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,â€ 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.