His books are seldom read today, and his legend almost a faded memory. But in the 1930s and 1940s Ernest Hemingway was a literary idol–and role model for young writers who imitated his sparse prose and adventurous lifestyle. Fame came to Hemingway early; while in his twenties he wrote The Sun Also Rises, a novel about American expatriates in Paris. The people he wrote about had survived the First World War. They were unconcerned with money or materialism and instead were content to while away their days in cafes or running with the bulls at Pamplona. This was–in Gertrude Stein’s words–the “Lost Generation,” and Hemingway became their bard. Until his death–a suicide–in 1961, Hemingway was seldom out of public view. His technique was to embark on an adventure, then recapture it in a book. The Green Hills of Africa was based on a big game hunt the writer undertook; For Whom the Bell Tolls fictionalized the Spanish Civil War which Hemingway had covered as a correspondent in the 1930s. Battles, boxing, bull fights: Ernest Hemingway was there, at ringside, celebrating the cult of manhood and danger. When the Allies swept into Paris and liberated the city, Hemingway, who was covering the war for Collier’s, rode in with the troops. The author carried a pistol and was surrounded by an entourage that included a cook, a photographer, and a public relations officer that the Army had provided. By the end of the war, Hemingway was world famous, his bearded face and massive body recognized everywhere. According to a biographer, movie stars and waiters alike knew the author as “Papa.” (A.E. Hotchner, Papa Hemingway, New York: Random House, 1966) He stayed at the Ritz and maintained homes in several countries, including a finca in Cuba where he wrote, bred his fighting cocks, and held court to a stream of visitors from around the world. But fame took its toll. Hemingway wrote for money and drank heavily. His lean prose became turgid. The long narrative had never been Ernest Hemingway’s forte. Once, he said his novels had always started as short stories. A novel from the fifties, To Have and Have Not, simply meandered, lacking structure or plot.
In interviews, Hemingway sometimes sounded punch drunk–using boxing or other sports analogies. On one occasion, he said: “Mr. Rimbaud…never threw a fast ball in his life…” referring to the 19th century French poet; on another occasion, Hemingway told Marlene Dietrich, “You’re the best that ever came into the ring.” Hemingway’s public persona became almost a self-parody. After surviving a plane crash in the African jungle, the author told the world press: “My luck, she is running good.” Another time, he spoke of giving animals that he hunted, “the gift of death.” In The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway wrote: “Imagine if each day a man must try to kill the moon. The moon runs away.” Only the great Hemingway could have gotten away with such a ridiculous analogy; in fact, the slender book brought him his Nobel. Death, however, was not kind to her Prince. After Hemingway’s suicide, stories surfaced that he had struck his wives and had beaten poet Wallace Stevens, a much smaller man, over some minor literary quarrel. The Hemingway estate tried to suppress a memoir that revealed gristly details of the writer’s shotgun death. The trial judge was unsympathetic, berating the late writer as a “despoiler of wildlife.” Now, it may be time for a reappraisal. For there is much to celebrate in Ernest Hemingway, especially those short stories he wrote before he became famous when he was a struggling writer in Paris. First published in obscure magazines and then collected in a book entitled, In Our Time, the stories are about knockabouts, Indian camps, fathers and sons, and innocent love: tales by a young man, about the young, yearning to explore the world out there–and live a life of wonderment and adventure