Category Archive 'Ernest Hemingway'
01 Jul 2017

Dead Authors Cannot Punch Them Out

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Does he look queer to you?

Adam Gopnik, in the New Yorker, relishes the irony of the recent posthumous conscription of Papa by the academical Homintern.

It’s difficult for people who weren’t around at the time to grasp the scale of the Hemingway cult in twentieth-century America. As late as 1965, the editor of The Atlantic could write reverently of scenes from a kind of Ernest Hemingway Advent calendar: “Wine-stained moods in the sidewalk cafés and roistering nights in Left Bank boîtes. Walking home alone in the rain. Talk of death, and scenes of it, in the Spanish sun. Treks and trophies in Tanganyika’s green hills. Duck-shooting in the Venetian marshes. . . . Loving and drinking and fishing out of Key West and Havana.” It was real fame, too, not the thirty-minutes-with-Terry Gross kind that writers have to content themselves with now. To get close to the tone of it today, you would have to imagine the literary reputation of Raymond Carver joined with the popularity and political piety of Bruce Springsteen. “Papa” Hemingway was not just a much admired artist; he was seen as a representative American public man. He represented the authority of writing even for people who didn’t read.

The debunking, when it came, came hard. As the bitter memoirs poured out, we got alcoholism, male chauvinism, fabulation, malice toward those who had made the mistake of being kind to him—all that. Eventually there came, from his avid estate, the lucrative but not reputation-enhancing publication of posthumous novels. The brand continues: his estate licenses the “Ernest Hemingway Collection,” which includes an artisanal rum, Papa’s preferred eyewear, and heavy Cuban-style furniture featuring “leather-like vinyl with a warm patina.” (What would Papa have said of that!) But few would now give the old man the heavyweight championship of literature for which he fought so hard, not least because thinking of literature as an elimination bout is no longer our style. We think of it more as a quilting bee, with everyone having a chance to add a patch, and the finest patches often arising from the least privileged quilters. In recent decades, Hemingway has represented the authority of writing only for people who never read.

Suddenly, though, there has been an academic revival in Hemingway studies in which, with an irony no satirist could have imagined, Hemingway, who in his day exemplified American macho, has, through our taste for “queering the text,” become Hemingway the gender bender. The Hemingway Review can now contain admiring articles with subtitles like “Sodomy and Transvestic Hallucination in Hemingway.

WT

28 May 2017

New Hemingway Bio

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No major writer’s works more explicitly express everything frowned upon today than Ernest Hemingway’s. Hemingway’s obsession with masculinity, stoicism, and competence; his fascination with war and with violence; his personal enthusiasm for blood sports like hunting, fishing, and bull fighting; his consistently flaunted masculinity and frank contempt for male homosexuality inevitably make Ernest Hemingway the important writer of the last century most offensive to everything sacred to today’s politically correct sensibility. Despite all of which, he continues to be read, he remains an important cultural icon, and the biographies keep on coming.

The petulant (then left-wing) poof Auden once complained of the ability of literary quality to overcome ideological propriety.


Time that is intolerant
Of the brave and the innocent,
And indifferent in a week
To a beautiful physique,

Worships language and forgives
Everyone by whom it lives;
Pardons cowardice, conceit,
Lays its honours at their feet.

Time that with this strange excuse
Pardoned Kipling and his views,
And will pardon Paul Claudel,
Pardons him for writing well.

Paul Hendrickson, six years ago, did a really excellent study of Ernest Hemingway’s personal decline-and-fall, “Amid So Much Ruin, Still the Beauty,” taking Papa’s fishing boat, the Pilar, as a kind of metonymyic symbol for the final 27 years and three months of the author’s life.

Mary V. Dearborn, previous biographer of Norman Mailer, Henry Miller, and Peggy Guggenheim, just published another new full-scale Hemingway bio. I am currently reading and enjoying it. Who would have imagined that a female author would, in this day and age, treat the old scapegrace so sympathetically.

