If Hemingway hadn’t killed himself, it is still safe to assume he wouldn’t still be around today, as his Ballantine drinking may have killed him in the end, if not one of his four wives or a charging lion. Still, today would have been his 113th birthday. Today, whenever someone picks up a Hemingway book, they are likely to come across this phrase, or similar: ‘A minimalist with his deceptively simple prose who influenced thousands of imitators but no rivals…’
Though, perhaps in a similar vein to Shakespeare, Hemingway has become a mythicized image, events of his life exaggerated and idealised, much in the same way as Hemingway was skilled at doing in his writing himself. Details are omitted and others glamorised. In reality, the author was narcissistic and often thought of as insufferable.
While in Paris recently- one of Hemingway’s literary haunts- I went along on the Hemingway’s Paris walking tour with Paris Walks. The walk in set in Paris’s Latin Quarter and Moufftard area, and throughout has Hemingway as its influencing theme. We saw where he lived in the area and particular bars and restaurants he liked to frequent. But it was our knowledgeable guide that provided the humorous but often bleak back story. And he, too, noted how Hemingway was prone of ‘embellishing’ certain events and situations in his life, one being his financial circumstances and another being his participation in war. Throughout the romanticised A Moveable Feast (1964), Hemingway paints a picture of himself as struggling financially, while in reality, the author was working for the Kansas City Star as a journalist and his wife, Hadley, had received a handsome grant from a relative.
The story of A Moveable Feast goes that, on a return trip to Paris many years and marriages later in Hemingway’s life, while staying at the Ritz Hotel, an employer comes up to Hemingway. The employer asks Hemingway if he would kindly like to take the crate they had been saving for over thirty years, to which a surprised Hemingway agrees. Upon looking into the crate, the author finds hundreds of scribbles and notes from his first trip to Paris when he was younger and with his first wife, Hadley. With this material, he begins to write preliminary drafts for what will become the unjustly famous book, in which he supposedly comes to realise that Hadley was truly the love of his life. However, upon his death, upon the unfinished manuscript Hemingway left a note for his fourth wife, Mary, which stated: ‘Not fit for publication.’ Despite this request, Mary (perhaps dissatisfied with the romantic tones in the book) went ahead and, with the help of a publisher, altered the work and formed the title, publishing it as A Moveable Feast, taken from the line in which Hemingway describes Paris as such.
Hardly his best work, Hemingway left a string of great works, and some less than great works. The first I read when I was ten or so, was The Old Man and the Sea (1951), and I re-read it again a few years later, and is a great read, though it is his The Sun Also Rises (1926), Hemingway’s first novel, that struck me as his best, a profile of the ‘Lost Generation’ that is a truly greater account of Paris than A Moveable Feast. Everybody seems to have their favourite though, and arguments abound as to which of his four ‘main’ works were better: A Farewell to Arms (1929), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), The Sun Also Rises (or Fiesta), or The Old Man and the Sea (Garden or Eden is often regrettably absent from these ‘great’ lists, but in fact shows a poignant portrait of the author).
Other good reads for new readers include Across The River and into the Trees, while a great short story from his collections is The Killers, later turned into a film with Lee Marvin and Ronald Regan.
A more comprehensive guide to his writings can be found on Amazon by a greater Hemingway enthusiast than myself, Matthew Asprey: http://www.amazon.com/gp/richpub/syltguides/fullview/RRXWWIV4XAG5W
Asprey will incidentally be launching his new literary magazine, Contrappasso, next Wednesday in Sydney, Australia. Copies of the magazine which include interviews with writers Lester Goran and James Crumley are now available on Amazon for $10.
On the topic of interviews, an old Hemingway interview conducted by The Paris Review journo George Plimpton can be found here: http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/4825/the-art-of-fiction-no-21-ernest-hemingway
In the interview, Plimpton asks Hemingway what his own favourite influences are:
Who would you say are your literary forebears—those you have learned the most from?
Mark Twain, Flaubert, Stendhal, Bach, Turgenev, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Andrew Marvell, John Donne, Maupassant, the good Kipling, Thoreau, Captain Marryat, Shakespeare, Mozart, Quevedo, Dante, Virgil, Tintoretto, Hieronymus Bosch, Brueghel, Patinir, Goya, Giotto, Cézanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, San Juan de la Cruz, Góngora—it would take a day to remember everyone. Then it would sound as though I were claiming an erudition I did not possess instead of trying to remember all the people who have been an influence on my life and work. This isn’t an old dull question. It is a very good but a solemn question and requires an examination of conscience. I put in painters, or started to, because I learn as much from painters about how to write as from writers. You ask how this is done? It would take another day of explaining. I should think what one learns from composers and from the study of harmony and counterpoint would be obvious.
Similarly, Anthony Burgess lists his own 99 favourite writers in his Ninety-Nine Novels (1984), which includes authors Somerset Maugham, Bernard Malamud and Graham Greene. Also on the list is Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea and For Whom the Bell Tolls.