IVP - Andy Unedited - The Man's Man of Letters

October 6, 2010

The Man's Man of Letters

My latest excursion in literary tourism took me just fourteen miles from our offices in Westmont when I recently visited the birthplace of Ernest Hemingway with some friends. The house in Oak Park, Illinois, has largely been restored to its original condition.

Here young Ernest joined in prayers with his grandfather Abba, a Civil War hero for the Union who led a “colored brigade.” Here he was entertained, along with his siblings by the stories spun by his father. Here he heard his mother, a veteran of New York’s Metropolitan Opera, offer music lessons. And so pieces of the influence on Ernest as a writer begin to emerge.

Hemingway is well known for his sparse literary style, which he developed when he went to Paris in the 1920s to join the likes of Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso and James Joyce. But it was Ezra Pound who taught him to be wary of adjectives, a lesson that through him has shaped the way English has been written for almost a century.

He is also known for being a man’s man. He was a hard-drinking adventurer who fished in the ocean, hunted in the jungle, became a Hollywood celebrity and had four wives. Not content to be a mere war journalist, at times he crossed the line to act as a combatant. His escapades in Spain brought to worldwide attention the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, which he describes in The Sun Also Rises.

Hemingway’s own life became grist for many of his books, such as his experience in Italy which gave shape to A Farewell to Arms. But his early life affected his work as much as his later exploits. What our tour guide at his birthplace emphasized several times was the strong personality of his mother and the comparative weakness of his father. In fact, his mother would even dress him and his sister alike in a kind of unisex outfit of the day. He grew up in what a friend of mine, a Hemingway scholar, called a “dysfunctional evangelical family.” Often the theme of the weak or failed man works its way through his writing, even as it gave him energy to live a life that was its opposite.

I’ve noted here before that all writing is autobiographical. For Hemingway, it all started fourteen miles away.

Posted by Andy Le Peau at October 6, 2010 7:46 AM Bookmark and Share

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