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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 7)

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.


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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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