As the Hemingway Turns …
When I last left you all, I was in the middle of reading The Paris Wife (see previous posts for reference). I’ve since finished that, read The Sun Also Rises in about two days and am at this writing about 125 pages into Hemingway by Kenneth Lynn, a 600-plus page biography that got pretty good reviews on Amazon.
First I want to amend my thoughts on The Paris Wife. While I stand by what I said, that last maybe quarter of the book was incredible. It should have been the majority of the story instead of such a small part. The emotional pain Hadley experiences at the end of her marriage, facing the fact that Ernest chose his mistress over his family, all of it was heartbreaking. I bawled like a baby over it. It’s one of those literary moments that haunts people for life. It made up for the other 75 percent of the book, which was only so-so and I probably wouldn’t have continued reading if I wasn’t a writer fascinated by Hemingway’s processes. Based on that last 25 percent, I recommend the book. Plus, it was a best-seller so I’m probably in the minority in my disappointment. I generally am.
I moved on from there to Sun. I chose it for my foray into the world of Ernest Hemingway because it fit with Paris. During his time in Paris, while married to Hadley, they went annually to the Pamplona running of the bulls festival and attended bull fights (I won’t get into my thoughts on that cruel barbarity). During one of those trips, several friends joined them. There is a photograph from that trip that I come across often when doing my google searches to help educate myself about the history of this man that comes up often of the small group sitting in a cafe in Pamplona.
Sun is about that trip. He changed some names and a few details and left his wife entirely out of the story, but otherwise, it’s about those people and that trip. And it is not flattering! I think maybe he left Hadley out because he loved her and the characters in that book are just … awful. In the end, he gave all the royalties from the book to Hadley so I guess in the end, she got to be part of the story.
Sun isn’t considered Hemingway’s greatest work and it was a strange book in that there really was no plot. Or maybe a very weak plot that the reader has to kind of search out. It was just a story about a series of events that happened to this group of people. But I still enjoyed it on a certain level. Almost like a course in creative writing without having to sit in a classroom.
I’m discovering how very much I have in common with this man. It’s all very strange. I’ve always said that my time as a journalist was the best thing that ever happened to my creative writing style. The quick, active, short way one must write newspaper articles — getting to the point quickly and using limited space to convey a vast amount of information — translates excellently into short story and novel-writing. One learns to not waste words or over-describe. Turns out, Hemingway learned the exact same lesson in the exact same way I did. He began his writing career in journalism and he learned to write fiction by emulating the journalistic style.
I hate to compare myself to him because he’s considered so widely to be one of the best writers in history and especially of the twentieth century and I haven’t even published a short story. Maybe I’m arrogant in my comparison, but I see so much of my style in his. I see the writer I maybe am not yet but want to be some day. There is a reason he keeps popping up in my life lately. I firmly believe that.
But the similarities don’t end with the writing style. His biography goes into descriptions of the home in which he was born (his maternal grandparents’ home) and the one his parents built after his grandfather’s death. I had to look them both up and found that his birth home, aside from the color, is exactly the house I picture in my head that features prominently in one of the novels I’m writing. It’s a Victorian with a cupola and a wrap-around porch.
But I’m not mean enough to write as he did. In his early days he didn’t even bother changing people’s names in the stories he wrote about them. At one point in the biography, Lynn says that Hemingway’s favorite nickname in high school was “Hemingstein” because he was “enough of an anti-Semite” to find it funny to make fun of Jewish names.
That made me pretty angry. I started thinking that I should stop reading his work. It made me wonder why he’s so beloved. But then I pulled back and remembered that Gertrude Stein was his very close friend and mentor and also godmother to his first child. And later in the book, it turns out he dated a Jewish girl when he returned from World War I. And then I started thinking about how he wrote about people who were supposed to be his friends and how he treated people who went out of their way to help him (who were not Jewish) and I realized that Hemingway just didn’t like anyone.
This post has been kind of rambling and it’s really just becoming a commentary of my thoughts as I read and learn, so there’s no good way to end it. I will just say … Until next time. Hopefully by then I’ll have finished the biography and read a couple more Hemingway books. The Old Man and the Sea is up next, but that’s only 125 pages, so I’ll probably finish it in a day.