Nine Lives Mr. Hemingway?

 Ernest Hemingway survived anthrax, malaria, pneumonia, skin cancer, hepatitis, diabetes, two plane crashes (on consecutive days), a ruptured kidney, a ruptured spleen, a ruptured liver, a crushed vertebra, a fractured skull, and more.

In the end, the only thing that could kill Hemingway it would seem, was himself…

On a trip to Africa in 1954, Hemingway and Mary were in not one but two plane crashes. Both were bad but the second was worse. I’ll write a post on that incident soon.  However, it was fear both Hem and Mary died. He delighted in reading the obits about himself. However, there was nothing funny about the wounds he received which lasted the rest of his life. He was always accident prone and had suffered several concussions before the crashes.  It was very bad. The below is one of the many new headlines proclaiming the fear that he had perished in the crash. By the way, I hate the  game hunting and take some solace in the fact that later in life he had regrets and noted that he preferred shooting wildlife with a camera, not a gun.  Best, Christine

In 1954, while in Africa, Hemingway was almost fatally injured in two successive plane crashes. He chartered a sightseeing flight over the Belgian Congo as a Christmas present to Mary. On their way to photograph Murchison Falls from the air, the plane struck an abandoned utility pole and “crash landed in heavy brush.” Hemingway’s injuries included a head wound, while his wife Mary broke two ribs. The next day, attempting to reach medical care in Entebbe, they boarded a second plane that exploded at take-off, with Hemingway suffering burns and another concussion, this one serious enough to cause leaking of cerebral fluid. They eventually arrived in Entebbe to find reporters covering the story of Hemingway’s death. He briefed the reporters and spent the next few weeks recuperating and reading his erroneous obituaries.

Review of Novel: Night at Key West by Craig A. Hart

Dear Readers: I just read Night at Key West and it was truly great fun. It takes place in Key West in the Thirties when our main character, Simon, dispatches to Key West to solve a disappearance that becomes a murder investigation. I saw Simon as a bit of an Aaron Hotchner sidekick and a Nick Adams sort of reporter of the odd events around him.  It is really a kick and Hemingway features prominently.  Below is my review on Amazon and link.

Night at Key West (A Simon Wolfe Mystery Book 1) by [Hart, Craig A.]

I just finished reading Murder in Key West by Craig A. Hart and I enjoyed it immensely. I initially read it because Hemingway is a main fictionalized but based on reality character, and I read almost everything Hemingway-related. However, the book was wonderfully involving, funny, fun, and yes, a real mystery to figure out with trips and twists at most page turns. There’s enough Hemingway for old hands to enjoy with inside jokes about the pool in Key West and Scott Fitzgerald’s editing of The Sun Also Rises as well as fun anecdotes for readers who know nothing about Hemingway.
The writing itself is terrific. I laughed at some of the funny phrases such as “largely ineffectual energy” and “like a chihuahua watchdog” and i really enjoyed the sense of Key West in the 1930s and the small town characters at the courthouse, the police station, and the diner. It was a fun Sam Spade mystery, not too heavy (Simon the narrator is a bit of a Nick Adams persona) and I highly recommend it to mystery readers, lovers of fiction set in the ‘30s, and Hemingway fans. Great fun and good writing in one delightful package.

Love and Ruins: New Book about Hem and Martha Gellhorn

Love and Ruin

I finished reading Paula McLain’s new novel called Love and Ruin: A Novel.It’s the story of Martha Gellhorn, Hemingway’s third wife, and begins in 1937 when she is struggling to become a war journalist – which for a woman in those days was a formidable challenge – and her meeting fortuitously or unfortunately depending upon how you look at it with Ernest Hemingway.

I enjoyed it, and to tell you the truth, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. For starters, I know too much about all of this. Second, I didn’t love The Paris Wife.


