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).
Why this fascination for where Hemingway lived and played; for what he ate and drank? What is behind the enduring power exerted by his personality and writing?
"I think it's the celebrity culture in which we live," says Kenneth S. Lynn, professor emeritus of history at the Johns Hopkins University and author of the monumental 1987 biography Hemingway.
"Hemingway was early into the field as a celebrity writer and was larger than life. A generation of college students who may never have read a line of Hemingway are all set for the Key West bar. They can't wait to get to the Floridita. That's the Hemingway they're remembering."
All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you.... If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer. --Ernest Hemingway, "Old Newsman Writes: A Letter from Cuba," 1934
It is, of course, the writing that is the foundation of Hemingway's appeal. Although he wrote prodigiously, his reputation rests on a small but extraordinary core of work: exceptional reporting about the Spanish Civil War; novels such as The Sun Also Rises; A Farewell to Arms (1929) and For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940); short stories such as "In Another Country" (1926), "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" and "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" (both 1936); and his last great effort, the lyrical novella The Old Man and the Sea (1952)--beloved by many but scoffed at by many others.
In his riveting journalism, short stories and novels, Hemingway created "a body of work that has changed the course of storytelling and given new cadences to the language," wrote critic Charles Poore in his forward to a 1953 anthology, The Hemingway Reader.
Hemingway's prose, shorn of the stylistically convoluted Victorian filigrees of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century writing, evoked an intense appreciation of life's perils--and pleasures. Few have ever equaled his skill at writing about war's horrors--or the wonders of food and drink. He "actually makes you hungry and thirsty for the fare he describes," Lynn wrote in Hemingway.
"I think he's one of the masters on all sorts of levels," Lynn adds in a telephone interview from his home in Washington, D.C. "In detective fiction and Hollywood movie private eyes, the Hemingway influence is very strong, even today. In On the Waterfront, the exchanges between [Marlon] Brando and his brother [Rod Steiger] seem very Hemingwayesque to me. That kind of dialogue in which an awful lot is packed beneath the surface of the monosyllabic prose--I think that's got Hemingway's brand on it."
Indeed, "he may be the strongest influence in literature that this age will give to posterity," Poore contended.
Yet Hemingway's personal style also inspired as many detractors as admirers--and with good reason. His charm, charisma and zest for life were immense and contagious, but his boastfulness, boorishness and bigotry were well documented. Although he could be a gracious host and generous to old friends, he cruelly disparaged writers who had been his mentors or whom he saw as rivals. He was anti-Semitic. With compulsive competitiveness, he exaggerated or lied about his athletic, amatory and wartime exploits. He often was brave, yes, but not quite as heroic as he wanted people to think.
"I thought he was a bully," says legendary New York Times theatrical caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, now 96, who knew Hemingway in Paris in the 1920s.
"I met him in 1924. There was a little gym where a lot of the artists and writers used to come, and Hemingway was there and he was boxing all the time. And he would always pick some fellow about half his size and knock him down," Hirschfeld recalls with a chuckle. "He was a kind of sadist in many ways, I thought. I never saw him box anybody his own size.
"I don't want to denigrate him in any way, but that was my first impression of him in that boxing ring. I wasn't unfriendly with him, but I just had no regard for him, except as a writer. I didn't think he was very much as a human being."
Within a few years of his death, much of Hemingway's work fell out of fashion. His suicide cast doubt on the stoicism he had championed; his overblown masculinity rang hollow; his passion for blood sports struck a sour note.
Yet the impact of Hemingway's best writing remains undeniable; and controversial though it was, the exhaustive biography by Lynn showed that Hemingway's personality and life were just as complex as his supposedly simple sentences. In many ways, he was a tormented man, a tragic figure who overcame enormous personal problems to produce literature that will last.
We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it--don't cheat with it. Be as faithful to it as a scientist. --Ernest Hemingway, May 28, 1934, letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald
Hemingway hurt like hell, either psychologically or physically, for most of his life. He was wounded in wartime and accident-prone in peace, suffering numerous concussions and other injuries that were exacerbated by his alcoholism. His major emotional wounds he obliquely but decisively attributed to his mother, Grace Hall Hemingway. Novelist John Dos Passos, once a close friend, would later say that Hemingway was the only man he knew who genuinely hated his mother. Evidently he had ample reason.
