July 21, 1899 Oak Park, Illinois
In one of Ernest Hemingway’s first published stories, a man goes into the woods and meets a disfigured prizefighter — insightful, though prone to fits of paranoia and violence.
“You’re all right,” says the visitor after they’ve chatted a while.
“No, I’m not. I’m crazy,” the fighter says. “Listen, you ever been crazy?”
“No. How does it get you?”
“I don’t know. When you got it you don’t know about it.”
Nearly a century after “The Battler” was written, psychiatrist Andrew Farah contends, we would recognize that the prizefighter suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE — the same concussion-induced brain disease now infamous in sports, particularly professional football.
And the prizefighter’s renowned author had CTE, too, Farah argues in his new book, “Hemingway’s Brain.”
The psychiatrist from High Point University in North Carolina writes of nine serious blows to Hemingway’s head — from explosions to a plane crash — that were a prelude to his decline into abusive rages, “paranoia with specific and elaborate delusions” and the final violence of his suicide in 1961.
Hemingway’s bizarre behavior in his latter years (he rehearsed his death by gunshot in front of dinner guests, for example) has been blamed on iron deficiency, bipolar disorder, attention-seeking and any number of other problems.
After researching the writer’s letters, books and hospital visits, Farah is convinced that Hemingway had dementia — made worse by alcoholism and other maladies, but dominated by CTE, the improper treatment of which likely hastened his death.
“He truly is a textbook case,” Farah told The Washington Post. “His biography makes perfect sense to me in the context of multiple brain injuries.”
Farah is not the only person to make the link. A shorter discussion of head trauma in Paul Hendrickson’s biography, “Hemingway’s Boat,” convinced a reviewer that the famous writer “was probably suffering from organic brain damage.”
But Farah’s book goes deeper, mixing biography, literature and medical analysis in what he writes is “a forensic psychiatric examination of his very brain cells — the stressors, traumas, chemical insults, and biological changes — that killed a world-famous literary genius.”
Farah dates Hemingway’s first known concussion to World War I, several years before he wrote his short story, “The Battler.”
A bomb exploded about three feet from his teenage frame.
Another likely concussion came in 1928, when Hemingway yanked what he thought was a toilet chain and brought a skylight crashing down on him — causing what Farah describes as “giddy concussive ramblings … about his own blood’s smell and taste.”
Then came a car accident in London — then more injuries as a reporter during World War II, when a German antitank gun blew Hemingway into a ditch.
The psychiatrist describes his reported symptoms: double vision, memory trouble, slowed thought. And headaches that “used to come in flashes like battery fire,” Hemingway wrote in a letter.
“There was a main permanent one all the time. I nicknamed it the MLR 2(main line of resistance) and just accepted that I had it.”
These were “classic and typical” symptoms of head trauma, Farah writes.
And not the last Hemingway would suffer.
Farah did not include in his list of concussions Hemingway’s flirtations with boxing, or accounts of head injuries he could not verify or which he suspected were the author’s tall tales.
But by the time Hemingway survived two consecutive plane crashes on a 1954 safari trip — escaping the second wreck by “batter[ing] open the jammed door with his head,” Farah writes — his remarkable brain was beyond repair.
“The injuries from earlier blows resolved, but, with additional assaults, his brain developed CTE,” Farah writes.
Often — though not always — caused by concussions, chronic traumatic encephalopathy is a degenerative brain disease that can manifest as memory loss, anger, dementia and suicidal behavior — usually decades after the head blow, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Unknown in Hemingway’s day, it has been found in the brains of at least 17 dead athletes, and researchers will look for it in the brain of Aaron Hernandez, a former NFL star who killed himself in prison last week while serving a murder sentence.
Less bizarre but perhaps more devastating to the author: his deteriorating ability to arrange words.
“The genius who had written masterpieces such as ‘A Farewell to Arms’ and ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ was now paralyzed, fully in the grip of a severe mental illness” as he struggled to assemble simple sentences for his memoirs in 1961, Farah writes.
“Only an autopsy can put the 100 percent stamp of approval” on a diagnosis, Farah acknowledged to The Post. But he didn’t back down from his conclusions in the book. “The symptoms are just so obvious,” he said.
CTE accounted for about three-quarters of Hemingway’s dementia, Farah said. “The concussions, alcohol, hypertension, and pre-diabetes all contributed to the changes in Hemingway’s brain,” he writes in his book.
And a long history of suicide in Hemingway’s family couldn’t have helped the author cope with his condition, Farah said.
But he is sure that by the end of his life, Hemingway had concussion-driven dementia, not psychotic depression as his doctors believed — to tragic consequences, he writes.
