It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them …” – Ernest Hemingway

Brisbane leftie and academic, Ralph Summy, read Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms while in the army. Ralph used to quip that he gained a better education in the army than at Harvard.

Another Brisbane anarchist, Brian Laver, bears a striking resemblance to Hemingway in his sixties.

Laver looking like Hemingway at Zappatas Bookshop circa 2011

Hemingway will be the best known of you all,” the Parisian bookseller Adrienne Monnier told a gathering of mostly Anglophone writers and literary people in Paris in the early 1920s. This crowd all knew Hemingway from the Dome and other Latin Quarter cafes. He was working on the stories that would form his first collection, In Our Time. A few of his stories had appeared in magazines, but to most readers his name was unfamiliar.

Monnier’s prophecy about Hemingway is recalled by the British novelist Bryher in her memoir The Heart to Artemis (1962). Bryher respected the literary judgments of Monnier and her better-known partner, Sylvia Beach, founder of the English-language bookstore Shakespeare and Company. Bryher asked Monnier why she felt Hemingway “was better than we were.”

Yes-why? I wondered myself. As I hardly need to say, great crusts of discourse-literary analysis, tabloid gossip, critical praise and dismissal, myth-making and deflation-have formed around Hemingway’s work and life. His books are now starting to come out of copyright, beginning with a first volume from Library of America, and his life is the subject of a recent PBS documentary, Hemingway, by Ken Bums and Lynn Novick. But it doesn’t quite feel like he’s due for a revival. Hemingway-smiling over the severed heads of three antelope -seems a figure too much known. Even if he may be decreasingly read, we are still living out the half-life of his enormous fame. Monnier had nailed it. How had she guessed? Ridiculous as it was to hang on the secondhand account of the opinions of one Parisian bookseller, I read in suspense for her response to Bryher.

“‘He cares,’ she said, ‘for his craft.”‘ – Elaine Blair, Hemingway’s Consolations.

Elaine Blair’s review of the PBS documentary, Hemingway, by Ken Bums and Lynn Novick concentrates on his literary works and not on the doco itself. I agree with much of what Blair says; however ,there are a number of significant omissions in her review. Namely there is no mention of Hemingway’s allegiance with revolutionary Cuba and his relationship with Fidel Castro. Strangely the doco appears to contradict itself because it claims that Hemingway was prevented from returning to Cuba after the revolution. Yet here he is in the ear of Fidel after the revolution.

Hemingway and Fidel circa 1959

I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice and the expression in vain. We had heard them, sometimes standing in the rain almost out of earshot, so that only the shouted words came through, and had read them on proclamations that were slapped up by billposters over other proclamations, now for a long time, and I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it. There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity. Certain numbers were the
same way and certain dates and these with the names of the places were all you could say and have them mean anything. Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names
of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates.
– Ernest Hemingway, Farewell to Arms.

Edwin Newman’s obituary summed up Hemingway’s style as “terse, often flat, sardonic” and “almost painfully masculine.” Without feelings, Hemingway is a big-game hunter who’s a bit dumb about politics, a man of few words. His emotional authority often gets left out of the nutshell version of his legacy. Not coincidentally, it’s a part
of his writing that’s mysterious. It’s difficult to emulate and even harder to explain. – Elaine Blair

Old Man and the Sea

I liked this story because it is about the sea. I was glad to see the old man get back to shore … but only because the sharks had lightened the drag of the big fish by eating it. Sadly Elaine Blair makes no mention of this work despite it being critiqued in the PBS documentary, Hemingway.

Farewell to Arms

Hemingway sided with the republicans in the Spanish Civil War. Be careful what you wish for.

In For Whom the Bell Tolls, his novel of the Spanish Civil War, Hemingway goes further than he ever had in representing the panoply of war: guerrillas fighting in the mountains, cynical Soviet officers holed up in luxury hotels in Madrid directing loyalist forces. We learn about the American fighter Robert Jordan’s past-his long-standing love of Spain, his work as a university Spanish teacher in Montana, and his reasons for fighting alongside the loyalists. He describes the exaltation of joining-yes, joining-a left-wing cause: You felt, in spite of all bureaucracy and inefficiency and party strife something that was like the feeling you expected to have and did not have when you made your first communion. It was a feeling of consecration to a duty toward all of the oppressed of the world which would be as difficult and embarrassing to speak about as religious experience and yet it was as
authentic as the feeling you had when you heard Bach, or stood in Chartres Cathedral or the Cathedral at Leon and saw the light coming through the great windows.”
– – Elaine Blair, Hemingway’s Consolations.

I thoroughly recommend Hemingway by Ken Bums and Lynn Novick. See Elaine Bair’s review below.

Ian Curr
4 September 2021

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