It also is clear that Hemingway often suffered from clinical depression and found comfort in the bottle. (In For Whom the Bell Tolls, the character of Anselmo says of drink: "That is what kills the worm that haunts us.") His capacity for liquor was gargantuan, but eventually--inevitably--he became what he often disparaged, "a rummy," although he always fiercely denied being an alcoholic.
Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899, in Oak Park, Illinois. His father, Dr. Clarence Edwards "Ed" Hemingway, was an obstetrician who may have suffered from manic depression. Ultimately, in 1928, Ed Hemingway placed his own father's Civil War revolver to his temple and put a bullet through his brain.
The suicide of his father haunted Hemingway until the day he followed his example. Indeed, depression and suicide plagued the Hemingway family: two of Ernest's sisters and his only brother also killed themselves; two of his three sons received electroshock therapy for emotional turmoil; his granddaughter Margaux, a supermodel and sister of actress Mariel Hemingway, died in July 1996 in what was deemed a depression-related accident. (Margaux and Mariel's father, Hemingway's eldest son John, now 75, has said with grim humor: "My brothers and I are determined to see just how long a Hemingway can live.")
The residents of Oak Park a century ago might not have witnessed Ed Hemingway's mood swings, but they could see that he was henpecked. Grace Hemingway was a melodramatic, extravagantly self-indulgent person. In Lynn's words, she was "the dark queen of Hemingway's inner world."
Shortly after Hemingway's birth, his mother began acting out a bizarre fantasy that her new baby boy actually was the "twin" of his 18-month-old sister, Marcelline. She alternately let their hair grow long and dressed them as girls--with flowery hats and dresses--or closely cropped their hair and dressed them as boys, putting them in overalls. In one family scrapbook, she put the caption "summer girl" beside a photo of the two-year-old Ernest, dressed in a little girl's gown and flower-covered hat. It was not until he was six that Hemingway's mother at last let him be shorn for good of his girlishly long hair.
With what Lynn calls her "baffling inconsistency," Grace Hemingway also delighted in Ernest's early feats of masculinity, such as his skill at hunting and fishing with his father. She proudly wrote in her diary that if she asked him as a toddler if he was afraid of anything, he'd shout defiantly "fraid a nothing!" Yet she also noted that right before Christmas in 1902, Ernest "was quite fearful...as to whether Santa Claus would know he was a boy, because he wore just the same kind of clothes as [his] sister."
As Lynn pointedly observed: "Caught between his mother's wish to conceal his masculinity and her eagerness to encourage it, was it any wonder that he was anxious and insecure?" He would spend the rest of his life desperately "showing the world how manly he was." And yet his writing, for all of its tough masculinity, often features a sensitivity to the feminine viewpoint and a curiosity about androgyny. It is far from laden with the unalloyed misogyny of which Hemingway often is accused.
Hemingway's immense charm counterbalanced his often overbearing egotism. Friends from his teenage years recalled his infectious enthusiasm for baseball, boxing and books; his wit and humor. As an adult, the force of his personality was such that it heightened the impact of his physical presence. Darkly handsome, broad-shouldered and muscular, he always impressed people as being taller than he was. Actually 5 feet, 11 inches, he often was described as being a "huge man, over six feet tall."
Graduating from Oak Park High School, Hemingway landed a job as a cub reporter on the Kansas City Star. He was forced to write short, spare sentences, absent almost all adjectives. "Those were the best rules I ever learned for the business of writing. I've never forgotten them," he told an interviewer in 1940. "No man with any talent, who feels and writes truly about the thing he is trying to say, can fail to write well if he abides by them."
Hemingway quickly became an excellent reporter, but when the United States entered the First World War in 1917, he was determined to experience its drama--if not, perhaps, trench warfare. He volunteered for rescue service with the American Red Cross and was assigned to an ambulance unit in Italy, which was an ally of the United States in that conflict. His experiences there and his subsequent writings about them turned him into one of the century's great chroniclers of war. And the tall tales he told about his own exploits became the foundation of the personal mythmaking that established his celebrity. He always insisted that he knew more about war than any other reporter; that he could outbox, outfish, outhunt, outdrink, outscrew any rival. Eventually, his need to live up to those myths--and his growing alcoholism--hampered his ability to write.