But depression was not Hemingway’s main problem, Farah argues. The traumas and resulting CTE had physically changed his brain — demented and weakened it.
After a round of shock treatments in early 1961, Farah writes, Hemingway “grew more and more abusive to” his wife, “berating her because of his paranoia.”
She and some friends had to physically restrain Hemingway from shooting himself that April.
He went back to the hospital for more shock treatments.
A few days after being discharged a second time, on July 2, 1961, Hemingway woke before sunrise. He fetched his shotgun from the basement, this time with no one to stop him.
“All his vulnerabilities coalesced in one final instant,” as Farah puts it.
Had he lived in the 21st century, Farah writes, Hemingway would have had an MRI scan, which might have revealed his much-abused brain was shrinking.
He would have been sent to a therapist, and told to stop drinking, to focus on his health, and “remind himself he is safe.”
He likely would have been prescribed antidepressants and vitamin B pills, and kept clear of stresses such as electric current.
Modern medicine could have saved Hemingway’s life, Farah said.
Even if not: “We would have at least understood him.”
“Hemingway’s Brain” by Andrew Farah was published in April 2017 by the University of South Carolina Press.
On Saturday, June 24th, the Hemingway Foundation in Oak Park, Illinois, hosted a party to celebrate Hemingway’s graduation from high school in 1917 – 100 years ago – from Oak Park and River Forest High School. The Foundation provided some jazz, some spoken word performances, a silent auction, and cocktails. It has long been debated what Hemingway’s favorite drink was. Contenders are a daquiri, a mojito, a bloody mary, and the ever-popular martini. Solid authority supports a dry, very cold martini as his favorite.
The Foundation also introduced their second annual publication of a collection of short stories called Hemingway Shorts, by rising writers. The Hemingway Foundation chairman, John Barry, presented several lesser known facts about Hemingway. If you read this blog regularly these will not be lesser known to you but bear with them.
2. While he was born in Oak Park, he counted downtown Chicago and Upper Michigan as home. He honeymooned with his first wife, Hadley Richardson, in Upper Michigan on Lake Walloon, and after the war moved to Chicago for several months.
3. He burnt the candle at both ends. Hemingway stayed up late but got up early. His usual habit when he was writing well was to get up early and work until the early afternoon. He’d then take a swim, go out on the Pilar, his boat, and relax with friends. While working on a book he was very disciplined.
So happy 100th anniversary of high school graduation of Ernest Hemingway.
Play and enjoy courtesy of Quincy Perkins, of Key West, Florida! Lovely look at part of the home, the cats and a bit of the cats’ history, and Quincy’s own dark humor and take on it all as a kid growing up with its aura nearby. A glittering Gem. 5 minutes of fascination. Thank you, Quincy and his creative colleagues! Best, Christine
Ernest Hemingway, fresh off his marriage to Hadley Richardson, his first wife, arrived in Paris in 1921. Paris was a playground for writers and artists, offering respite from the radical politics spreading across Europe. Sherwood Anderson supplied Hemingway with a letter of introduction to Ezra Pound. The two litterateurs met at Sylvia Beach’s bookshop and struck up a friendship that would shape the world of letters.
They frolicked the streets of Paris as bohemians, joined by rambunctious and disillusioned painters, aesthetes, druggies, and drinkers. They smoked opium, inhabited salons, and delighted in casual soirées, fine champagnes, expensive caviars, and robust conversations about art, literature, and the avant-garde. Pound was, through 1923, exuberant, having fallen for Olga Rudge, his soon-to-be mistress, a young concert violinist with firm breasts, shapely curves, midnight hair, and long eyebrows and eyelashes. She exuded a kind of mystical sensuality unique among eccentric highbrow musicians; Pound found her irresistible.
Pound was known for his loyalty to friends. Although he had many companions besides Hemingway—among them William Butler Yeats, James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Marianne Moore, Robert McAlmon, Gertrude Stein, e.e. cummings, Pablo Picasso, Wyndham Lewis, T.E. Hulme, William Carlos Williams, Walter Morse Rummel, Ford Madox Ford, Jean Cocteau, and Malcolm Cowley—Hemingway arguably did more than the others to reciprocate Pound’s favors, at least during the Paris years when he promoted Pound as Pound promoted others.
Pound edited Hemingway’s work, stripping his prose of excessive adjectives. Hemingway remarked that Pound had taught him “to distrust adjectives as I would later learn to distrust certain people in certain situations.”
Pound, however, grew disillusioned with Paris, where his friends were gravitating toward socialism and communism. Paris, he decided, was not good for his waning health. Hemingway himself had been in and out of Paris, settling for a short time in Toronto. In 1923, accompanied by their wives, Pound and Hemingway undertook a walking tour of Italy. The fond memories of this rejuvenating getaway inspired Pound to return to Italy with his wife Dorothy Shakespear in 1924. They relocated, in 1925, to a picturesque hotel in Rapallo, a beautiful sea town in the province of Genoa.
The move to Italy also effectively terminated Pound’s glory years in Paris, about which Hemingway wrote affectionately:
More than anything else, Italian politics—and the rise of fascism—damaged Hemingway’s regard for Pound, who became a zealous supporter of Mussolini and a reckless trafficker in conspiracy theories.
The falling out was no secret, and other writers took sides. William Carlos Williams wrote to Pound in 1938, saying, “It is you, not Hemingway, in this case who is playing directly into the hands of the International Bankers.”
Archibald MacLeish helped to orchestrate Pound’s release from St. Elizabeth’s, (A mental asylum Pound had been committed to. See below as to how he got there.) drafting a letter to the government on Pound’s behalf that included Hemingway’s signature, along with those of Robert Frost and T.S. Eliot. A year later Hemingway provided a statement of support for Pound to be used in a court hearing regarding the dismissal of an indictment against Pound.
Hemingway awoke on the morning of July 2, 1961, put a 12-gauge, double-barreled shotgun to his head, and, alone in the foyer of his home, blew his brains out. He was 61. Pound’s friends and family didn’t tell him about Hemingway’s death, but a careless nurse did, and Pound reacted hysterically. The older of the two, Pound, at 72, was free from St. Elizabeth’s, where he’d spent 12 solemn years. He had returned to his beloved Italy to finish out his long and full life. In the autumn of 1972, he died peacefully in his sleep in Venice, the day after his birthday, which he’d spent in the company of friends.
Allen Mendenhall is an associate dean at Faulkner University Thomas Goode Jones School of Law and executive director of the Blackstone & Burke Center for Law & Liberty.
ME here: I may have over-edited re: how Ezra ended up in a psych facility. Ezra Pound was closely aligned with the Fascists in Italy. He was later imprisoned in Pisa by the liberating American forces in 1945 on charges of treason. In Pisa, he purportedly was placed in a small 6 x 6 cell and had a mental breakdown. He was ultimately sent to St. Elizabeth’s psychiatric hospital in Washington D.C. for 12 years. Friends including Hemingway sent money and petitions for his release which finally happened. While most acknowledged that he was a bit “crazy,” most felt he was far from any sort of danger to anyone including to his country. Once released he returned to Italy and died in Venice eleven years after Hemingway’s death. Christine
I just read an article by Kevin Knudson, which appeared on April 30 in Forbes Magazine. It was a book review of Nabokov’s Favorite Word Is Mauve, by Ben Blatt. Noting that famous novelists write in their own particular style: Hemingway and the short sentences, Henry James and the longer ones, Virginia Woolf in the free-flowing stream of consciousness, Mr. Blatt, who’s a scientist, wanted to determine if you could figure out who the author was just by examining the pattern of his or her words.
The first chapter tackles the rule that all of us writers learned early, i.e. to use adverbs sparingly. Blatt took it to the scientific level. He took a corpus of novels written by a broad spectrum of famous writers and counts the “LY” adverbs. Here’s what you’ve got:
Author Books looked at Adverbs per 10,000 words
Hemingway 10 80
Mark Twain 13 81
Amy Tan 6 83
Steinbeck 19 93
Vonnegut 14 101
Updike 26 102
Rushdie 9 101
King 51 105
Dickens 20 108
Virginia Woolf 9 116
Blatt goes on to determine if each author is uniformly efficient or does it vary from book to book. Bringing it home to this blog, the question is: Hemingway the most efficient or just the most efficient on average. It turns out that William Faulkner wrote three books with a lower adverb rate (As I Lay Dying, The Sound And The Fury, The Unvanquished), than Hemingway’s lowest count, To Have and Have Not.
Blatt also looks at the number of exclamation points per 100,000 words. Elmore Leonard once said, “You are allowed no more than 2 or 3 per 100,000 words.” He actually used 49 per 100,000, but that still made him “one of the stingiest.” Tom Wolfe used 929 per 100,000. But the “winner” is James Joyce’s 1105 per 100,000. Most clichés? James Patterson the highest; Jane Austin the lowest. In addition, Blatt looks at what words an author uses more often than the average. He set out the following requirements to judge this issue:
Based on those criteria, Ray Bradbury’s favorite words are: icebox, dammit, exhaled. Nabokov’s favorite word was, in fact, mauve.
So, some scientists have really buckled down and used their training to illuminate, and to have a bit of fun! Interesting data that’s not quite trivia.
This is part of a series that Mallory Ortberg has done (how to tell if you are in a Bronte novel, etc.) I read it in THE TOAST. I found it hilarious. If you don’t, you probably don’t read enough Hemingway. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did. Best, Christine
2. The door is white and the day is hot. This pleases you.
3. A Jewish man believes you are his friend. This disgusts you.
4. You are a man. A man! A man is a man like a tree is a tree.
5. A Greek man is shouting incomprehensibly at you. This is why you are drunk.
6. You have lost something in a war. This is why you are drunk.
7. A woman is looking at you. She is wearing her hat in a manner you find unbearably independent and mannish. You despise her.
8. You are standing on top of a mountain. The mountain admires you for climbing it. You do not care what the mountain thinks of you, and you light a cigar. The cigar admires you for smoking it. You sneer casually at the sun. Somewhere there is a white door.
9. You are shooting a large animal but thinking about a woman. You cannot shoot her. This infuriates you.
10. You met a homosexual once in Paris. It took you two years snowshoeing across the backcountry in Michigan to recover.
12. Waiter bring me another rum
13. You hate every single one of your friends. You have no friends. You are alone at sea. How you hate the sea, but how you respect the fish inside of it. How you hate the kelp. How indifferent you are to the coral.
14. Your stomach hurts; that is how you know you are alive.
An interesting article on Hem and Fitz
By ANDRIA DIAMOND April 22, 2017
If you’ve ever seen the movie Midnight in Paris then you are familiar with the rose colored glasses romanticists often wear when thinking of the past. In the film, writer Gill Pender (played by Owen Wilson), somehow manages to travel back in time to 1920s Paris and meet many of the greatest minds in literature, including Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In this particular movie, the two historical writers seem to be cordial, Fitzgerald is handsome and sociable while Hemingway is philosophical and intense. Though Midnight in Paris is immensely enjoyable, it may not be wholly accurate in it’s portrayal of the relationship between these two phenomenal writers. History would suggest that their relationship was much more complex.
Hemingway and Fitzgerald first met in May of 1925, two men with extraordinary talent who were both battling their respective demons. Though they originally were good friends, their interactions later turned less amicable. Hemingway, though impressed with Fitzgerald’s writing, never seemed to respect the writer himself. He was wary of Fitzgerald’s need for validation, his tumultuous relationship with Zelda, and his self-destructive drinking habits. In a letter to Arthur Mizener (Fitzgerald’s biographer) dated April 5, 1950, Hemingway wrote:
“I believe that basically you write for two people; yourself to try to make it absolutely perfect; or if not that then wonderful; Then you write for who you love whether she can read or write or not and whether she is alive or dead. I think Scott in his strange mixed-up Irish catholic monogamy wrote for Zelda and when he lost all hope in her and she destroyed his confidence in himself he was through.”
Although Hemingway’s feelings toward Fitzgerald are clear, the facts with which he fuels them are decidedly less so.
Hemingway_Vs_Fitzgerald.pngHemingway had a flair for the dramatics, and his accounts of people and experiences could rarely be relied upon as gospel truth. Hemingway denounces Fitzgerald in his posthumously published memoir, A Moveable Feast (1964), and also deals roughly with the likes of Gertrude Stein and Ford Maddox Ford. In fact, we’ve recently documented Hemingway’s distaste for Ford Maddox Ford. While history shows it is not uncommon for writers to take issue with other creative minds, Hemingway had a lengthy track record for doing just that. It is speculated by literary devotees and historians alike that Hemingway’s harsh opinion of others was an act of self-preservation, as he seemed to be a man with a big ego and an even bigger chip on his shoulder. He was sensitive to the slightest condescension (which Fitzgerald did not mind providing) and often reacted with a sharp tongue.
While I would love nothing more than to imagine Hemingway and Fitzgerald—these two great minds—strolling through the 1920s as comrades, success rarely comes without sacrifice. Hemingway’s stubbornness and brash masculinity were essential in his work, just as Fitzgerald’s social perspectives and charm were essential in his. The very personalities and behaviors that made for different men are the same that made for great writers, and the world is a better place for it.
Hemingway was a romantic. Sure, he was macho and tough and a man’s man in many ways, but he enjoyed women greatly and always had a close and loving relationship with Marlene Dietrich. One of Hemingway’s love letters to her is going up for auction. It is expected it will garner something in the vicinity of $30 – $40,000.
This particular letter is dated August 12, 1952 – a year after Dietrich had confessed to keeping the author’s photograph by her bedside. They met in 1934 and became quite infatuated with each other but never consummated the attraction because, as Hemingway put it, they were “victims of unsynchronized passion.” He noted that whenever one of them was out of a relationship the other one was in one and the timing never worked out.
