American” by Henry James
So what would make your list? A few of the above escape me but most have stood the test of time.
As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand.
I just returned from Ireland where I finished reading a book called Paris Without End: The True Storyof Hemingway’s First Wife. I loved it.
I’ve read at least five Hemingway biographies as well as the wonderful Bernice Kertin’s book called The Hemingway Women. I nevertheless learned a great deal from this wonderful book by Gioia Diliberto. The insights were fascinating.
As I finished the book, I thought about the irony of Hadley’s pain about being what she called “written out of” The Sun Also Rises. Everybody appeared in some form or another in the book (Duff Twysden as Brett; Pat Guthrie as Mike Campbell; Robert Cohen was Harold Loeb; Bill Gorton was Don Ogden Stewart; and Hem was Jake–maybe) and she was nowhere to be seen. It hurt her, although she made light of it.
Hem did dedicate that book to her and her son, still, she was nowhere in evidence. The irony is that the last good writing that Hemingway did was A Moveable Feast, which was, in essence, a love poem in prose to Hadley. While some of the past may have been romanticized, there never was any question in his mind that he did his best writing and was his best self with her and never was that again in his heart. It is said that a page of A Moveable Feast was found in his typewriter at the locale of his suicide.
Having said all of the above, I thought about whether there was a Hemingway /Ireland connection. There is not a whole lot of Hemingway in Ireland, but he does have a strong connection in his friendship with James Joyce, who, of course, is the quintessential Irish writer and poet. In their Paris days, they engaged in quite a number of drunken sprees, although Hemingway’s drinking at the time was more excessive social drinking than what it became. James Joyce was a small, bespeckled man, and Hemingway was a hulking, large fellow. At more than one bar, Joyce, heavily intoxicated, would start to pick some fight verbally and, when physical threats were made, he’d wave his hand and say, “Handle it Hemingway.” Hemingway was know to have assisted James Joyce back to his Paris flat where James Joyce’s wife would answer the door with great disgust and say, “Well, if it isn’t the two great writers, James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway.”
What I do think Hemingway would appreciate about Ireland is the natural beauty, the outdoorsy lifestyle, the fishing, and the rugged coast that has been kept rugged.
My own experience was that there was little affectation; the food was simple, fresh and terrific; and a conversation was always to be had if you simply began one with someone sitting next to you.
Hem never got over enjoying sitting down with local people and talking, whether it was in China, Key West, Cuba or Ketchum, Idaho. While on a trek to China with Martha, at her instigation, he was in his element immediately talking to people just riding bikes or sitting on the dock, while she found it all too dirty and too rustic.
I’m not a beer drinker, so I didn’t lift a Guinness in Hem’s honor, but I did down some wonderful scotch and soda in his memory. While much has been made of Hemingway’s macho image, Gioia Diliberto makes the point that each of his books really was a romantic love story at its heart. Brett and Jake had a love that could never be totally fulfilled; Catherine and Frederic left everything behind to escape into Switzerland in the hope of making their life work; Maria and Robert Jordan made one of the greatest love stories ever told. Consequently, it’s all very fitting that Ireland, the land of romance and high drama, has a Hemingway connection.
The Sun Also Rises as a ballet? Sure why not. For Whom the Bell Tolls would make a hell of an opera, I think. And I’d love to see a remake of The Sun Also Rises. Brett: Blake Lively. Jake Barnes: Jake Gyllenhall. Robert Cohn: Matt Damon. Mike Campbell: Jude Law. On my first read, I was not sure what all the fuss was about. Bunch of aimless drunks. Yes, Hemingway did a good job with the settings but, to me at age 19, the dialogue was a bit too : I am good. I am cold. When I returned to it years later, the light went on in a big way. I got that it was about dreams, loss, death, defeat, and hope. And love. Always love.
What was it thought of then? Below is the NY Times review of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.
October 31, 1926
THE SUN ALSO RISES By Ernest Hemingway.
Ernest Hemingway’s first novel, “The Sun Also Rises,” treats of certain of those younger Americans concerning whom Gertrude Stein has remarked: “You are all a lost generation.” This is the novel for which a keen appetite was stimulated by Mr. Hemingway’s exciting volume of short stories. “In Our Time.” The clear objectivity and the sustained intensity of the stories , and their concentration upon action in the present moment, seemed to point to a failure to project a novel in terms of the same method, yet a resort to any other method would have let down the reader’s expectations. It is a relief to find that “The Sun Also Rises” maintains the same heightened, intimate tangibility as the shorter narratives and does it in the same kind of weighted, quickening prose.
Mr. Hemingway has chosen a segment of life which might easily have become “a spectacle with unexplained horrors,” and disciplined it to a design which gives full value to its Dionysian, all but uncapturable, elements. On the face of it, he has simply gathered, almost at random, a group of American and British expatriates from Paris, conducted them on a fishing expedition, and exhibited them against the background of a wild Spanish fiesta and bull-fight. The characters are concisely indicated. Much of their inherent natures are left to be betrayed by their own speech, by their apparently aimless conversation among themselves. Mr. Hemingway writes a most admirable dialogue. It has the terse vigor of Ring Lardner at his best. It suggests the double meanings of Ford Madox Ford’s records of talk. Mr. Hemingway makes his characters say one thing, convey still another, and when a whole passage of talk has been given, the reader finds himself the richer by a totally unexpected mood, a mood often enough of outrageous familiarity with obscure heartbreaks.
The story is told in the first person, as if by one Jake Barnes, an American newspaper correspondent in Paris. This approach notoriously invites digression and clumsiness. The way Mr. Hemingway plays this hard-boiled Jake is comparable to Jake’s own evocations of the technique of the expert matador handling his bull. In fact, the bull-fight within the story bears two relations to the narrative proper. It not only serves to bring the situation to a crisis, but it also suggests the design which Mr. Hemingway is following. He keeps goading Jake, leading him on, involving him in difficulties, averting serious tragedy for him, just as the matador conducts the bull through the elaborate pattern of danger.
The love affair of Jake and the lovely, impulsive Lady Ashley might easily have descended into bathos. It is an erotic attraction which is destined from the start to be frustrated. Mr. Hemingway has such a sure hold on his values that he makes an absorbing, beautifully and tenderly absurd, heartbreaking narrative of it. Jake was wounded in the war in a manner that won for him a grandiose speech from the Italian General. Certainly Jake is led to consider his life worse than death. When he and Brett (Lady Ashley) fall in love, and know, with that complete absence of reticences of the war generation, that nothing can be done about it, the thing might well have ended there. Mr. Hemingway shows uncanny skill in prolonging it and delivering it of all its implications.
No amount of analysis can convey the quality of “The Sun Also Rises.” It is a truly gripping story, told in a lean, hard, athletic narrative prose that puts more literary English to shame. Mr. Hemingway knows how not only to make words be specific but how to arrange a collection of words which shall betray a great deal more than is to be found in the individual parts. It is magnificent writing, filled with that organic action which gives a compelling picture of character. This novel is unquestionably one of the events of an unusually rich year in literature.
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.
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.