Thursday, October 5, 2017

Tom's Two Cents : A Farewell to Hemingway

In the past five years or so, I've re-read most of Ernest Hemingway's major work, and I'm very sorry to say (especially in print!) that I don't think it's standing the test of time very well.  Of course I'm aware that artists, musicians, and writers, great ones, go in and out of fashion: a hundred years ago some museums had their Rembrandts stored in the basement. In his own children's time, or shortly thereafter, Bach all but disappeared from the classical repertory; and now certain so-called "great" writers are being re-evaluated.  Fitzgerald, for example, did not receive great recognition in his own time. Now "Gatsby" at any rate is up there with the best of them.

I'm one of those who, in the 50's, grew up under the spell of Hemingway's style and tried for much of my limited writing career to emulate him.  Of course I was never a Hemingway man: I didn't hunt or fish or run with the bulls in Pamplona or go on African safari, but I suppose I bought into the Hem legend of being (or wanting to be) a "Hemingway Man."  The Hem Man lived fast and loose, attracted both women and men, wrote with disciplinary precision, and, perhaps most important, faced danger and death heroically and stoically.  Hemingway did all or most of these things, except tragically he did not die young.  It seems the one thing he could NOT face was old-age disability and psychic and physical impotence.  If he had died in war or been gored by a bull or torn apart by an African lion, his death would have doubtless been considered heroic.  Instead, he put a shotgun in his mouth and killed himself.

Nonetheless, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in the 50's, principally for his then-considered powerful style and his late novella, "The Old Man and the Sea."  Neither of these is greatly admired today.  Hemingway's machismo persona comes across as rather comical, and his lean, journalistic style has been so often imitated and parodied that today it seems clich├ęd. 

What is left?  Maybe "A Moveable Feast," Hemingway's recollections of Paris in the 20's, which I do remember reading fairly recently with great respect.  As to the three great novels, "The Sun Also Rises," "A Farewell to Arms," and "For Whom the Bell Tolls," I leave it for future generations to decide.  Hard to believe that his earliest work is now approaching its 100th anniversary!

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