On July 8, 1918, while handing out chocolate to Italian soldiers in a dugout, Hemingway was severely wounded when a mortar shell exploded a few feet from him. Hot shrapnel fragments tore into both of his legs and he was knocked down by the blast, badly injuring his head. He nevertheless gallantly pulled himself across the ground to try to help a mortally wounded soldier before being placed on a stretcher and carried off the battlefield. The Italian government awarded him the Silver Medal of Military Valor.
Courageous as he had been and wounded though he was, Hemingway began embellishing the story of what had happened within a week of the incident. He claimed that he had gotten up following the mortar blast, shouldered a wounded soldier, carried him more than 150 yards while being fired upon, and was hit twice in the legs by machine gun bullets. He later would claim that he subsequently enlisted in the Italian army, fought with its fabled shock troops, the Arditi, and had an aluminum kneecap as a souvenir of his service with them.
Hemingway's exaggerations of his military exploits went unchallenged by journalists and biographers for decades. He added to them in his writings; expanded on them during the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War; and allowed others to inflate his image with more myths later on.
For the record, Hemingway did not go ashore with the troops on D-Day, although his reporting of the invasion suggested that he had. He really did not "liberate" the Ritz Hotel in Paris when Allied troops drove the Germans from the city. Other soldiers got to the hotel first. Hemingway also never scored a put-down on F. Scott Fitzgerald by saying the only thing that distinguished the rich is that they have more money. In fact, after once grandly saying that he was "getting to know the rich," Hemingway himself had been the butt of that wisecrack, delivered by Irish writer Mary Colum in the presence of Hemingway's editor, Maxwell Perkins. And Hemingway never kept a six-toed cat at his home in Key West--contrary to the claims of tour guides that the six-toed felines there now are descended from Hemingway's original. An annoyed Patrick Hemingway told a reporter in 1997 that his father had cats at his home in Cuba, not in Florida.
Yet the exaggerations and myths aside, Hemingway's genuinely dramatic, moving experiences during the First World War later inspired some of his greatest works. He witnessed much of the war's ghastliness; and while recuperating from his wounds he met and later was rejected by his first great love, Agnes von Kurowsky, a 26-year-old nurse at the military hospital in Milan where he was being treated.
Shortly after Hemingway's return to the United States in January 1919, von Kurowsky wrote him to break off their relationship. Calling him "Kid," she noted the seven-year difference in their ages and said she had fallen in love with an older man. Hurt but proud, Hemingway would use his emotional wounds--then and later--as the basis for stories such as "In Another Country" and novels such as A Farewell to Arms and For Whom the Bell Tolls that captured the imagination of readers for generations. The opening paragraph of "In Another Country," wrote Lynn, is the "matchless...creation of a poet working at the pinnacle of his power":
In the fall the war was always there, but we did not go to it any more. It was cold in the fall in Milan and the dark came very early. Then the electric lights came on, and it was pleasant along the streets looking in the windows. There was much game hanging outside the shops, and the snow powdered in the fur of the foxes and the wind blew their tails. The deer hung stiff and heavy and empty, and small birds blew in the wind and the wind turned their feathers. It was a cold fall and the wind came down from the mountains.
"This is to tell you about a young man named Ernest Hemmingway [sic], who lives in Paris (an American)...and has a brilliant future.... He's the real thing." --F. Scott Fitzgerald, letter to editor Maxwell Perkins, 1924
"...everybody you use in your stuff goes and gets a gun." --Guy Hickok, Hemingway friend, 1927
Throughout his life, Hemingway's fiction was largely autobiographical, with individuals and incidents thinly disguised and easily linked to real places and people--often far from flatteringly.
In 1920, Hemingway moved to Chicago, went to work for a publication called The Cooperative Commonwealth, and began submitting stories to major magazines--The Saturday Evening Post, Redbook--which rejected all of them. At a party he met Hadley Richardson, the lively, adventurous daughter of a self-centered mother and charming but incompetent father who killed himself when she was 12. Hemingway was immediately attracted to her and they were married on September 3, 1921.
After arranging to become the first foreign correspondent of the Toronto Star, Hemingway embarked with Hadley for Paris that December. They financed themselves with money he had saved and the trust-fund income she received.
It was a grand time for expatriates in Paris. Terrible inflation made the French franc cheap and life exceedingly pleasant for those with foreign currency. Hemingway and Hadley lived in spartan quarters, but they ate well, had an active social life and traveled widely.
Through introductory letters provided by author Sherwood Anderson, whom he'd met in Chicago, Hemingway soon joined one of the century's most celebrated literary colonies, becoming friends with many of its key members, including James Joyce, Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound and Gertrude Stein.
Apart from his journalism, Hemingway worked fiercely on short stories and a novel, striving mightily, he later said, to "write one true sentence and then go on from there." His goal of a leaner, more pure form of writing was not easily achieved. "The sentences in his blue notebooks were a palimpsest of erasures, deletions, and insertions," Lynn observed.
From those notebooks came his first book, Three Stories & Ten Poems (1923), which his straight-laced parents considered "filth" and refused to have in their home. It was followed by In Our Time (1925), featuring the first of his stories about the youthful experiences of Nick Adams, a character that clearly was himself (although he denied it); Torrents of Spring (1926), a cruel parody of his first mentor, Sherwood Anderson, written to force his then-publisher, also Anderson's, to cancel Hemingway's contract so he could sign with Scribner's, a house of greater distinction. His next novel, The Sun Also Rises, about the "lost generation" of aimless, war-scarred expatriate Americans and English in Europe, featured characters modeled on the friends with whom Hemingway and Hadley had traveled around the Continent, and its success was substantial. It sold 23,000 copies its first year.
The Sun Also Rises quickly became a cult book. Critic Edmund Wilson wrote that Hemingway "expressed the romantic disillusion and set the favorite pose for the period. It was the moment of gallantry in heartbreak, grim and nonchalant banter, and heroic dissipation. The great watchword was 'Have a drink'; and in the bars of New York and Paris the young people were getting to talk like Hemingway."
After writing another astonishingly successful collection of powerful short stories, Men Without Women (1927), Hemingway published A Farewell to Arms (1929), which sold a stunning 70,000 copies within four months. It heralded his ascension as "the uncrowned king of the young American writers," as literary historian Tom Dardis observed.
Considered by many as the best American novel about love and war, A Farewell to Arms is the story of the tragically unconsummated affair between an American soldier emasculated by a war wound and an English nurse. Interspersing the tale of unfulfillable love with spare, compelling accounts of the grimness of the First World War, Hemingway states his philosophy of stoicism through his main character, Frederic Henry:
If people bring so much courage to this world, the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.
As Lynn observed, Hemingway's own epitaph might be "Strong at the broken places." He was "a more truly heroic figure than even the gaudiest version of his myth would grant him," Lynn wrote.
"Was not referring to guts but to something else. Grace under pressure. Guts never made any money for anybody except violin string manufacturers." --Ernest Hemingway, definition of a matador's courage in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald, April 20, 1926
As early as 1922, Hemingway's marriage to Hadley was on shaky ground. She became pregnant the following year. Hemingway was not prepared to become a father and viewed the birth of John Hadley Nicanor Hemingway in October 1923 as a decidedly mixed blessing.
By 1927, Hemingway had become infatuated with Pauline Pfeiffer, a well-to-do, would-be writer who had met him and Hadley at a party in Paris. Pauline set out with determination to win Hemingway away from his wife, and Hadley finally agreed to give him a divorce. In retrospect, he always regretted the breakup with Hadley. "I wish I had died before I ever loved anyone but her," he wrote three decades later in A Moveable Feast, his posthumously published memoir of his Paris years.
Hemingway married Pauline in May 1927. By virtue of the largesse of her Uncle Gus Pfeiffer, they settled into a spacious Paris apartment and continued Hemingway's habit of extensive travel. Finding Paris less congenial--in part because many of his friends were angered by his transparent depictions of them in The Sun Also Rises--he spent less and less time in France. Thanks to his wife's ever-generous family, they moved to Key West in 1930 and by the following year lived in a house on Whitehead Street that Uncle Gus paid $8,000 to acquire for them. Hemingway produced some memorable work there, but he brutally denigrated Key West, then a rustic enclave of 10,000, as a "Jew administered phony of a town."
