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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

(continued from page 1)

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.

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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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