FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Hemingway’s Legacy

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.”

—Ernest Hemingway

Of all the celebrated male novelists inhabiting America’s literary pantheon, none of them (not Hawthorne or Twain or Steinbeck or Fitzgerald or Faulkner) have a more glamorous persona, a more readily identifiable writing style or, for that matter, a more recognizable face, than the bearded, middle-aged Ernest Hemingway.

Moreover, ever since Hemingway’s death by suicide, in 1961 (his family had a tragic history of multiple suicides), there have been, literally, hundreds of books, articles and monographs written about him. Hemingway’s life and literature have been picked over by every manner of acolyte, academic, professional biographer, motivated layman, and literary Boy Scout to come down the pike. That being the case, why do we need another book on him?

The answer is that, with Hemingway Lives!, noted screenwriter and novelist (and frequent CounterPunch contributor) Clancy Sigal not only presents us with something entirely fresh and revealing, he hits the trifecta. This compact book is thought-provoking, packed with useful information (some of it standard bio material, but much of it wonderfully idiosyncratic), and is lively enough to be described, accurately and without exaggeration, as an old-fashioned “page-turner.”

Ernest Hemingway’s life is presented chronologically, beginning with his birth (in 1899) and childhood in Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Not surprisingly, as a boy he developed a love for rigorous outdoor activities such as hunting and fishing—activities he embraced all his adult life. After high school, to the disappointment of his parents, young Ernest chose not to attend college. Instead, he landed a job as a newspaper reporter for the Kansas City Star, a decision that Hemingway scholars maintain is what set him on the path to becoming who he became.

It was at the Star where he learned to express himself in those short, economical sentences that so define his literary style. Short, concise, powerfully evocative sentences. No redundancies, no sugary flourishes, nothing superfluous, nothing ostentatious. In fact, in an early chapter, Sigal treats us to a sample of Hemingway’s newspaper copy, written when he was 18 years old. Taken from a Kansas City Star item called, “At the End of the Ambulance Run,” we see undeniable evidence of early “Hemingwayese.”

The night ambulance attendants shuffled down the long, dark corridors at the General Hospital with an inert burden on the stretcher. They….lifted the unconscious man to the operating table. His hands were calloused and he was unkempt and rugged, a victim of a street brawl near the city market. No one knew who he was, but a receipt, bearing the name George Anderson, for $10 paid on a home out in a little Nebraska town, served to identify him.

The surgeon opened the swollen eyelids. The eyes were turned to the left. “A fracture on the left side of the skull,” he said to the attendants who stood about the table. “Well, George, you’re not going to finish paying for that home of yours.”

War, personal nobility, physical courage, and overcoming adversity were among the dominant themes in Hemingway’s writing. Accordingly, the idealistic Hemingway quit the Star after seven months and, in 1918, lured by World War I, volunteered as a Red Cross ambulance driver in Italy, having been turned down for military service due to poor eyesight (one of his eyes was defective). In Italy he was close enough to the front to be seriously wounded by an exploding mortar shell.

The years following Italy were auspicious. In 1921, Hemingway moved to Paris, where he was not only influenced by the “modernist” atmosphere of the city’s art colony, but where, at age 22, he fell in love and
OR Book Going Rougemarried Hadley Richardson, his first of four wives. In 1926, Hemingway published his debut novel, The Sun Also Rises, which got a rousing reception. That book put him on the map. At age 27, the ambitious young novelist was off and running.

Looking back on it, it’s hard to believe that a man of letters could have lived so exciting and eventful a life. It’s almost as if Hemingway were a character in one of his own adventure novels. There were the Paris years, his second novel, A Farewell to Arms, in 1929 (which made him financially secure), the birth of a son, Jack, a divorce from Hadley, another marriage, this one to Hadley’s best friend, the wealthy Pauline Pfeiffer; leaving Paris, moving to Key West, his father’s suicide, and, in 1933, the safari to Africa with wife Pauline.

And when civil war broke out in Spain in 1937, Hemingway immediately traveled there and joined up with the anti-fascist Republicans (his novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, is based on the Spanish Civil War). Then there was another divorce, another new wife (the noted journalist Martha Gellhorn, portrayed by Nicole Kidman in the recent HBO movie), more children, the move to Cuba, submarine hunting on his private boat, earning the antipathy of J. Edgar Hoover, and then, in 1944, landing with D-Day troops in France. Even if the man had never written a single word, his non-literary life would’ve made one heck of a movie.

Although Sigal addresses Hemingway’s many personal demons and character flaws (the alcohol consumption, the life-long bouts of depression, the jealousies, anxieties, infidelities, et al) straightforwardly and honestly (including Hemingway’s vulgar insensitivity to race and ethnicity), he avoids the temptation to over-emphasize or wallow in the lurid details. It simply isn’t that kind of book.