His next book, Death in the Afternoon (1932), was a nonfiction encomium to the art of Spanish bullfighting. An African safari in late 1933 and early 1934 provided the basis for another nonfiction work, The Green Hills of Africa (1935), as well as "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" and "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber"--both of which dealt ominously with the adverse effects of money and women on a man. Hemingway published To Have and Have Not, his only novel set almost entirely in the United States, in 1937. Poorly constructed and critically scorned, it describes the impact of the Great Depression on Key West and a local resident, a "conch" named Harry Morgan, who resorts to crime to survive and is broken by it.
Although Hemingway and Pauline had two sons, Patrick, born in 1928, and Gregory, born in 1931, their relationship was tempestuous. By the time the Spanish Civil War erupted in 1936, he was drawn by its drama--and by the opportunity it gave him to get away from his wife.
He happened upon an ideal companion for his trip to Spain when he walked into Sloppy Joe's in Key West in December 1936 and met Martha Gellhorn, then 28 and an up-and-coming journalist and author. In a repeat of history, Martha set out to capture Hemingway just as Pauline had snared him from Hadley. He proved a willing quarry.
Hemingway made the first of his three wartime trips to Spain in 1937. Martha followed and moved in with him at the Hotel Florida in Madrid. They went to fronts where the fighting was intense and their bravery was undisputed. His coverage of the conflict is considered among the finest war reporting ever done. Martha paid close attention and learned how to become a war correspondent. During the Second World War, she would outshine him--much to his dismay. In a list of the best works of twentieth-century journalism recently compiled by New York University, her book of war reporting, The Face of War, ranks right after Hemingway's reports on the Spanish Civil War.
During his trips to Spain in 1937 and 1938, Hemingway also gathered material for what became For Whom the Bell Tolls, one of the most acclaimed novels of the century. Its tale of an American's enlistment on the side of the Fascist-fighting Loyalist forces, and his love affair with a Spanish woman, was immensely popular with both critics and the public.
Hemingway's marriage to Pauline lasted until 1940, the year For Whom the Bell Tolls, much of it written in Havana, was published to rave reviews and stupendous sales, second only to Gone with the Wind. Martha had joined Hemingway in Havana and found him living in an appallingly unkempt hotel room. ("Ernest was extremely dirty, one of the most unfastidious men I've ever known," she said years later.) She searched for a home and found Finca Vigía, which she persuaded him to buy for $18,500. Once Hemingway's divorce from Pauline became final, he married Martha and they settled in on the finca (farm).
Hemingway later said that Cuba held many attractions for him--the cool morning breezes, which enabled him "to work as well there...[as] anywhere in the world"; the nearby Gulf Stream, where he found the finest fishing he'd ever experienced while plying the waters on his 38-foot powerboat, Pilar; pigeon-shooting matches and cockfights; the 18 varieties of mango that grew on his farm; the rum that went into the famous double frozen Daiquiris--the "Papa Doble"--made and named for him at El Floridita.
What he evidently did not find of interest in Havana were cigars. Although he had learned to smoke Russian cigarettes during the First World War, and once described himself in a humorous 1935 story about Key West as "sitting on the verandah enjoying a cheroot," he told a writer in 1950 that he didn't smoke because it diminished his sense of smell. In The Sun Also Rises, Count Mippipopolous makes a great ceremony out of clipping his cigar with a gold cutter and proclaiming "I like a cigar to really draw," but apparently that was a procedure and preference Hemingway rarely practiced.
By the time Hemingway and Martha married, war was raging in Europe and his beloved Paris had fallen to the Nazis. Martha was more interested in covering the war than he was, went to Europe on her own, and ridiculed what she considered his play-acting attempts to use the Pilar to hunt for German submarines off the coast of Cuba.
Hemingway was by no means cowardly about returning to combat; rather, he may have feared that his reputation for bravado would require him to take unnecessary chances. Nevertheless, Martha's goading--and her clear success as a war correspondent--apparently persuaded him to head overseas. He did so by co-opting her credentials as a correspondent for Collier's, then a major magazine.
Once in England and then in France, he subjected himself to coverage of fierce fighting, including the Battle of the Bulge, and suffered several severe concussions due to accidents in military vehicles in London and on the battlefront. Although he displayed "bravery that bordered on the lunatic," as Kenneth Lynn put it, and had greater knowledge of German tank and gun locations than most military men, Hemingway also earned the enmity of other correspondents. They considered him a blowhard and a showboat. Hemingway was determined that the Second World War would enhance his myth--and he strove to add luster to it.