You can tell that she is going to do a fine job, just by looking at her choice of cover photo.

11 Apr 2017

Style is Often Crap

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Tom Simon takes a pretty successful poke at Annie Proulx in the course of a lengthy attack on pretentious literary modernism. Yay, Papa Hemingway! Boo! Jimmy Joyce!

This mania for stylistic weirdness, enforced by the blocking troops of Modernist criticism, led in the end to a situation where even quite ordinary newspaper reviewers would shout praise for the ‘experimental’ brilliance of bad prose rather than admit to the nudity of the reigning monarch. One of the reigning monarchs of the nineties was Annie Proulx, who was extravagantly lauded for the following sentence in Accordion Crimes. A woman has just had her arms chopped off by sheet metal, and this is how Proulx describes it:

    She stood there, amazed, rooted, seeing the grain of the wood of the barn clapboards, paint jawed away by sleet and driven sand, the unconcerned swallows darting and reappearing with insects clasped in their beaks looking like mustaches, the wind-ripped sky, the blank windows of the house, the old glass casting blue swirled reflections at her, the fountains of blood leaping from her stumped arms, even, in the first moment, hearing the wet thuds of her forearms against the barn and the bright sound of the metal striking.

Every story is a conversation between writer and reader, even though the writer is effectively deaf and seldom hears what the reader is saying. Here is a rough transcript of the conversation as it transpires in the passage above:—

    Proulx. My character is stunned. Absolutely gobsmacked. Don’t I do a wonderful job of telling you how gobsmacked she is? She’s not just amazed, she’s rooted.

    Reader. I don’t think that’s how people react to having their arms chopped off.

    P. Now if I were one of these hack commercial writers, I’d talk about her. But see how cleverly I do everything by indirection! See how poetic I am! The barn is built of clapboards, you see—

    R. I don’t care about the clapboards. This woman is bleeding to death!

    P. And you can see the wood grain because the paint has all been worn off, but I wouldn’t put it that way, oh no, I’m a Writer, I am. So I said to myself, what’s a better action verb to use in this place? Why, chewed, of course! But that’s not poetic enough for me, because I’m a Special Snowflake, I am. So I changed it to jawed instead. Isn’t that original? Aren’t I clever? Look at meeee!

    R. I don’t think that word means what you think it means. It doesn’t mean chew; it means to natter on endlessly, just like you’re doing now. Now will you stifle it and get on with the story?

    P. Now I describe the swallows, and they’re so ironic, because they’re unconcerned, don’t you see? And they’re just carrying on about their business, darting out of sight and coming back—

    R. All this while that poor woman’s arms are flying through the air? They must be miles away by now.

    P. That’s not my point. My point is that they’re catching insects, don’t you see, and the insects are like moustaches! Isn’t that clever? Only a Writer could have come up with that simile! Look at meee!!

    R. I think you’re mistaking me for someone who cares.

    P. And then I describe the rest of the scene, and I’m just as clever about that, and the windows don’t just make reflections, they make swirled blue reflections, because I’m a Writer, I am, and look at me being all impressionist!

    R. I think I’m going to skip on a bit.

    P. Spoilsport! All right, I’ll get in a bit about my character, since you seem so anxious for me to be all boring and nasty and commercial and stick to the silly old point. What do you think I am, the six o’clock news? So her blood is spurting, no, that’s too ordinary, leaping from her stumped arms—

    R. You mean from the stumps of her arms. ‘Stumped’ means something completely different. It has to do with not having a clue, hint, hint.

    P. I’m a Writer, I am, and you can tell because I don’t let myself be limited by your silly old bourgeois rules. Her stumped arms, I said, and I’m sticking to it. And then she hears the wet thuds of her forearms—

    R. Ewwww.

    P. —against the barn, and then the sheet metal hits, and it’s not just the sound of it hitting, it’s the bright sound, because only a Writer would use something as nifty as synaesthesia to put her point across. See? I know about synaesthesia! I’m smart! Look at me! LOOK AT MEEEEEE!!!!

