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
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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.
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Dale Siemon — May 6, 2011 11:32am ET
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