Love and Ruinfocused a great deal on the Spanish Civil War and that may become tedious for some readers. However, it truly was extraordinary that Martha Gellhorn was able to cover those sorts of stories. I didn’t feel that Paula McLain portrayed Hemingway as a villain. Since the book stopped at the end of the marriage to Hemingway while giving a wrap up, I will let all of you read more about Martha and come to your own conclusions about her. She was an extraordinary woman and while Hemingway definitely wanted her in his life more as a wife than as an independent journalist, the association was definitely beneficial to her.

Martha, discoverer of the Finca

I very much enjoyed the portions of the book about Martha’s discovery of the Finca Vigía, Hemingway’s Cuban home, and her efforts to restore it. It must have been hard for her to leave when they divorced and to know it was taken over by Mary Welsh, her successor and Hemingway’s fourth wife. I also admired (and have read this many other times) Martha’s relationship with Hemingway’s sons. It was very good. She was kind, generous, and caring toward the boys.

Hem, Martha, and boys on Safari

(That being said, she knew very well that Hemingway was married to Pauline when they began their affair but could not resist his magnetism and of course he knew he was still very much married with children.)

hem and Pauline

In reading some of the reviews on Amazon, it seems well received. I have to note that many people just don’t like Hemingway. I think that there is so much written about him but I hardly read anywhere that he had a good sense of humor, or that he was driven and a hard worker, or that he loved his first wife to the end even though he knew he’d been a poor husband, or that he loved his animals and was kind and generous to veterans, his staff, charities. Perhaps it is easier to focus on his bad points, which again are not hard to find. His drinking, his insecurities, his desire to dominate are not pretty.

Martha Gellhorn and Hemingway.


I do recommend it however as it’s good easy reading, interesting, and adds dimension and texture to Martha’s legacy.

A young Martha

So what do we make of THIS?

So what do we make of this?The Bible is foolish and Hemingway’s sentences “too short.”  Really? Read this and see if you agree. The below is quoting from the full article with a few comments. Check out the list directly. Best, Christine

GQ magazine: The Bible is “foolish” and “ill-intentioned”

The Bible’s been around for centuries but GQ magazine is like, eh? What’s so great about it? Instead of Scripture, it has a fiction recommendation for you.

The Good Book makes the mag’s list of “21 Books You Don’t Have to Read.”  While allowing “there are some good parts,” the post warns that it’s “repetitive, self-contradictory, sententious, foolish, and even at times ill-intentioned.” ( This is me: Click above link to see the 21 books. Lonesome Dove?  Really. One of the greatest westerns ever. Also on list is The Old Man and the Sea, and A Farewell to Arms. GQ goes on to suggest alternatives). 

Instead, GQ suggests that instead of THE BIBLE,  how about “The Notebook? by Agote Kristof, not the Nicholas Sparks book of the same name. Kritsof’s book is billed as “a marvelous tale of two brothers who have to get along when things get rough.” Ok, i have not read it and it is likely great but i am not convinced yet.

The Bible finds itself in the company of works by J.D. Salinger, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway on the list of books GQ is just not that into. “Catcher in the Rye” is dinged as being “without any literary merit whatsoever.” “Huckleberry Finn” is tedious, meandering and hamfisted. Hemingway’s sentences? Too short.

Even Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” makes the roster of books to skip. (Click on it and link will appear. (ME: Here’s the entire list again if you missed the link above. Click on this link:, which includes contributions by various writers.

Me: I just read the whole list plus GQ’s list of what you should read instead. Hmm. i don’t agree.  


Expansion of Hemingway Division of the JFK Library in Boston

Good day!  A new display at the JFK Library, Hemingway Collection. I will catch it in the next few weeks. Hope you are having a great summer. Best, Christine

Hemingway’s legacy inspires new JFK Museum display

Associated Press

Friday, June 29, 2018
BOSTON — A new Ernest Hemingway exhibition puts a fresh spin on the author’s colorful life and legacy by displaying his own books and belongings alongside pop culture items from his time.