    R. If you don’t get on with the story, I’m going to say the Eight Deadly Words.

    P. (momentarily taken aback) Which are?

    R. ‘I don’t care what happens to these people.’ I mean, if you’re going to stand there jawing (see, I used the word correctly) about swallows and moustaches and swirly blue windows, while the woman you have just mutilated is bleeding her life away — well, if you care as little as that about your own characters, I don’t see why I should give a damn. You haven’t even noticed that she’s in pain!

    P. (angrily) This isn’t about her. This is about me! Me, meee, wonderful ME!! Damn you, why aren’t you looking at ME!!!

Of course this conversation is ruthlessly suppressed in the New York Times review by Walter Kendrick, who singled out that very sentence, in all its scarlet and purple excess, as ‘brilliant prose’. B. R. Myers was kinder to Proulx, if only in the interest of brevity:

    The last thing Proulx wants is for you to start wondering whether someone with blood spurting from severed arms is going to stand rooted long enough to see more than one bird disappear, catch an insect, and reappear, or whether the whole scene is not in bad taste of the juvenile variety.

The sad truth, I am afraid, is that self-consciously ‘literary’ writers do not write to be read; they write to impress the critics, and if their ambitions are particularly lofty, to have their books made required reading for hapless English majors. Then the English majors, or a depressingly large percentage of them, buy into the pernicious notion that this self-regarding drivel really is ‘brilliant prose’ — and, still more, that brilliancy of prose is the primary and sufficient purpose of literature — and the whole sorry swindle is perpetuated for another generation.

Proulx’s star has more or less fallen since Myers launched his attack, but the sentence cult goes on.

RTWT

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

02 Sep 2016

“Show Me the Way To Go Home”

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HemingwayHavanaBar
Ernest Hemingway in La Floridita Bar in Havana, Unknown Date

Hat tip to Henry Bernatonis.

19 Aug 2016

Hunter Thompson’s Widow Returns Hemingway Elk Antlers Stolen Decades Ago By Gonzo Journalist

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HemingwayElkAntlers

Sporting Classics:

It was roughly three years after Ernest Hemingway had committed suicide in Ketchum, Idaho. Thompson was visiting the late author’s home, trying to find what had made the area so attractive to Papa in his final days. Over the entrance to the cabin was a 6×6 set of elk antlers (it’s unclear if they were from a Hemingway hunt, but they are presumed to be). When the admiring journalist left Ketchum and headed to his home in Aspen, Colorado, so did the antlers.

That was in 1964. Some 52 years later, the antlers are back in Ketchum, returned not by Thompson himself, but by his widow.

Anita Thompson recently gave an interview to BroBible.com in which she said, “He got caught up in the moment. He had so much respect for Hemingway. He was actually very embarrassed by it.”

Hunter, 27 at the time, wanted to understand what brought Hemingway back to Idaho after years as an expatriate in one country or another. He visited Papa’s Ketchum home while on assignment for The National Observer, then headed back to write an article about his conclusions. The antlers came off the cabin’s front doorpost and along for the ride.

Thompson never boasted about the theft; never invited friends over to see his prize. As much as the gonzo journalist loved to insert himself into stories and “tell it exactly as I saw it,” he was less than forthcoming about the antlers. They stayed in semi-seclusion for the remainder of his life, hung unceremoniously in his garage.

Read on.

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Chicago Tribune:

A young Hunter S. Thompson went to Idaho to write about Ernest Hemingway and decided to take a piece of his hero home with him — a set of trophy elk antlers.

More than half a century later, the gonzo journalist’s wife returned the antlers to Hemingway’s house in the mountain town of Ketchum.

“He was embarrassed that he took them,” Anita Thompson said Thursday, noting the deep respect her husband had for Hemingway’s work. “He wished he hadn’t taken them. He was young, it was 1964, and he got caught up in the moment.

“He talked about it several times, about taking a road trip and returning them,” she said.

