Sunday, September 25, 2011

Papa's life

A fine essay on Hemingway by James Salter, a review of the new book by Paul Hendrickson.

NY Review of Books: ... From his father, who loved the natural world, Hemingway learned in childhood to fish and shoot, and a love of these things shaped his life along with a third thing, writing. Almost from the first there is his distinct voice. In his journal of a camping trip he took with a friend when he was sixteen years old, he wrote of trout fishing, “Great fun fighting them in the dark in the deep swift river.” His style was later said to have been influenced by Sherwood Anderson, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, journalism, and the forced economy of transatlantic cables, but he had his own poetic gift and also the intense desire to give to the reader the full and true feeling of what happened, to make the reader feel it had happened to him. He pared things down. He left out all that could be readily understood or taken for granted and the rest he delivered with savage exactness. There is a nervy tension in his writing. The words seem to stand almost in defiance of one another. The powerful early stories that were made of simple declaratives seemed somehow to break through into a new language, a genuine American language that had so far been undiscovered, and with it was a distinct view of the world.

... the sea, Key West, Cuba, all the places, the life he had and gloried in. His commanding personality comes to life again in these pages, his great charm and warmth as well as his egotism and aggression.

“Forgive him anything,” as George Seldes’s wife said in the early days, “he writes like an angel.”


botti said...

Excellent essay. I haven't read any of Hemmingway's books, although I think my dad has a compilation of his novels that I should borrow. My knowledge of Hemmingway comes primarily from a book called 'Intellectuals' by conservative British historian Paul Johnson (I got it for $2 at a charity book fair). The book focuses on the personal lives and foibles of various intellectual figures over the past 300 years. Johnson mainly targets leftist figures, I think Eveyln Waugh is the sole conservative in the book.  Here's an excerpt from the chapter on Hemminway:

"He had issued a warning in To Have and Have Not: 'The better you treat a man and the more you show him you love him, the quicker he gets tired of you.' He meant it...

Then there was the dirt: she objected strongly to the pack of fierce tomcats he kept in Cuba, which smelled fearfully and were allowed to march all over the dining table. While he was away in 1943 she had them castrated, and thereafter he would mutter fiercely: 'She cut my cats.'

Justin Loe said...

The Old Man and the Sea is one of the best books I've ever read. Its treatment of the old man's encounter with the ocean and the elements is compelling and accurate because, as the photo is this posting illustrates, Hemingway went fishing himself. Hemingway was able to write compellingly about WWI because he was there as an ambulance driver in Italy in 1918, and again he was present in Spain for part of the Civil War from 1937-1938. Hemingway was a direct participant in or witness of many of the major events of WWI, the Spanish Civil War, and the Allied invasion of Germany. His characterization of the depravity and tragedy of war in his writing in A Farewell to Arms also makes him one of the important writers to capture the tragedy of WWI, along with Remargue's All Quiet on the Western Front. That keen sense for realism may also have been at work in his suicide, and in the suicide of four other Hemingway's: Ernest Hemingway's father, Clarence, Leicester Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway's brother, Ursula Hemingway, his sister, and Ernest Hemingway's granddaughter, Marguax Hemingway. 

sykes.1 said...

Hemingway is one of the two or three great writers of the 20th Century, and anyone who hasn't read him has missed something.

As to his style, the other example of extremely lean writing is the Old Testament. I wonder if it influenced him as well?

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