“Ernest Hemingway: A Life Inspired” opened Thursday at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, which has become the leading research center for Hemingway studies.

Visitors to the expanded show will see manuscripts for “A Farewell to Arms,” “The Sun Also Rises,” “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and other Hemingway works — but they’ll also glimpse popular paperback books from the first half of the 20th century, as well as magazines, photographs and other mementos pulled straight from his world.

It’s an elaborate attempt to portray “Papa” in his proper context.

“It is now our pleasure to present a permanent Ernest Hemingway exhibit that tells the writer’s story by weaving together his literary masterpieces with his worldly inspirations,” said James Roth, the JFK Library’s deputy director.

“The exhibit places the viewer in Hemingway’s shoes, seeing the people and places that inspired his greatest works,” he said.

It includes many of the papers, photos, fishing rods, mounted animal trophies and other quirky personal belongings that Hemingway’s widow, Mary, retrieved from the author’s former estate in Cuba with help from JFK after her husband died in 1961. She later offered a trove of items to Jacqueline Kennedy for safekeeping and display at the Boston library, which opened in 1979.

Kennedy Library, home of the Hemingway Collection, Boston

It’s since become the world’s No. 1 repository of Hemingway lore.

Hemingway and Kennedy never met, but the late president was an admirer. He wrote Hemingway for permission to use his oft-quoted phrase “grace under pressure” in the opening to JFK’s own Pulitzer Prize-winning “Profiles in Courage.”

The new permanent display builds and expands on a 2016 temporary but ambitious exhibition, “Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars.” Curated by Hilary Justice, the presidential library’s Hemingway expert, the latest presentation draws from virtually every aspect of JFK’s vast Hemingway collection.

full quote of “the world breaks everyone”

On show are first editions of Hemingway’s major works; personal photos from his own collection; and photos of the women who inspired him. (Spoiler alert: Hemingway had a reputation for being a “man’s man” and a misogynist, but strong women helped shape his art.)

There are also pages from early drafts of some of Hemingway’s most celebrated books.

“The Old Man and the Sea,” his last major work of fiction, figures prominently. A Live magazine edition of the novel is on display, along with 32 covers of translations done around the globe.

the Good Soldier: John McCain and Hemingway

No literary figure, Senator John McCain often pointed out, had more influence on how he conducted his life than Robert Jordan, the hero of Ernest Hemingway’s 1940 novel about the Spanish Civil War, For Whom the Bell Tolls.

In his most recent book, The Restless Wave, written in collaboration with Mark Salter, McCain wrote about his impending death by observing, “’The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for and I hate very much to leave it,’ spoke my hero, Robert Jordan, in For Whom the Bell  Tolls. And I do, too. But I don’t have a complaint. Not one.”

McCain first read For Whom the Bell Tolls when he was 12, and he returned to it in succeeding years. “It’s my favorite novel of all time. It instructed me to see the world as it is, with all its corruption and cruelty, and believe it’s worth fighting for anyway, even dying for,” McCain observed earlier this year in an interview. The title of McCain’s 2002 memoir, Worth Fighting For, comes from the same For Whom the Bell Tolls passage that he quotes in The Restless Wave.

With so many literary heroes to pick from, McCain’s choice of Robert Jordan is revealing. Robert Jordan is no superhero, capable of overcoming all odds. Even in the 1943 movie version of For Whom the Bell Tolls, starring Gary Cooper and Ingrid Bergman, Jordan dies alone. In the passage McCain cites in The Restless Wave, Jordan lies concealed behind a tree with a submachine gun, hoping he can delay the heavily armed fascist troops who have been pursuing him and the guerrilla band he is with.

Jordan has gotten himself into this position by traveling from America to Spain to flight with the Loyalist forces supporting the democratically elected government of the five-year-old Spanish Republic, which in 1936 came under siege from a fascist military coalition led by General Francisco Franco, who ruled Spain from the end of the Spanish Civil War in 1939 until he died in 1975.