She gave back the antlers Aug. 5 to Ketchum Community Library, which helps catalog and preserve items in the residence where the author took his own life. It’s now owned by the Nature Conservancy.

In 1964, Hunter Thompson, then 27, came to Ketchum when he was still a conventional journalist. He had not yet developed his signature style, dubbed gonzo journalism, that involved inserting himself, often outrageously, into his reporting and that propelled him into a larger-than-life figure.

Thompson was writing a story for the National Observer about why the globe-trotting Hemingway shot and killed himself at his home three years earlier at age 61. Thompson attributed the suicide in part to rapid changes in the world that led to upheavals in places Hemingway loved most — Africa and Cuba. …

In the story, later collected in his book “The Great Shark Hunt,” he noted the problem of tourists taking chunks of earth from around Hemingway’s grave as souvenirs.

Early in the piece, he wrote about the large elk antlers over Hemingway’s front door but never mentioned taking them.

For decades, the antlers hung in a garage at Thompson’s home near Aspen, Colorado.

“One of the stories that has often been told over the years is the story of Hunter S. Thompson taking the antlers,” said the library’s Jenny Emery Davidson, who helped accept the trophy. “These are two great literary figures who came together over the item of the antlers.”

Davidson said historian Douglas Brinkley, who spoke at the library in May and was familiar with the antler story after interviewing the writer, contacted Anita Thompson. She called the library on Aug. 1.

Davidson said the antlers have since been shipped to a Hemingway grandson in New York who wanted them. It’s not clear if the antlers came from an elk killed by the author, who was a noted big game hunter, or if they were a gift.

Sean Hemingway didn’t respond to emails or phone messages seeking comment.

Like Ernest Hemingway, Thompson ended his own life by shooting himself, dying in 2005 at age 67 at his Colorado home.

His widow wants to turn the house where he lived and worked into a museum, planning to open it next year by invitation only. Like Hemingway’s home, it’s much the same as it was when Thompson was alive.

“I couldn’t open it with a clear conscience knowing there’s a stolen pair of antlers,” Anita Thompson said, noting the theft was unusual behavior, even by her husband’s standards.

HemingwayElkAntlers2
Papa Hemingway’s Elk Antlers

16 Jul 2015

Not Apropos of Anything in Particular

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HemingwayTommygun2

What do you suppose ever happened to Hemingway’s tommygun? It was kept on his fishing boat, Pilar, during the WWII era. If he didn’t sell it, it may have fallen into the hands of the bearded ones after the Cuban Revolution.

10 Aug 2014

“The Sun Also Rises:” New Bonus Edition

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HemingwayPamplona
In Pamplona in 1927.

Scribner’s recently released “The Sun Also Rises: The Hemingway Library Edition”, an edition featuring bonus materials: two introductions by Hemingway family members; an essay on bull fighting in the ’20s; samples of early revisions; the discarded first chapters; possible titles considered by the author (such as RIVER TO THE SEA or TWO LIE TOGETHER); and some new photographs, including one of Hemingway’s ticket stub for the bull fights in Pamplona.

Ian Crouch tells us, at the New Yorker:

At the start, it seems, Hemingway was attempting to write a novel very different from what would become “The Sun Also Rises,” which made his name as one of “those ones with their clear restrained writing.” He imagined a book in which the “whole business” of life gets expressed, in all of its messy detours and associations. In the same draft chapter, Hemingway goes on: “Now when my friends read this they will say it is awful. It is not what they had hoped or expected from me. Gertrude Stein once told me that remarks are not literature. All right, let it go at that. Only this time all the remarks are going in and if it is not literature who claimed it was anyway.”

