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Discussion in 'The Reading Room' started by Nathan Dodge, Jan 14, 2010.
Am rereading “The Sun Also Rises” now. Perhaps I’m shallow... am not focusing on “was Hem anti-Semitic?” Or “was Hem a misogynist?” Or “does Jake Barnes hint at androgynous tendencies?” Or is the book a “statement about lost generation nihilism?” No. I’m thinking “damn, those expats in the 1920s drank like Vikings!”
Ken Burns has a new documentary of Papa. It pulls no punches as it would seem he was not a good man.....used and abused his friends, abusive including physical abuse of the women in his life. As they say...."It was a good thing he could write." But as someone who worshipped him and read everything of his some 50 years ago my attempts to revisit his writings have not been a great experience. Not a great writer in my estimation.....his work has not stood up well at all.
When I was in college, I lived in Hemingway's old Oak Park neighborhood. Strolled past his childhood
house, and his high school, Oak Park-River Forest was right down the street. I recall he reflected on his
writing style and said that he learned to write a simple declarative sentence at OP-RF High. An enigma
in so many ways, I have always found him grammatically likened to a simple declarative sentence.
Complicated, but like all men are, a sensualist who pursued Eros, and, when his age caught up to him
he collapsed within himself; ultimately a depressive who ended life with a shotgun. A simple declarative
sentence who could write and for a brief moment in time owned literary renown.
Hemingway pushed the proverbial envelope, lived life large, abused and used. A clay foundation,
no more no less, availed his time and circumstances. Took to Spain and France later for the opportunity,
his cause, himself. The Sun Also Rises I believe is his finest work. A wounded veteran of First World War
trench combat, impotent, but trying to live a rewarding solitaire existence. There is some wisdom
strewn about Papa's canon, wheat shaken from chaff perhaps.
Awww, Papa. Yes, it’s all true. He was a man of his times... like most of that generation (including my own father), he would FAIL today’s tests of enlightened behavior. No doubt about that. His drinking, alone, would be frowned upon by modern neo-prohibitionists.
On the other hand, he had some things in the “plus” column. His heroics in WWI gained him a legitimate medal (although, yes, the exploits were later exaggerated.) He was at the very head of anti-fascism: he truly believed in the loyalist cause in Spain in the 1930s —-before it was popular—- and donated time, money, and ink to the cause. He also went on dangerous missions behind enemy lines for the loyalists. Years later in Cuba, he more or less supported down-and-out exiled Spanish loyalists who had escaped Franco’s grasp. He famously said that he would not go back to Spain, his favorite country, while any of his friends were in prison. While in Cuba he also paid for a Cuban little league team (buying uniforms, etc). The number of young writers that he befriended and mentored is not inconsiderable. In the 50s, one of his best friends —- and one of those young writers—- was A. E. Hotchner, who happened to be a Jew, perhaps contradicting the famous accusation. Hemingway was THERE at D-Day. He did indeed lead a bunch of French Resistance fighters into Paris. In the bloody battles of the Huertgen Forest, U.S. General Lanham praised Hem’s bravery and knowledge of military matters. Married four times, there were in fact women who loved him ...Marlene Dietrich maintained a lifelong friendship with him and praised his thoughtfulness. Until his end, he was on friendly terms with his first wife and true love. He befriended prostitutes and movie stars (paying for the funeral of at least one hooker). He held big game fishing world records.
A remarkable life by any standard. And that’s not even mentioning that he profoundly revolutionized English prose writing and won the Nobel Prize for literature. Even today, some of his books are legitimately termed “classics”. The opening paragraph of “A Farewell to Arms” is routinely pointed at as being a classic in itself.
Could he sometimes be a son-of-a-barnacle? No doubt. He got into stupid fist fights all too often. He and his last wife, Mary, had epic OTT fights that would be outrageous in modern times. He held grudges against those who criticized his writing or his lifestyle. He was one of those guys who, if you were on his good side, he was the best friend ever... yet, if you fell out of grace, there was hell to pay. I don’t know. He was a very, very complicated man.
Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.
And I still think him a highly over rated writer. He did have some moments but much of his work is unreadable today...or at least grimace producing. I shall watch Burns doc for certain