Jordan knows that his own death is a certainty. He has sustained a broken leg as a result of the horse he has been riding falling on him. No matter what he does, he cannot flee. The best that he can do is sacrifice his life so that others, including the woman he loves, may live. “You’ve had as good a life as anyone because of these last days,” Jordan tells himself. “You do not want to complain because you have been so lucky.”

As he faces the end of his life, Jordan’s bravery reflects his character, but just as important are the choices that have brought him to this point. He is not a professional soldier, although he comes from a family in which his grandfather fought in the Civil War for four years. Until now Jordan has led a quiet life as an instructor in Spanish at the University of Montana. As a child he saw a lynching, but he was too young to do anything about it.

What has led Jordan to abandon the comfortable life he was leading in America is the prospect of the Loyalist defenders of the Spanish Republic being overwhelmed by a fascist cabal relying on foreign aid. During the Spanish Civil War, America was neutral as a result of a bill President Roosevelt signed on May 1, 1937, banning the export of arms and ammunition to the warring parties in Spain.

By contrast, neither Germany nor Italy saw any reason to remain neutral when they believed they had much to gain from helping a fascist ally. As historian Adam Hochschild notes in Spain Is in Our Hearts, his account of the Americans who fought in the Spanish Civil War, the German and Italian contributions to Franco were immense and gave both nations a chance to test out weapons they would use in World War II.

Some 19,000 German troops and instructors saw action in Spain or helped train Fascist troops, and nearly 80,000 Italian troops fought for Franco between the start of the Spanish Civil War and its conclusion. The Soviet Union, which for a period identified itself with the Loyalists, provided only limited aid by comparison.

For Hemingway, who made four trips to Spain to report on its Civil War for the North American Newspaper Alliance, Jordan was an admirable figure who reflected what was best about the 2,800 Americans who went to Spain to fight on the Loyalist side. Jordan knows that the Loyalist side he is on is capable of great cruelty. He is no fan of the Communists who are part of the Loyalist alliance. But Jordan sees the flaws in the fascists as so much greater than those of the Loyalists that he does not back away from the commitment he has made to the war.

In this commitment Jordan mirrors Hemingway, who in a 1937 letter described the Spanish Civil War as “the dress rehearsal for the inevitable European war.” Hemingway raised money in support of the Loyalist side, and with his future wife, the correspondent Martha Gellhorn, who travelled to Spain with him, he went to the White House for a showing of the pro-Loyalist film, The Spanish Earth, before President and Eleanor Roosevelt.

In the end Hemingway had to content himself with doing his best rather than getting the outcome in Spain that he wanted, and so finally must Robert Jordan. What makes Jordan admirable is what made McCain admirable—his unwillingness to sit on the sidelines and watch democracy be undermined.


More on the newly published Short Story, “A Room on the Garden Side”


The Real Message Of Hemingway’s ‘New’ Story

Published for the first time, ‘A Room on the Garden Side’ features a narrator much like Hemingway who shrugged off his journalistic ethics and followed his heart in WWII.

The publication of Ernest Hemingway’s 1956 short story, “A Room on the Garden Side,” in the current issue of The Strand Magazine, a literary quarterly, has generated widespread interest. Until now “A Room on the Garden Side” was available only through the Hemingway Collection at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.

“A Room on the Garden Side” is a find for anyone interested in Hemingway, but what is surprising about the story, which is set during World War II, is how much it speaks to the present moment when America’s obligations to other nations, especially our European allies, have been thrown into question by the Trump administration.

The turning point in “A Room on the Garden Side” comes when Robert, the story’s narrator and a Hemingway stand-in who, like Hemingway, is called “Papa,” explains why he is engaged in combat that he might easily avoid. Robert’s explanation for the obligation he feels to take part in the war reflects the life he has chosen for himself, and the art of “A Room on the Garden Side” lies in the way we are gradually brought to identify with Robert.

To help readers come to terms with “A Room on the Garden Side,” The Strand has published it with a thoughtful afterword by Kirk Curnutt, a board member of the Ernest Hemingway Society.

The title of “A Room on the Garden Side” refers to the location of the room Robert has been given at the Ritz hotel just when Paris has been liberated from Nazi control. The situation parallels that of Hemingway, who arrived in Paris on August 25, 1944, with a group of irregular troops he had gathered in the small French village of Rambouillet.

At the time Hemingway was officially a correspondent for Collier’s, but in Rambouillet he went far beyond his journalistic role, casting aside the doubts he expressed about himself earlier in the year when he wrote his wife, thejournalist Martha Gellhorn, “Just feel like horse, old horse, good, sound, but old.” In conjunction with Colonel David Bruce of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of today’s CIA, Hemingway and the French irregulars with him at Rambouillet did their best to defend the village and locate the scattered German forces around it. When General Jacques LeClerc, whom the allies had given the honor of liberating Paris, arrived, they gave him the information they had gathered and then followed LeClerc’s Second Armored Division to Paris before entering the city on their own.

Paris liberation

In his diary, OSS Against the Reich, Bruce, who later served as ambassador to France and England, records how, when he, Hemingway, and their driver entered Paris in their jeep, the Champs Elysees was free of traffic and they were able to make their way to the Travellers Club and from there to the Ritz, where Hemingway was fondly remembered from the time he spent as a young writer in Paris in the ’20s.

“A Room on the Garden Side” takes place within the confines of the Ritz. It includes much that is factual. Hemingway uses the first names of partisans who were with him and recounts an actual meeting that he had at the Ritz at this time with the French novelist Andre Malraux. But the heart of the story hinges on conversations with himself and others that Robert has about writing and warfare. We don’t get much about wartime Paris or the charms of the Ritz in “A Room on the Garden Side.”

Hem and Buck Lanahan WW II

Robert, who is relaxing by reading Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal, speaks about such French writers as Marcel Proust and Victor Hugo and in doing so, he is forced to acknowledge that, although a writer, he is now using his time to fight rather than write. By way of justifying himself, Robert, who admits that he enjoys combat, observes, “I did it to save the lives of people who had not hired out to fight. There was that and the fact that I had learned to know and love an infantry division and wished to serve it in any useful way I could.”

The justification is brief in terms of the space it takes up in “A Room on the Garden Side” and departs from Hemingway’s own history, making no mention of the difficulty he got into as a result of what he did in Rambouillet. It is against the protocols of the Geneva Convention for war correspondents to take part in fighting, and rival correspondents, resentful of Hemingway’s actions in Rambouillet, reported him to the military.

In early October 1944, Hemingway was ordered to report for a hearing at the headquarters of the inspector general of the Third Army, but the last thing the Army wanted to do was punish America’s leading novelist and send him home. Hemingway was acquitted of all the charges against him at a hearing at which, he later acknowledged, he was coached ahead of time on how to give answers that would keep him out of trouble.

With Buck

The impact of the hearing on Hemingway was to make him even more confident that he was right to take up arms when he did.  It was not, he believed, enough to bear witness to history. It was necessary to act.

Twelve years later, when Hemingway fictionalized the events of 1944, his convictions had not changed, but the bitterness that had prompted him to write a friend in the wake of his hearing, “Beat rap,” was gone. Robert has no hesitation about returning to battle, and nothing in “A Room on the Garden Side” suggests that Hemingway worried that in the future an American president might turn his back on the moral values Robert espouses.

In a 1956 letter to his publisher, Charles Scribner Jr., Hemingway, who two years earlier received the Nobel Prize for Literature, was confident enough about “A Room on the Garden Side” and four other short stories that he wrote at this time to assure Scribner, “Anyway you can always publish them after I’m dead.”