This minor manifesto, embedded in a draft of his first novel, conceives of a book with greater intellectual and artistic ambitions than Hemingway ever produced—one akin to the more abstract fictions of the modernists. The line that he struck through—“It is not what they had hoped or expected from me”—becomes a potentially radical departure that Hemingway never realized, and that was nearly lost to history. Yet “The Sun Also Rises” is far from being a lesser thing, for all of its restrained clarity. It is partly a book of “literary signs,” perhaps against Hemingway’s own intentions. But it is also a book—Gertrude Stein be damned—of remarks, both in the elliptical declarations that the characters make to one another, and in the weighted silences that linger between them. “I mistrust all frank and simple people, especially when their stories hold together.” That line, which belongs to the narrator, and to the author, was there from the beginning. It is an echo of Hemingway’s more eager and brash equivocations in the drafts, a claim that there was an unseen depth to his plainspoken prose. It is an author’s note, a statement of purpose—subtly and skillfully absorbed into the art of storytelling.

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Recently at HuffPo: 15 photos of Papa, with quotations. Amusingly, the version first published was loaded with spurious examples and had to be revised. Hemingway is laughing in Hell.

03 Oct 2013

Female Beauty

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Carla Bruni

Adelle Waldman, in the New Yorker, suspiciously contemplates the power of female beauty in attracting male admiration and attention.

I have a friend who dates only exceptionally attractive women. These women aren’t trophy-wife types—they are comparable to him in age, education level, and professional status. They are just really, notably good looking, standouts even in the kind of urban milieu where regular workouts and healthy eating are commonplace and an abundance of disposable income to spend on facials, waxing, straightening, and coloring keeps the average level of female attractiveness unusually high.

My friend is sensitive and intelligent and, in almost every particular, unlike the stereotypical sexist, T & A-obsessed meathead. For years, I assumed that it was just his good fortune that the women he felt an emotional connection with all happened to be so damn hot. Over time, however, I came to realize that my friend, nice as he is, prizes extreme beauty above all the other desiderata that one might seek in a partner.

I have another friend who broke up with a woman because her body, though fit, was the wrong type for him. While he liked her personality, he felt that he’d never be sufficiently attracted to her, and that it was better to end things sooner rather than later.

Some people would say these men are fatally shallow. Others would say they are realistic about their own needs, and that there is no use beating oneself up about one’s preferences: some things cannot be changed. Those in the first camp would probably say that my friends are outliers—uniquely immature men to be avoided. Many in the second camp argue that, in fact, all men would be like the man who dates only beautiful women, if only they enjoyed his ability to snare such knockouts. In my experience, people on both sides are emphatic, and treat their position as if it is obvious and incontrovertible.

To me, these stories highlight the intense and often guilty relationship that many men have with female beauty, a subject with profound repercussions for both men and women. …

It isn’t, however, the case that men value beauty only from insecurity. If only. Then we could simply write off men who evaluate women by their looks as scheming social climbers. But the human response to beauty is also visceral.

Her credentials as a critical thinker, though, were undermined for me by her observations, unfavorably comparing the protagonist of Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road, Frank Wheeler’s rating as a ladies’ man with Papa Hemngway’s:

Frank’s relationship to April’s beauty is hardly heroic, though he aspires to meet a Hemingway-esque ideal of masculinity (he’s always clenching his jaw to look more commanding). We imagine that someone like Hemingway winds up with beautiful women as a matter of course—we don’t picture him working at it consciously, wondering whether this one’s hair is too frizzy or her hips too wide for her to be a suitable complement to the image he seeks to project. It is one of the many strengths of “Revolutionary Road” that Yates so thoroughly sees through his characters’ pretensions.

It would be pretty to think so, but Hemingway’s real record, judging by his marriages, was not impressive. Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson, was young and only on that basis was a bit more than averagely attractive.

His second wife, Pauline Pfeifer, did not capture Ernest Hemingway with her beauty. Pauline bought Hemingway’s heart with family money, allowing him to go to Africa on Safari and live life in the grand International style. Pauline was decidedly plain.

Third wife, Martha Gellhorn, was doubtless a step up in the looks department from Pauline, but Martha had a rather mannish figure, and was frigid and a shrill bolshevik to boot. No wonder that marriage only lasted slightly over four years.