Martha was hardly as compliant as either Hadley or Pauline had been, and in the end it was she who broke from Hemingway, rather than the other way around. By that time, however, he already was wooing a young correspondent for Time magazine named Mary Welsh ("Miss Mary"), whom he had met in London. She would become his fourth and final wife. Shortly after his divorce from Martha, he married Mary in Cuba in March 1946.
Have spent my life straightening out rummies and all my life drinking, but since writing is my true love I never get the two things mixed up. --Ernest Hemingway to A. E. Hotchner, September 1949
By the time Hemingway returned to Cuba after the Second World War, he was beginning to lose his battle against the bottle and his inner demons. As early as 1937, he had been warned by a physician that he had to give up drinking, but he always insisted on his ability--which he often demonstrated--to cut back on the booze when he had to write. That skill now was diminishing.
He began a lengthy novel, published posthumously in 1986 as The Garden of Eden, that featured a love affair between a couple fascinated by androgyny and transfixed by the switching of their sexual identities. By 1947 he had abandoned the book as "too hot to handle" and begun another, his "sea novel," published posthumously in 1970 as Islands in the Stream. It also contained an exchange of sexual roles by a husband and wife--and was abandoned unfinished as well.
Nearly a decade had passed since he had published A Farewell to Arms. He spent most of his time fishing, hunting--and drinking. At El Floridita, they made a Papa Doble by combining two and one-half jiggers of Bacardi White Label Rum, the juice of two limes and half a grapefruit, plus six drops of maraschino, all whirred together with shaved ice in an electric mixer. Hemingway proudly held the house record for consuming 16 of them in one sitting. That meant he drank approximately 60 ounces of 80-proof rum, the juice of 32 limes and eight grapefruits, 96 drops of maraschino--and still managed to walk out under his own steam. According to journalist George Plimpton, who got to know Hemingway well during extensive interviews during the 1950s, one could see the bulge of his liver "stand out from his body like a long fat leech."
In 1949, he furiously set to work on another novel, Across the River and Into the Trees, which was published in 1950 to almost universal ridicule. The tale of an aging, heavy-drinking retired U.S. Army officer and his love affair with a Venetian girl was viewed as an unwitting self-parody.
With one last, great effort, he rebounded with panache. He took a portion of his unfinished sea novel, written in six weeks, and turned it into The Old Man and the Sea. Published in 1952, this novella about an aged Cuban fisherman's fight with a giant marlin won him the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1953 and secured the bestowal of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. He wrote nothing of consequence thereafter.
Things may not be immediately discernible in what a man writes, and in this sometimes he is fortunate; but eventually they are quite clear and by these and the degree of alchemy that he possesses he will endure or be forgotten. --Ernest Hemingway, Nobel Prize speech, 1954
Flush with the success of The Old Man and the Sea (which included $25,000 for the movie rights and another $25,000 for his services as a consultant on the fishing scenes), Hemingway set off on a final safari to Africa. It was a disaster. Drunk most of the time, he fell out of a speeding Land Rover and was badly injured; shot so poorly that he began taking credit for kills that clearly were made by another; and was involved in two airplane crashes--one nearly fatal. He sustained crushed vertebrae in his lower back, another concussion, and injuries to his liver, spleen and one of his kidneys. Later, when a brush fire broke out near his camp on the Kenyan coast, he helped battle the blaze and suffered severe burns.
It was Hemingway's indomitable spirit that impressed the great portrait photographer, Jousuf Karsh, when he visited Finca Vigía in 1957. Although he discovered that Hemingway "had a wonderful smile--alive, kindly, and full of understanding," when Karsh developed his negatives, the photo he decided to print was the one that has become among the most iconographic he ever took: "a true portrait, the face of a giant cruelly battered by life, but invincible."
Perhaps the only Karsh portrait better known than his Hemingway likeness is the photo he took of Winston Churchill in 1941. Karsh, now 90, recalls how, with only moments in which to take Churchill's portrait, he politely but decisively plucked a smoldering cigar from the great man's mouth before snapping the shutter, immortalizing his scowl--and determination.