Ernest HEMINGWAY during Spanish Civil War.
In December 1937 Ernest Hemingway was covering the Loyalist assault on Teruel, the walled town in the bleak mountains of Southern Aragon, Gen. Franco was planning to use this corridor route to the Mediterranean thus seaparting Barcelona from Valencia and Madrid. Robert CAPA the photographer and Hemingway would with some colleagues drive daily to Teruel from Valencia and return each evening.
Valencia. Dec. 1937. Hemingway visiting the front line.

New Hemingway Short Story!

Happy Saturday morning, all Hemingway readers. A new story has been found and published from 1956, 5 years before Hem’s death. Hemingway of course did not feel it was finished so please keep that in mind but i can’t wait to read it.  Hope your summer is going fantastically!  i added photos.Best wishes, Christine

You can finally read this Ernest Hemingway story about Paris after WWII

On Aug. 14, 1956, Ernest Hemingway wrote to publisher Charlie Scribner about five short stories he had written: “I suppose they are a little shocking since they deal with irregular troops and combat and with people who actually kill people….Anyway you can always publish them after I’m dead.”

More than six decades later, fans can finally read one of the long-unpublished stories.

“A Room on the Garden Side” centers on a fictionalized version of Hemingway at the Paris Ritz Hotel toward the end of World War II, and is punctuated with books, liquor, soldiers and a love of Paris — all familiar trademarks.

Hem in Tweed

The Hemingway Estate granted publishing rights to The Strandquarterly literary magazine in last October.

“With a precious little gem like Ernest Hemingway, you don’t ask any questions,” managing editor and Hemingway aficionado Andrew Gulli said. “You just count yourself fortunate that you get the chance to publish something by one of the greatest writers in the 20th century.”

Hem at typewriter

The 3,000-word story is narrated by Robert, or “Papa,” a clear representation of Hemingway himself, with a sense of pathos for times gone by and the sacrifice of soldiers. It quotes heavily from the poem “Les Fleurs du Mal,” by Charles Baudelaire, charging the story with poignancy over the ways the city of Paris was changed by the war.

“It has some of his favorite themes,” Gulli said. “What I really found interesting is there is some humor and laughter and the talk of people who just won a battle, but beneath that you see a sadness for the people that died during the conflict.”

Hem and Buck Lanham WW II

Hemingway wrote “A Room on the Garden Side,” more than a decade after WWII, a conflict during which he had served as both reporter and unofficial soldier. Only one other story in the quintet he wrote in 1956 was previously published, according to Kirk Curnutt, board member of The Ernest Hemingway Foundation and Society.

“In 1944 when he is one of the first Americans into Paris on the day of the liberation, it is a very profound moment for him — for reclamation of freedom, but also the reclamation of a city that was stolen from him as well,” Curnutt said.

Bumby, WWII

“A Room on the Garden Side” takes place just after the liberation of Paris at the end of the war, where Robert and a ragtag group of “irregulars” — members of the French resistance — sit drinking and reminiscing with the famous Charley Ritz in his namesake hotel on the Right Bank of Paris. The Ritz was Hemingway’s favorite hotel away from home throughout his life.

Scholars like Curnutt have known about the story — 15 handwritten pages — for some time. (It has been housed at the Library of Congress and John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston.) But this is the first time the story will be published for the wider public.

Paris liberation

“[The Estate has] steered away from commercializing anything unpublished,” Gulli said. “They were very kind to give the story to The Strand because they understand we have a good track record of publishing unpublished works. They want to make sure that if something is released that it will honor the memory of Ernest Hemingway.”

The magazine, and Gulli in particular, have tracked down and published similarly overlooked works by the likes of John Steinbeck, Tennessee Williams, F. Scott Fitzgerald, H.G. Wells and Mark Twain. “A Room on the Garden Side” is being solely published in print, not online.

