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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 2)

"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.")

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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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