Happy Birthday, Ernest Hemingway!
Today, July 21st, would have been Hemingway’s 112th birthday. As Cambridge prepares to publish The Letters of Ernest Hemingway 1907 – 1922 (on sale September 20th), I’ve been thinking about what makes Hemingway such an enduring figure. I put the question to my colleagues and received quite compelling - and varied - responses. – Melissanne Scheld, Associate Publicity Director
“Hemingway once told a friend, ‘If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.’ One could say the same about Hemingway’s ode to the City of Light. I first read A Moveable Feast when I was 17. After finishing it in a day and a half, I determined to move to Paris. And at 18 — just after graduating from high school — I did (to become a writer, no less). Many magical things happened during my time in Paris, and many difficult things too. Every year since leaving Paris, I’ve read the collection of stories Hemingway struggled so hard to finish and each year I am struck with just how right Hemingway was and how truly he captured the experience of being a young man in Paris.” – Gregory Rutty, Amazon/Seattle, WA
“My favorite Hemingway book is A Moveable Feast. I read it in Paris when I was 13 and dragged my family around to every restaurant, sidewalk, any place mentioned. I didn’t care if they still existed or not, just knowing that I was standing in a place where, not so long ago, people were doing wonderful things was enough for me. At the time I wanted to be a writer and couldn’t imagine a more fantastic time and place than Hemingway’s Paris.” – Diana Blaszkiewicz, NYC
“My favorite is a short story called The Killers. Actually, all the short stories, but this one especially. Terse, incendiary language, describing a man in hiding who knows his assassins have found him, and he awaits their arrival. There have been at least two great movies made taking this story as a starting point, and imagining the backstory – which is not at all mentioned in the story.” – Michael Baron, San Francisco
“My favorite work of Hemingway’s is the short story Hills Like White Elephants. This story’s removal of all contextual clues to its content is nothing short of radical. A lesser writer would have played up the drama inherent in the situation the couple finds themselves in, and probably ended up with something maudlin. Hemingway, quite wisely, scrubs his language of adverbs, adjectives, and metaphoric language, leaving us with a conversation where every line can be read multiple ways. Every word in the story is necessary and none are wasted; even the line breaks are, pardon the pun, pregnant with meaning.” – Michael Duncan, NYC
“One of my favorite works from Hemingway is his Key West home. You don’t need to be a fan of his writing (although I am) to appreciate the architecture, design, and polydactyl cats which fill the home he moved into in 1931. One of the most stunning rooms is the sun-filled bathroom with art deco floor tiles. The navy blue, white and gold tiles feature abstract fish and gulls. The aesthetic is very elegant but whimsical. I took a photo of the tiles and often look at it to remind me of the beauty and charm of Key West and of the years that Hemingway spent writing some of his most famous and enduring works.” – Kerry Cahill, Hoboken, NJ
“A Moveable Feast captures the magical atmosphere of Paris–extraordinary people telling extraordinary stories–a moving memoir of happy people, told without sentimentality. This is Hemingway at his best.” – Nancy Olsen, Quail Ridge Books & Music; Raleigh, North Carolina
“My favorite work by Ernest Hemingway is a short short called Hills Like White Elephants. I first came across it in my senior year of high school, and when I read it then (6 years ago), it seemed like it was only about a couple having a drink before getting on a train. What I love about it is that it’s so much more than that. It’s so short but it manages to pack a punch. In that small amount of time, the reader is able to get the full scope of this couple’s relationship and predicament. It never once says the words ‘abortion’, ‘baby’, or ‘pregnancy’, but somehow, without even saying it, the reader knows that’s what it’s about. When it’s taken down do that level, the story suddenly becomes much more than a quick drink before catching the train; it seems as though the woman is going through with the abortion to keep her partner happy, but what’s great about it is that the reader doesn’t know for sure, just like in real tense conversations. He doesn’t give away what either person is really thinking in this situation–they think that if they take care of the pregnancy, their lives will remain happy and whole, just as they’ve always been, but I suspect that neither of them truly believes it. I love it. I think it’s one of my favorite stories of all time, actually. His ability to put so much in such a small space astounds the creative writer within me.” – Marie Cummings, Port Jervis, NY
“I don’t know if it’s my favorite, but the first Hemingway piece I ever read was Hills Like White Elephants, a famous example of Hemingway’s “iceberg theory,” or being a story that avoids mentioning what it’s really about. We read it in my freshman year English class and it fascinated me for a long time after that. Someone put together a Wordle for the whole story, which shows how frequently all the words are represented, which I think is pretty telling.” – Nicole Villeneuve, San Francisco CA
“I’ve always liked the conversation between Hemingway and the Austrian in the Green Hills of Africa. The Austrian asks, ‘What about the good writers?’ ‘The good writers are Henry James, Stephen Crane and Mark Twain. That’s not the order they’re good in. There is no order for good writers.’ He then says that the problem with American authors is that ‘at a certain age the men writers change into Old Mother Hubbard’ while ‘the women writers become Joan of Arc.” – Peter Anderson, Silver Spring, MD
“The Sun Also Rises is quintessential Hemingway. It shows his love of Europe, bullfighting, and the intricacies within relationships. What has always amazed me is how much of Hemingway’s life experiences go into his writing. You get a clearer sense of his post-war feelings, and his fascination with bullfighting, and travel. He is a true novelist who writes in an autobiographical kind of way. I also remember thinking how much water can be described in The Old Man and the Sea.” – Alex Beguin, Washington, D.C.
“Happy birthday, Ernest. I love The Old Man And The Sea. It’s the quintessential battle and shared respect of man and nature, and a testament to a brand solitude and a strength of character that have ceased to exist.” – Stacey Schilling, Alexandria, VA
In addition to all of these comments on Hemingway’s influence, our own politics editor, Robert Dreesen, shared his poem about a little-known fight between Hemingway and Wallace Stevens. . .
Poésie Makes You Brave
After Wallace Stevens
By God, I wish I had that Hemingway
Here now, why I’d knock him out with a single
Punch. This violence within can do without
That violence about. The emperor of I
Screams of art from in his well-lighted place
Of grace under pressure, why, Madame, the
Pressure of reality is much too much
For him. He’s insane about the truth, he plays
Things as they are, while I am the man
With the blue guitar. Bristling inchling.
Nobility is our spiritual light and depth,
Not some code of honor. Ideas of order
In Key West, drams of buie and cubes of ice,
The length of line and measure of lies, I
Will be the judge of these. Bring on the bantam
In pine woods, the universal cock. I am
The connoisseur of chaos, am I not?