There’s an agreeable amount of boilerplate biographical material mixed with a generous serving of idiosyncratic personal anecdotes. For instance, Sigal notes that as a young boy, Ernest’s mother, Grace, regularly dressed the poor kid and his older sister as boy-girl twins. This macho, uber-masculine icon used to wear frilly skirts and dresses, a circumstance which, as Sigal wryly notes, provided the Freudians with enough gas to fly to the moon.

In another anecdote, the 19-year old Ernest wrote his family from New York City (where he’d stopped on his way to Italy), announcing that he was engaged to be married to Mae Marsh, the famous silent screen movie star. That must have been a real thrill for the folks back home in Oak Park. Years later, Ms. Marsh, now an elderly woman, said that she regretted not having met Hemingway in real life. Apparently, young Ernest had already discovered a flair for “fiction.”

Arguably, the most impressive part of Hemingway Lives! is the “scholarly” part, the purely “literary” part, the part where Sigal steps up to the plate and nimbly summarizes each of Hemingway’s novels and short stories. It’s an impressive performance. In this eloquent tour de force, he takes Hemingway’s books and stories, one by one, and concisely analyzes and rates each of them.

While Sigal is busy cataloguing Hemingway’s body of work, he adroitly disposes of the silly yet persistent myth that this man was some sort of misogynistic, anti-feminist ogre. Read this account of Hemingway’s complex rendering of various female fiction characters. Read it carefully. When you finish, you’re going to wonder how on earth Papa ever got that rap of being “anti-women.”

David Macaray, an LA playwright and author (“It’s Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor”), was a former union rep.

More articles by:

David Macaray is a playwright and author. His newest book is How To Win Friends and Avoid Sacred Cows.  He can be reached at dmacaray@gmail.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
December 13, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
The FBI: Another Worry in the National Security State
Rob Urie
Establishment Politics are for the Rich
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: That’s Neoliberalism for You
Paul Street
Midnight Ramble: A Fascist Rally in Hershey, Pennsylvania
Joan Roelofs
The Science of Lethality
Joyce Nelson
Buttigieg and McKinsey
Joseph Natoli
Equally Determined: To Impeach/To Support
Charles Pierson
The National Defense Authorization Act Perpetuates the Destruction of Yemen
REZA FIYOUZAT
An Outrageous Proposal: Peace Boats to Iran
Lee Hall
Donald Trump Jr., Mongolian Sheep Killer
Andrew Levine
A Plague on Both Their Houses, Plus a Dozen Poxes on Trump’s
David Rosen
Mortality Rising: Trump and the Death of the “American Dream”
Dave Lindorff
The Perils of Embedded Journalism: ‘Afghan Papers’ Wouldn’t Be Needed If We Had a Real Independent News Media
Brian Cloughley
Human Rights and Humbug in Washington
Stephen Leas
Hungry for a Livable Planet: Why I Went On Hunger Strike and Occupied Pelosi’s Office
Saad Hafiz
Pakistan Must Face Its Past
Lawrence Davidson
Deteriorating Climates: Home and Abroad
Cal Winslow
The End of the Era: Nineteen Nineteen
Louis Proyect
If Time Magazine Celebrates Greta Thunberg, Why Should We?
Thomas Drake
Kafka Down Under: the Threat to Whistleblowers and Press Freedom in Australia
Thomas Knapp
JEDI Mind Tricks: Amazon Versus the Pentagon and Trump
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s War on the Poor
Michael Welton
Seeing the World Without Shadows: the Enlightenment Dream
Ron Jacobs
The Wind That Shook the Barley: the Politics of the IRA
Rivera Sun
Beyond Changing Light Bulbs: 21 Ways You Can Stop the Climate Crisis
Binoy Kampmark
The Bloomberg Factor: Authoritarianism, Money and US Presidential Politics
Nick Pemberton
Ideology Shall Have No Resurrection
Rev. Susan K. Williams Smith
What Trump and the GOP Learned From Obama
Ramzy Baroud
‘Elected by Donors’: the University of Cape Town Fails Palestine, Embraces Israel
Cesar Chelala
Unsuccessful U.S. Policy on Cuba Should End
Harry Blain
The Conservatism of Impeachment
Norman Solomon
Will the Democratic Presidential Nomination Be Bought?
Howard Lisnoff
The One Thing That US Leaders Seem to Do Well is Lie
Jeff Cohen
Warren vs. Buttigieg Clash Offers Contrast with Sanders’ Consistency
Mel Gurtov
The Afghanistan Pentagon Papers
Gaither Stewart
Landslide … to Totalitarianism
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
How Blaming Nader in 2000 Paved the Way for Today’s Neo-Fascism
Steve Early
In Re-Run Election: LA Times Journalist Wins Presidency of NewsGuild 
David Swanson
If You’re Not Busy Plotting Nonviolent Revolution for Peace and Climate, You’re Busy Dying
Nicky Reid
Sorry Lefties, Your Impeachment is Bullshit
John Kendall Hawkins
The Terror Report You Weren’t Meant to See
Susan Block
Krampus Trumpus Rumpus
Martin Billheimer
Knight Crawlers
David Yearsley
Kanye in the West
Elliot Sperber
Dollar Store 
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail