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Remembering Papa

One Hundred years after his birth, Ernest Hemingway's proud and painful legacy endures.
Neil A. Grauer
From the Print Edition:
Ernest Hemingway, Jul/Aug 99

The destruction was so complete it was impossible--and pointless--to determine precisely how he had done it.

Ernest Hemingway either had placed the double barrels of a 12-gauge English shotgun in his mouth, as he once had demonstrated for uneasy friends at his home in Cuba ("Look, this is how I'm going to do it.... The palate is the softest part of the head."); or he had put both barrels to his brow, just above his dark brown eyes.

However Hemingway had positioned the weapon (which he had bought years before at Abercrombie & Fitch and used for shooting pigeons), when he tripped both triggers early on the morning of July 2, 1961, the result was devastating: blood, brain, bone, teeth, flesh and hair, splattered all over the small, oak-paneled and tile-floored foyer of his home in Ketchum, Idaho. He simply blew away his entire cranial vault.

In doing so, Hemingway, then 19 days shy of his 62nd birthday, slew the demons of depression, insecurity and alcoholism that had tormented him for decades. And instead of just ending a life of immense literary accomplishments, admirable military and sporting exploits, and considerable personal mythmaking, Hemingway's suicide provided a tragic counterpoint to the ongoing celebration of a man acknowledged then and now as the most influential--and imitated--prose stylist of the twentieth century.

Winner of the Pulitzer and Nobel prizes, Hemingway in death also gave birth to an industry of Hemingwayana--not merely an ever-burgeoning bookcase of biographies and analyses, but multiple municipal festivals and museums in the places where he lived, as well as merchandise that trades on the marketability of his machismo. His popularity remains as powerful as ever this year, the 100th anniversary of his birth.

Books about him--and by him--continue to sell. In July, what is being called the last of Hemingway's novels, True at First Light, will be unveiled, culled from a mammoth, unfinished manuscript about his final African safari in 1953-'54. (The book has sparked a literary controversy--notably Joan Didion in The New Yorker and Jonathan Yardley in The Washington Post--questioning the propriety of the posthumous publication of an uncompleted work.)

Hemingway's sons, John, Patrick and Gregory, formed Hemingway Ltd. in 1992 to license the use of his name, image and signature. (Each son has long earned up to $100,000 a year in Hemingway-related royalties.) They came in for some heated criticism when one of the first items they authorized was a Hemingway shotgun. They protested that their father really had loved such a gun. Less controversial was the licensing of a $600 limited-edition Mont Blanc fountain pen--even though Hemingway himself wrote his books in pencil. The market for Hemingway first editions and autographs "continues to be very strong, depending on the item," says Chris Bready of the Baltimore Book Co., a dealer in rare books. Some first editions in their original dust covers command sums "well into five figures," Bready says.

In the cigar world, Tabacalera A. Fuente y Cia. has produced a Hemingway line of cigars since 1986, with different sizes carrying literary-themed names such as Short Story, Best Seller and Masterpiece.

The Cuban government reverentially maintains Hemingway's 21-acre estate, Finca Vigía (Lookout Farm), situated on a hilltop 15 miles from downtown Havana, as a shrine-like museum. He lived there for 22 years--his longest residence anywhere. His birthplace in Oak Park, Illinois, also is a museum, as is the house where he lived for a decade in Key West, Florida. Competing municipal celebrations of Hemingway are held annually in Key West and Sanibel Island, southwest of Fort Meyers, Florida.

Places he visited and events he relished remain popular attractions. The running of the bulls through the streets of Pamplona, Spain, during the fiesta of San Fermin--a centuries-old ritual given international recognition in Hemingway's 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises--still draws thousands of revelers who strive each year to experience his daredevil enjoyment of it. Visitors to the Bahamas are directed to Hemingway's favorite fishing spots for giant marlin. Travel guidebooks almost always list his favorite watering holes--Harry's Bar in Venice; the Ritz Bar in Paris; Chicote's Bar in Madrid; Sloppy Joe's in Key West; El Floridita in Havana--so that untold numbers of tourists can hoist a few where so many were downed by "Papa" (the nickname he gave himself at the age of 27).

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Comments   1 comment(s)

Dale Siemon May 6, 2011 11:32am ET

...well written, nicely done...

thanks to the author and editors

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