With Buck

“To me it’s not like Hemingway is an unknown writer and that this will bring him back into competition,” Gulli said. “It’s more of the passion to have a writer that you’ve admired and revered your whole life and to get it published in Strand magazine — it’s a wonderful feeling to know Hemingway is gracing our pages.”

New York Times Review of The Old Man and The Sea: Sept 7, 1952

Please read the NYT review of Hemingway’s Masterpiece and how it was received in its Day. And the reviewer taught at my Alma Mater. Media added by me. Enjoy the analysis and thank you for reading and being interested in Hemingway 119 years after his birth and 57 years after his death. Best, Christine


September 7, 1952
Hemingway’s Tragic Fisherman

By Ernest Hemingway.

The “Old Man” is a Cuban, without money to buy proper gear or even food, and past the days of his greatest strength, when he was “El CampÈon” of the docks. He fishes for his living, far out in the Gulf Stream, in a skiff with patched sails. It is September, the month of hurricanes and of the biggest fish. After eighty-four luckless days a marlin strikes his bait a hundred fathoms below the boat. The old man, Santiago, is “fast to the biggest fish that he had ever seen and bigger than he had ever heard of.” The ultimate is now demanded of the craft which a half-century of fishing has taught him.
It is a tale superbly told and in the telling Ernest Hemingway uses all the craft his hard, disciplined trying over so many years has given him. Both craft–writing and fishing–are clearly in mind when the old man Santiago thinks of the strangeness of his powers as fisherman. “The thousand times that he had proved it meant nothing. Now he was proving it again. Each time was a new time and he never thought about the past when he was doing it.” When the boy who took care of him asked if he was strong enough now for a truly big fish, he said, “I think so. And there are many tricks.”
In “Big Two-Hearted River,” one of the best and happiest of his early short stories, Hemingway sent a young man very like himself off alone on a fishing trip in completely deserted country in northern Michigan. They young man, Nick, needed to be alone and to control his thinking with physical tiredness and to get back to something in himself to which memories of fishing seemed to offer a clue.
The actual fishing was even better than his memories of it. He “felt all the old feeling.” The trip was a success because Nick, grateful for the purity of his pleasure, was able to set himself limits. He did not go into the deep water of the swamp where the biggest fish were, but where it might be impossible to land them. “In the fast deep water, in the half light, the fishing would be tragic. In the swamp fishing was a tragic adventure. Nick did not want it.” There was plenty of time for that kind of fishing in the days to come.
“The Old Man and the Sea” written more than twenty-five years later, in the maturity of Hemingway’s art, is a novella whose action is directly, cleanly and, as he would say, “truly” told. And in it Hemingway has described a fishing adventure which is tragic, or as close to tragedy as fishing may be. In “The Old Man and the Sea,” as in the early “Big Two-Hearted River,” the art and the truth come from a sense of limits. In the new story, however, a man exceeds the limits, and pays a price for it that is more than his own suffering.
The line of dramatic action in “The Old Man and the Sea” curves up and down with a classic purity of design to delight the makers of textbooks. But what Santiago brings back suggests something new about Hemingway himself, defines an attitude never so clearly present in his other work.
Hemingway’s heroes have nearly always been defeated, or have died, and have lost what they loved, even though the stories seemed at first to celebrate purely physical courage and prowess. The important thing was the code fought by, and keeping the right feeling toward what was fought for, and when something had been won, not to let the sharks have it.
Usually the hero has been alone in his defeat, like Lieutenant Henry in “Farewell to Arms,” walking back to his hotel in the rain, or Robert Jordan dying at the bridge in “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” or Harry Morgan, also a Gulf fisherman, in “To Have and Have Not,” gasping out, with a bullet through his stomach, “One man alone ain’t got no bloody. . .chance.”
Often his people have been profoundly bitter in defeat, like Belmonte, the matador, in “The Sun Also Rises,” sick with a fistula, jeered at by the crowd, putting his head on the barrera, not seeing or hearing anything, just going through his pain, or the demoted Colonel Cantwell in “Across the River and into the Trees,” trying to find abusive enough epithets for Truman and the political generals and a writer whose face he doesn’t like. “Seems like when they get started they don’t leave a guy nothing,” the boy says at the end of “My Old Man.”