Hemingway writes in the letter to Marlene “I always love you and admire you and I have all sorts of mixed up feelings about you.” Later in the letter he declares that while “you are beautiful…I am ugly…please know I love you always and I forget you sometimes as I forget my heart beats. But it beats always.”
Marlene and Hemingway corresponded over several decades. Marlene Dietrich’s daughter wrote a book noting that after Hemingway’s death, her mother wore widow’s weeds for quite a while and she always believed that had he been with her, instead of his then wife, Mary, he wouldn’t have killed himself.
So, if I had $30,000+ just sitting around, I might enter the fray and bid on this letter, but I fear I’m going to have to let it go to some other fervent Hemingway fan.
I’ve read many of Hemingway’s letters. They are fun and he is quite funny and clever in them. His humor rarely comes through in his novels.
I think the line that I’ve quoted above – I forget you sometimes as I forget my heart beats. But it beats always – is so him. It’s very simple and yet it speaks volumes.
How driving ambulances during World War I inspired Hemingway
By Michael Riedel March 19, 2017
Several major artists and innovators of the 20th century served as volunteer ambulance drivers during World War I, shaping their experiences on the battlefield into groundbreaking works.
The carnage horrified poet E.E. Cummings, who drove an ambulance in France. He would go on to fracture his verse the way bodies were fractured in the trenches. He poured his anger at the senselessness of war into letters back to the United States — and found himself in a detention camp for subversives. He recounted his imprisonment in his novel “The Enormous Room.”
W. Somerset Maugham, who trained as a doctor, did not flinch from the horror. He picked up body parts and treated gaping wounds with cool detachment, the kind of detachment he would later use to dissect the emotional lives of his characters in novels such as “The Painted Veil.”
At 16, Walt Disney was too young to enlist, so he volunteered for the Red Cross as an ambulance driver. He was sent to France and had little contact with the wounded. He spent most of his time drawing. “I found out that inside or outside of an ambulance is as good a place as any to draw,” he said.
While training to be a driver, Disney befriended Ray Kroc, another patriot who was too young to enlist and had chosen to be an ambulance driver instead. In the 1950s, Kroc would become one of the country’s best known businessmen when he turned McDonald’s into a fast-food empire.
But the deepest friendship to develop in the ambulance-driver ranks was between Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos. They shared not only an occupation but a desire to revolutionize American writing — that would last until the ideological battles of the 1930s tore it apart.
Their relationship is detailed in James McGrath Morris’ new book, “The Ambulance Drivers: Hemingway, Dos Passos, and a Friendship Made and Lost in War.”
“The world was shattered, and Hemingway and Dos Passos explicitly felt they would have to write about life in a different way,” Morris told The Post.
Dos Passos had poor eyesight that made him unfit for combat, so he joined the volunteer ambulance corps. He had to pick his way through corpse-filled trenches at Verdun, writing in his diary, “Horror is so piled on horror there can be no more.”
Hemingway tried to enlist in the army, but he, too, failed vision tests. He joined the Red Cross and was dispatched to an ambulance unit on the Italian front. He met Dos Passos over a dinner of rabbit stew and red wine at a hospital near Schio.
A mortar cut short Hemingway’s service. He spent the rest of the war in a hospital, where he fell in love with a nurse who inspired the character of Catherine Barkley in “A Farewell to Arms.”
Dos Passos had a very different experience. “[He] carried buckets of body parts and suffered a mustard-gas attack. For him war was senseless and crushing and must be opposed,” Morris said.
After the war they both lived in Paris, spending hours in Left Bank cafes discussing art, books and their desire to revolutionize American literature.
The friendship showed signs of fraying, especially when Dos Passos urged Hemingway to join left-wing causes that Hemingway eschewed. But they continued to spend a lot of time together fishing — and drinking — in Cuba and the Florida Keys.
The break came during the Spanish Civil War. Dos Passos, while staunchly anti-fascist, began to sour on the left-wing government of Spain, whose main ally was the Soviet Union. Hemingway supported the government in its battle against General Franco and the fascists.
When a friend was killed in the war, Dos Passos suspected (with good reason) that the communists had murdered him. Hemingway told him, “Don’t ask questions,” Morris writes.
In 1964, decades after the Spanish Civil War and three years after his own death, Hemingway exacted revenge on Dos Passos with the posthumous publishing of his memoir, “A Moveable Feast.” He depicted Dos Passos as a parasite who lived off rich friends.
As Morris writes, “War forged their friendship, but in the end another war took it from them.”