Replying by e-mail to the question of whether anything he did or said to Hemingway prompted the sad, almost wistful look in the famous portrait--which some see as a harbinger of his tragic end--Karsh says that on the contrary, the photo session with Papa was enormously pleasant:
"In the light of Hemingway's later suicide, and the fact that so many viewers feel that my portrait was prescient, I must confess that our conversation during the sitting, punctuated by Chianti, was lighthearted and genial. There was no question that Hemingway was sometimes in physical pain, the result of a recent plane crash in Africa, but his psychological mood that morning was affirmative, gracious, and totally absorbed in our joint photographic collaboration. Unlike my portrait session with Winston Churchill, which lasted for four minutes, I spent the entire morning at Hemingway's home.... No such dramatic incident, as with Churchill, elicited the expression from Hemingway."
And as for that famous turtleneck sweater Hemingway wore for Karsh's portrait, Karsh reveals that he was the one who chose it.
"The sweater Hemingway wore in my photograph was chosen by me from a selection offered by Hemingway and his wife, Miss Mary. Miss Mary was especially delighted that I had chosen this suede-and-hand-knit garment because it was her gift to Hemingway for his birthday. She had it especially designed for him by the great couturier Christian Dior, and was not a little taken aback when she received his bill--the equivalent of one month's housekeeping allowance."
By the time Karsh took the portrait, Hemingway was drinking about a quart of liquor a day, in addition to morning Chianti, wine with lunch and dinner, plus nightcaps. He was working on A Moveable Feast but abandoned it, as he did every book he tried to write then. (It was published posthumously in 1964.)
When Scribner's decided to reissue Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway traveled with Mary to Spain in 1959 so he could include fresh material on bullfighting. Apprised of his trip, Life magazine commissioned him to write a report on bullfights. The journey was one long drunk, and its overblown literary result, "The Dangerous Summer," left him feeling "ashamed and sick to have done such a job."
That year, Fidel Castro's revolution against Cuban president Fulgencio Batista initially pleased Hemingway. He believed the Batista government to be irretrievably corrupt. "I wish Castro all luck," he said, and had a brief, cordial meeting with the new leader on May 15, 1960, at the annual Hemingway Fishing Contest in Havana, during which Castro won a trophy for the "largest individual accumulation."
Politics had never been a preoccupation for Papa, however, and as Castro came to power, Hemingway was coming apart at the seams, emotionally and physically. The turmoil in Cuba and Castro's proclamation of a communist regime in 1960 made little impression on Hemingway, as depression and paranoia began overwhelming him. He was convinced friends were trying to kill him, the FBI was after him, and that he was on the verge of poverty. Hospitalized that November at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, he was given electroshock treatments over the next two months. He had to turn down an invitation to attend the January 1961 inauguration of John F. Kennedy, whom he admired, and upon returning to his new home in Ketchum, Idaho, he began work again on his Paris memoir. Soon he found that he could write practically nothing at all. Asked to contribute a couple of sentences for a book of handwritten tributes to Kennedy, he spent hours at the task but was unable to complete it.
Having lost the one ability that meant more to him than anything--and perhaps having finally acknowledged his alcoholism--Hemingway sank ever deeper into depression. He was hospitalized at the Mayo Clinic again in April 1961 and received more electroshock treatments. The last thing he wrote was a warm, encouraging letter to a friend's nine-year-old son, who was hospitalized with a serious heart ailment. He still had a fine eye for scenery: "Saw some good bass jump in the river. I never knew anything about the upper Mississippi before and it is really a very beautiful country and there are plenty of pheasants and ducks in the fall. But not as many as in Idaho and I hope we'll both be back there shortly and can joke about our hospital experiences together." He signed off: "Best always to you, old timer, from your good friend who misses you very much. (Mister) Papa."
Hemingway persuaded his doctors that he was well enough to be released in late June. He put the shotgun to his head only two days after he got home.
He was buried between two towering pine trees in the Ketchum town cemetery. Five years later, a bust of him was placed on a stone pedestal at Trail Creek, outside of town. On the pedestal was inscribed something Hemingway had written about a friend:
Best of all he loved the fall
The leaves yellow on the cottonwoods
Leaves floating on the trout streams
And above the hills
The high blue windless sky
Now he will be a part of them forever.
Neil A. Grauer, a Baltimore writer and caricaturist, is the author of Remember Laughter: A Life of James Thurber.
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Dale Siemon — May 6, 2011 11:32am ET
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