Thursday, November 16, 2017
I just bought a used copy of the previously unpublished letters of Ernest Hemingway. Just the first volume. There's plenty to read. I used to know a lot about Hemingway. I have probably forgotten most of it. I met a good chunk of his family at various times and places. I've known people who knew him. I've had dinner with one of his biographers and have conferenced with many, many Hemingway scholars. I've even appeared in an important Hemingway journal. Yea, I knew a lot about him.
He is a meme now, a one dimensional character. But that is not the man, of course, just a popular misconception.
Hemingway wanted to be considered older than he was when he was young and younger than he was when he got older. "Papa" began when he was still a young writer. His writing was new and radical in style. He was an artist. Which is another way of saying there was something wrong with him.
Most famously, he was subject to depression. The older he got, the more he needed sycophants around him to help fight it off. But he had other things, too, and some of them didn't help him. Most of them, really.
It was this that occupied me when I woke far too early to get up in the cool blackness of the night. I imagined his life with Mary who loved being Mrs. Hemingway but maybe not so much the daily grind of it. She helped get Papa to the doctors, the ones who gave him the electroshock. He called her POM (poor old mama), but I can't help but think POP. He wasn't good at taking criticism, and there was plenty of it to go around by the time he was old. All his friends were old, too, though what he wanted was the admiration of a young woman. He needed a new woman for a new novel, and the one he wanted wasn't available, so he wrote a truly horrible book that the critics hated. It was Hemingway lampooning Hemingway, they said.
After that, he tried to write, but there was no one to write to or for. Or so I think. There was only Mary, upon whom he depended and who he resented. There was no winning for him, with or without her.
And that, I opine, was what he thought about in the darkness, whatever darkness that was. Hemingway became hopeless. In the end, there was nothing to look forward to.
But I'm reading the letters of a young man who was witty and friendly and helpful, a man who had everything to look forward to. The future.
His first and best wife, Hadley, lived about forty minutes from me. I didn't know it. I regret not knowing it very much. I would like to have met her. She remarried after Hemingway. Paul. He was a journalist, and they stayed married until he died. I guess they stayed married even after that. She was very loyal to Paul and didn't want to talk about her life with Hemingway very much. I would just have liked to meet her. I know people who did and said she was a very warm woman.
Old Hemingway thought about her much and wrote about her in the end. If he could only go back and do it again. He would do it right this time. After he killed himself, it was left to Mary to go through the manuscripts and rewrite that book. It is a lovely book about his youth, about living in Paris and being young and talented and friends with artists and a husband and a father.
I am reading the letters now. He was a very, very prolific letter writer. I'll let you know what I find.