Hemingway’s fourth wife, Mary Welsh was even less attractive than Pauline. Accounts of their life together indicate that they fought like cats and dogs, but she could stand up to him and did seem to function successfully at least in serving as his keeper as Hemingway’s alcoholism worsened and his health problems increased.

23 Aug 2013

Famous People’s Bookplates

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35 (mostly) interesting examples on Buzzfeed.

I’d rate Calvin Coolidge’s the best.

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But I’d most like to own a book containing this one.

05 Aug 2013

Hemingway’s Idea of Heaven

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Brainpickings:

Burguete, Navera.
July 1 [1925] –

Dear Scott –

We are going in to Pamplona tomorrow. Been trout fishing here. How are you? And how is Zelda?

I am feeling better than I’ve ever felt — haven’t drunk any thing but wine since I left Paris. God it has been wonderful country. But you hate country. All right omit description of country. I wonder what your idea of heaven would be — A beautiful vacuum filled with wealthy monogamists. All powerful and members of the best families all drinking themselves to death. And hell would probably an ugly vacuum full of poor polygamists unable to obtain booze or with chronic stomach disorders that they called secret sorrows.

To me a heaven would be a big bull ring with me holding two barrera seats and a trout stream outside that no one else was allowed to fish in and two lovely houses in the town; one where I would have my wife and children and be monogamous and love them truly and well and the other where I would have my nine beautiful mistresses on 9 different floors and one house would be fitted up with special copies of the Dial printed on soft tissue and kept in the toilets on every floor and in the other house we would use the American Mercury and the New Republic. Then there would be a fine church like in Pamplona where I could go and be confessed on the way from one house to the other and I would get on my horse and ride out with my son to my bull ranch named Hacienda Hadley and toss coins to all my illegitimate children that lined the road. I would write out at the Hacienda and send my son in to lock the chastity belts onto my mistresses because someone had just galloped up with the news that a notorious monogamist named Fitzgerald had been seen riding toward the town at the head of a company of strolling drinkers.

Well anyway were going into town tomorrow early in the morning. Write me at the / Hotel Quintana
Pamplona
Spain

Even stuff like this is such a pleasure to read.

Hat tip to the Dish.

13 Jul 2013

On This Date in 1924

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Yale Beinecke Library collection.

Postcard dated July 13, 1924, from Ernest Hemingway in Spain to Gertrude Stein in Paris.

Hemingway, identifying himself in the picture as Number 2, says:

“July 13

This was in the Novillada* where we really got hold of it. Algabeuo would hand us a cape and send us out. I got hold of the novillos horns and stayed on for nine minutes and finally got his head down. Don [Stewart] got so he could xxxx xxxx and throw sand in the bull’s eye and almost make him xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx. xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx.

Do you knpw about Bumbee’s tooth? Hooray Hemingway on Holiday”

* Novilladas are bullfights during which 3-4 year old bulls are used. The bullfighters are amateur bullfighters.

02 Jul 2013

Ernest Hemingway Died 52 Years Ago Today

This Day in Literature remembers that Ernest Hemingway placed the barrels of that London Best-Grade 12 gauge Boss against his forehead 52 years ago today, counts up the suicides in the Hemingway family, and quotes granddaughter Lorian Hemingway:

I had visited my grandfather’s grave in Ketchum the summer I had caught the marlin, arriving at the small hillside cemetery on a scalding July day, a half-finished fifth of vodka in one hand, a filter-tip cigar in the other. I’d made my way to the simple marble slab marked by a white cross, and stood swaying over the marker for a long time, expecting epiphany, resolution, a crashing, blinding flash of insight…. I wanted to say something of value to the old man, perhaps that I had met a dare he had set forth by example, but nothing came. The neck of the bottle grew hot in my hand. I tipped it to my mouth, taking a long swig, then poured the rest, a stream of booze, clear as Caribbean waters, at the head of the marker. “Here,” I said, “have this,” and walked away.

