Appreciating Papa Hemingway

Written by Dr. Michael P. Riccards Dr. Michael Riccards

Dr. Michael P. Riccards is Executive Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy – New Jersey. Riccards is a former college president and a presidential scholar who has authored 15 books.

Friday, 22 July 2011 08:41

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Ernest Hemingway receives the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature at his home, the Finca Vigia, San Francisco de Paula, Cuba. Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.Ernest Hemingway receives the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature at his home, the Finca Vigia, San Francisco de Paula, Cuba. Photograph in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.He once counseled that courage was grace under pressure, and his heirs left his papers to the John F. Kennedy Library, a structure meant to honor another graceful and courageous American icon. This July 2011 marks the 50th anniversary of his suicide in Ketchum, Idaho. For over three decades he was the most recognized and read American novelist, and in 1954 Ernest Hemingway won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Hemingway was born in Oak Park, Illinois, to a physician and a musician. He wrote journalistic pieces for several Midwestern and Toronto newspapers, and was influenced by Ring Lardner, the great sportswriter. Before Hemingway, the American literary lions were the stylistic but drawn-out Henry James and Edith Wharton. In contrast, his style was full of short sentences, vigorous English, and colorful descriptions in which the details were deliberately submerged in his characteristic prose. He was to influence a whole generation of writers.

At the age of 18, he enrolled in the Red Cross ambulance corps and was severely wounded while running mundane errands for the fighting men. He also had carried an Italian soldier to safety and was awarded later the Silver Medal for Bravery by the Italian government. He ended up in the hospital where he fell in love with an older nurse who became engaged finally to another soldier. From that young, ill-fated romance, Hemingway was to craft his brilliant novel, A Farewell to Arms. It was to become his Romeo and Juliet.

At the end of the war he returned home to aimless times, and eventually left for Paris where he met some of the more talent and disillusioned American artists and writers. Later Gertrude Stein called them “The Lost Generation.” From that experience he wrote his first great novel, The Sun Also Rises, a tale of nihilistic roaming so telling in the 1920s. He met and drank with James Joyce, Stein, and the influential Ezra Pound who had just finished revising T.S. Eliot’s poetry. He also had a profound influence on another American war hero and short-story writer, J.D. Salinger. Hemmingway was to call Paris "a moveable feast."

Hemingway went through four wives over the years, and his family was frequently visited by suicide, including his father, his sister, and his brother. He received further fame from his novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls, which takes place during the brutal Spanish Civil War. Several years later, he was a correspondent attached to a U.S. infantry unit, and was cited for bravery in World War II.

In 1952, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his short novel, The Old Man and the Sea, and took a trip to Africa where he was seriously injured in two consecutive plane crashes. His physical deterioration began.

He has been accused of being paranoid that time and believing that the FBI was checking on him; but it turns out that he was correct. Seeking to overcome deep bouts of depression, Hemingway was subjected to electric shock treatments, and finally on July 2, 1961, he shot himself. He feared that his talents were done, but he also may have suffered from a metabolic problem in how his body used iron; his father had the same condition.

The family let the public know it was an accident, and he was buried according to the rites of the Catholic Church. Five years later, his last wife, Mary, admitted he took his own life. Hemingway is, of course, especially acknowledged as a master of the short story as well as the novel, and his style avoids long sentences, conjunctions, and internal pretensions. He admired courage, the authentic life, and the athlete as a hero.

He was 61 years old.

For years, his work was criticized by feminist critics as being too macho, but as more of his work is released, Hemingway’s sexual attitudes seem more complex. His reputation is being refurbished. When I taught American studies in Japan, the most popular author they wanted to know about was Papa; they said he resembled their own macho but gay novelist who also committed suicide, Yukio Mishima.

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Appreciating Papa Hemingway  

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