This is the nothingness, the “nada” of the famous parody of the Lord’s Prayer in “A Clean Well-Lighted Place.” This is the world of the non-religious existentialists like Heidegger and Sartre, a world of self-imposed codes and devotions sustained wholly by the courage and will of the individual, by his capacity for facing his own truths, for leading an “authentic” existence. If he fails, he encounters nothingness, meaninglessness, both in human society and the indifferent realm of nature.
In “The Old Man and the Sea,” it is all quite different. The old man has learned humility, which he knew “was not disgraceful, and carried no less of true pride.” Humility understands the limits of what a man can do alone, and knows how much his being, the worth and humanity of his being, depends on community with other men and with nature, which is here the sea. Santiago has the language to express this, as the American Harry Morgan did not. Santiago speaks in those formalized idioms from the Romance languages which in so many of Hemingway’s stories have served to express ideas of dignity, propriety and love. Santiago lives in a good town where he had been happy with his wife, and where there is now the boy. He had taught the boy fishing, and the boy loves him. “QuÈ va,” the boy says devotedly. “There are many good fishermen and some great ones. But there is only you.”
Hemingway we know was himself a champion, a great winner of boxing matches and game fishing contests at Key West and in the Bahamas in the Thirties. But in the later stories, in an uncomfortably personal way, it seemed not enough for the hero to know he was a champion. He needed adulation from those around him, from waiters, people of old families and especially sexually satisfied women who had so little being apart from him that they created none of the moral demands, the difficult ups and downs of any normal human relationship.
It is a little like this with Santiago and the boy, but the old man, to repeat, has humility, and the shared craft of fishing is a reality between them. What he brings back to the boy at the end of the story implies a human continuity and development that far transcends this individual relationship. When Santiago says “Man is not made for defeat,” he is not thinking primarily of the individual.
Even without the boy Santiago is not alone on a sea, which, with its creatures, he knows well and loves with discrimination. The sea is feminine for him, as it is not for the motorboat men. The Gulf Stream takes him out where he wants to go, and the trade winds bring him back, with lights of Havana to guide him. When the huge marlin strikes, he is bound in shared suffering with a fellow creature for whom he finds adjectives like “calm” and “beautiful” and “noble.” Santiago does not like to kill, and he does like to think, except about sin, which he is not sure he believes in.
Santiago’s simplicity together with the articulateness of his soliloquies sometimes makes him seem a personified attitude of his complex creator rather than a concrete personality in his own right. The action is wonderfully particularized, but not the man to whom it happens and who gives it meaning. The talk of baseball, of the “great DiMaggio” and the “Tigres” of Detroit does not help in this. And the references to sin inevitably recall that other American story of the pursuit of a big fish in which Melville went rather more deeply down among “the strong, troubled, murderous thinkings of the masculine sea,” that dark invisible sphere formed “in fright” as well as love.
But these are simply the bounds rather than the faults of a short tale magnificently told. Like “Across the River and into the Trees,” “The Old Man and the Sea” (a September Book-of-the-Month dual choice) is an interruption in the long major work which has engaged Hemingway since the war. But it is not a disturbing interruption, as “Across the River” sometimes was in its moments of tastelessness and spleen. In his imagination of the fishing in “The Old Man and the Sea,” Hemingway has, like the young man in “Big Two-Hearted River,” got back to something good and true in himself, that has always been there. And with it are new indications of humility and maturity and a deeper sense of being at home in life which promise well for the novel in the making. Hemingway is still a great writer, with the strength and craft and courage to go far out, and perhaps even far down, for the truly big ones.
Mr. Davis, Professor of English at Smith College, writes frequently of the techniques of creative writing.