11 Mar 2013

Trout Season Near at Hand

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The young, pre-WWI Ernest with his first model Colt Woodsman in a shoulder holster and a large catch of tiny trout.

Ah! A pre-season look forward to impending trout season written by Ernest Hemingway for the Toronto Star in 1920.

Not a great piece of writing, and no expression of dry fly purism either. But in one short passage of two sentences, there is a glimpse forward to the masterful Big Two-Hearted River. And we are reminded of the old days, when steel fly rods were the hot new cutting-edge of fishing technology, and the fly fisherman fished a couple of wet flies on a dropper.

[A] vision of a certain stream… obsesses him.

It is clear and wide with a pebbly bottom and the water is the color of champagne. It makes a bend and narrows a bit and the water rushes like a millrace. Sticking up in the middle of the stream is a big boulder and the water makes a swirl at its base. …

A snipe lights on the boulder and looks inquiringly at the fly fisherman and then flies jerkily up the stream. But the fly fisherman does not see him for he is engaged in the most important thing in the world. Deciding on his cast for the first day on the stream.

Finally he bends on two flies. One on the end of the leader and one about three feet up. I’d tell you what flies they were, but every fly fisherman in Toronto would dispute the choice. With me though they are going to be a Royal Coachman and a McGinty.

The fairy rod waves back and forth and then shoots out and the flies drop at the head of the swirl by the big boulder. There is a twelve-inch flash of flame out of water, the flyfisher strikes with a wrist like a steel trap, the rod bends, and the first trout of the season is hooked.

Hat tip to Vanderleun.

01 Apr 2012

Early Hemingway


Hemingway’s 1923 passport photo

A nice little essay, in Stale of all places, by Nathan Heller on Hemingway, discussing why greater respect is generally accorded Hemingway’s earlier work, his short stories in particular being preferred to certain later works featuring a recognizable note of self parody.

Those who knew Hemingway well, especially in these early years, reported that his braggadocio was something of a cover: Far from being the swaggering, insouciant rake of lore, he was emotionally fragile, stirred into panics by women’s rejections, prone to insomnia, workaholic and perfectionist (in Paris, he’d spend all day writing and sometimes come home with a single sentence), and given to weird and compulsive record-keeping projects, like tallying exact word counts or tracking his wife’s menstrual rhythms. He was what we would now call a neurotic, and the struggle to make sense of a life suddenly coming apart gave his work the urgency and contours earlier efforts had lacked. Hemingway was at that point in the habit of composing “sketches” that doubled as diary entries, and in the course of writing up an odd and flirtatious trip to Pamplona with friends and enemies, he realized he had more than a few pages of material to work with. The result was The Sun Also Rises (1926), Hemingway’s first real novel and, he later said, the most successful book of his career.

It’s also a strikingly linear novel. Few time cuts or flashbacks appear, and its narration has the effect of plodding forward, never looking more than a few feet ahead. Yet the book seems viscerally vivid and alive, as in its description of bull-running:

    There were so many people running ahead of the bulls that the mass thickened and slowed up going through the gate into the ring, and as the bulls passed, galloping together, heavy, muddy-sided, horns swinging, one shot ahead, caught a man in the running crowd in the back and lifted him in the air. … You could tell by the degree of intensity in the shout how bad a thing it was that was happening.

Every sentence here is shaped by a sequence of perception: We see the people running, then become aware of a slowing, then see the bulls pass, then see one strike a man, then see him go in the air. And on. It’s only in the final, beautifully colloquial sentence that a causal interpretation and a moral judgment—in short, a narrative frame—finally appears.

What Hemingway captured, in other words, was the familiar, personal, very un-Jamesian experience of processing the world directly in time. His work of this period connects with our animal habits of consciousness. And the struggle it brings to the foreground is the struggle to make sense of—to find a line of narrative through—this disordered experience. Hemingway’s insight was to understand that this struggle was not just a literary one. It’s a fundamental part of how people themselves perceive and try to make sense of the world.

Read the whole thing.

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