Why am I such a big Hemingway Fan?
That’s a great question. I will try and answer it.
I am a closet Hemingway junkie. His books seem to talk about every part of the human condition- action, sex, lies, deceit, love, lust, bravery and passion. I love them all.
A good book in the hands of an admiring reader is a personal relationship, it’s a love affair. Hemingway gave me ways to think deeply about myself and how I viewed the world, especially war.
In his books, I saw the battlefields of Europe, bullfights in Spain, hunted big game in Africa and fished the palm-fringed paradise of the pristine waters of the Gulf Coast of Cuba. Reading an author you love, you can learn a lot.
This is what I learned from reading Hemingway.
American literature is one of the world’s youngest literary art forms. In many ways, it is an offshoot of English literature, over time it has achieved its own independence and vigor.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the United States produced only a small number of notable writers. In the 19th century, as the country expanded westward and grew, the number increased greatly. By the early 20th century the number of outstanding writers almost became a flood.
Ernest Hemingway may be America’s most famous writer of fiction. His characters and stories made him the most influential writer English prose in the 20th century.
For nearly 40 years he cast a shadow over the American literary scene. His work was imitated, reworked, or assimilated by almost three generations of writers and fans.
The Distinct Hemingway style
Hemingway introduced me to the richness and purpose of spare language. Saying something in simple and succinct prose rather than in an elaborate or, God forbid, boring style.
Hemingway in his prime was de-furnishing, stripping away the English-American writing language of the early 20th Century. He was leaving things out to pull people in. His style soon became the dominant one. We tend to forget that in his time he was an experimental, avant-garde writer.
Hemingway used that style on the oldest American story of them all: the boy who sets out his grand adventure. He made that subject go with his new style of writing. Hemingway is sometimes described as being simple. You will never run to get a dictionary when reading a Hemingway novel.
Hemingway is far from simple. In his writing, he uses pure colors to describe something. The effects are not simple. His simplicity was used to evoke an emotion.
He loved to take sentences and boil them down to their bare bones. His terse, minimalist style of writing stripped away adjectives and, like his heroes got straight to the point.
His clear, simple sentences strike some readers as “hard-boiled” and “tight-lipped.” The opposite is true. His simplicity camouflages deep, hard-to-control passion. A Hemingway scene in short, sharp, with no adjectives text, is a camera “shot” of what the character is doing, seeing, smelling and most important-feeling. Hemingway would describe a scene so you would feel it as if you were really there.
Hemingway the Writer
Hemingway’s public image as a war correspondent, big-game hunter, and deep sea fisherman competes with his own image as a writer. He is a master of the short story.
To Hemingway, every other pursuit, including drinking, fighting, chasing women, took second place to write. He was almost superstitious about writing. That by talking about it might inhibit his muse. Putting together ideas on paper can be a demanding task.
There are suggestions and tricks of the trade that we can learn by looking at his working habits and advice he gives to aspiring writers. Like in most professions, those who can’t, teach. Writing is something I teach well, lol. By looking at Hemingway’s career as a writer, we can learn a little about the craft.
Man of Letters
First and foremost Hemingway is a literary man- a writer who loved to read books. Sometimes that’s forgotten in all the talk about safaris, deep sea fishing tales and war stories.
Most folks think of Hemingway as a romantic soldier-of-fortune wandering from the bars to the bedrooms of beautiful ladies to watching bullfights. He was a very serious writer, with a self-discipline approaching severe.
The Hemingway Hero Code
There is a cult of manhood around Hemingway. He constantly wrote about the “virility” and “manhood” of his protagonists. He uses action as a way of not having to confront the complexities of the human soul. His heroes deal with their problems by acting, not thinking.
He addresses the way a man should act with personal courage and integrity in the face of inevitable defeat. His heroes are sometimes defeated. Yet, they return to battle and certain death.
Shaping of the Man
Two episodes of Hemingway’s life take shape in his writing. First, a German mortar shell wounded him in World War I. The explosion and wound both nearly kill him.
First, he suffered for months a painful and terrible wound to his right leg. His wounded leg was almost amputated.
Second, his father committed suicide when he was 28 years old. Hemingway was close to his dad, who taught him how to hunt and fish.
The two themes play out again and again in his work.
I am writing a biography of Hemingway based on the provoking theory that Hemingway’s severe wounding in World War I, and the suicide of his dad, so traumatized the novelist that his fiction was to a significant degree unwitting self-psychoanalysis.
As a wounded veteran who lost a beloved father at a young age, these are themes I relate too. The passivity of your emotions due to the chaos of war and overwhelming loss are things avoided at all costs in Hemingway’s stories. His work, I believe, is about him resolving these two issues. Writing about him is my way of resolving my own issues.
His heroes run out- shooting something or getting into a fight. It’s the ultimate act of evasion. I just read and write about Hemingway, lol. Okay, time to move on and finish this one out- stay curious and work hard!