Hemingway

 

An Introduction

by Matthew J. Bruccoli

Ernest Hemingway's most enduring character is Ernest Hemingway. His fame is identified with the literary triumphs of the Twenties—which were his twenties—but the now-legendary writer-sportsman-hero image was formed in the Thirties. The family wealth of his second wife bankrolled the travel, safari hunting, and game fishing which provided the material for his writing and shaped his celebrity.

Ernest Hemingway
Ink sketch of Ernest Hemingway
by Stephen Longstreet, Paris, 1926.
He became the most recognizable American author in the Thirties. Look at the photos: Hemingway in the bullring, Hemingway with a dead lion, Hemingway aboard the Pilar, Hemingway with a marlin, Hemingway looking unliterary. That was part of the mechanism of his fame: he made authorship seem a serious endeavor for grown-up men. More than any other American author, Hemingway became inseparable from his work. Everything he did seemed to have something to do with writing.

Hemingway did not publish a major novel during the Thirties; his chief volumes during that decade were Death in the Afternoon(1932) and Green Hills of Africa (1935), into which he built statements about aesthetics and the profession of authorship. Throughout his career Hemingway wrote forcefully and convincingly about the craft of writing and the value of literature.Green Hills of Africa, written when the critics and reputation-makers were substituting political ideas for literary standards, makes this statement:

A country, finally, erodes and the dust blows away, the people all die and none of them were of any importance permanently, except those who practiced the arts, and these now wish to cease their work because it is too lonely, too hard to do, and is not fashionable. A thousand years makes economics silly and a work of art endures forever, but it is very difficult to do and now it is not fashionable. People do not want to do it any more because they will be out of fashion and the lice who crawl on literature will not praise them. Also it is very hard to do.

Yet during the Depression Hemingway became involved in a complex relationship with the left that was intensified by his commitment to the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil War. The critics who had recently deprecated his self-indulgence in what they regarded as the avocations of the very rich were eager to welcome him as a convert to political commitment. They failed to understand that he was not a joiner and that his anti-fascism was not pro-communism. However megalomaniacal Hemingway's behavior became during the late Thirties, his inflexible distrust of fashionable causes and the people who fronted for them preserved his strange integrity. He lied about himself but told the truth about his trade. The materials in this exhibition help readers to differentiate the self-invented Hemingway from the one who matters: the one who claimed that the essential tool for a writer is "a built-in, shock-proof shit-detector." Thus To Have and Have Not (1937), which was misread as a proletarian novel, includes contemptuous treatment of the proletarian school. Harry Morgan's dying declaration that "No matter how a man alone ain't got no bloody fucking chance" is not Hemingway's acceptance of collective responsibility. It expresses his regret that self-reliance, courage, and professionalism have eroded.

Hemingway spent most of the Thirties outside of the United States—in Spain, France, Cuba, and Key West—and was more concerned with international issues than with American problems. He contributed three pieces to the party-line New Masses, including the 1935 "Who Murdered the Vets?" (his answer is that the New Deal bureaucrats did); but his political ideas were developed in Esquire, a non-political venue priced at 50¢ when many Americans ate on less than 50¢ a day. Between 1933 and 1936 Hemingway's twenty-seven Esquireappearances provided mostly "Letters" on sporting topics, but included the political punditry of "Notes on the Next War," "The Malady of Power," and "Wings Over Africa." "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" was his final Esquire contribution. During 1938-1939 he wrote fourteen articles for Ken, a politicized spin-off from Esquire, thirteen of which treated aspects of the war in Spain. The Spanish Civil War stimulated Hemingway's exaggerated reputation as a war correspondent, but his twenty-eight North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA) dispatches were not memorable. He did not waste his best material on journalism, saving it for what he regarded as his real work.

The peak of Hemingway's activity as a politically involved public figure was his appearance at the 1937 American Writers Congress: his only public speech. Hemingway's revised typescript draft of the speech subsequently published in New Masses as "Fascism Is a Lie" declares:

Whether the truth is worth some risk to come by, the writers must decide themselves. Certainly it is more comfortable to spend their time disputing learnedly on points of doctrine. And there will always be new schisms and new fallings off and marvelous exotic doctrines and romantic lost leaders, for those who do not want to work at what they profess to believe in, but only to discuss and to maintain positions, skillfully chosen positions with no risk involved in holding them. Positions to be held by the typewriter and consolidated with the fountain pen. But there is now, and there will be from now on for a long time, war for any writer to go to who wants to study it. It looks as though we are in for many years of undeclared wars. There are many ways that writers can go to them.*

* The italicized sentences were inserted in Hemingway's hand.

The Fifth Column
Poster for Benjamin Glazer's adaptation
of Hemingway's only play, The Fifth
Column
, New York, 1940.

When Hemingway apparently tried for propaganda, he did not—or could not—bring it off. The American hero of The Fifth Column, his Spanish War play published in 1938, is a counter-espionage agent in Madrid given to idealistic pronouncements. It was revised by Benjamin Glazer for Broadway, but the reviewers regarded it as insufficiently didactic. Maurice Speiser was involved in the business end of the production; the collection includes drafts and acrimonious Hemingway-Glazer correspondence. Hemingway correctly believed that his play was better than Glazer's redaction. For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940), the greatest American novel of the Spanish Civil War, describes the atrocities committed by both sides, as well as the bungling and betrayals of the Russian commissars "advising" the Loyalists. The party-liners who were outraged by what they regarded as Hemingway's defection had mis-judged their prize recruit. He was nobody's convert.

The Speiser and Easterling-Hallman Foundation Collection of Ernest Hemingway provides a rich research source for studying the most productive and perplexing era of his career. CountingFor Whom the Bell Tolls, written 1939-1940, as a Thirties book, Ernest Hemingway completed all of his major work in this decade—before he was forty-one. He published two minor novella during the final twenty years of his life while writing a large quantity of work-in-progress that has yielded five posthumously published volumes.

Great fiction is great social history. Ernest Hemingway was a writer of his own time who shaped readers' perceptions of two decades of American history and American literature. The Hemingway Collection at the Thomas Cooper Library, the F. Scott Fitzgerald Collection, the Great War Collection, and related collections of American authorship, constitute a comprehensive working lode for students, teachers, and researchers—in and out of the University of South Carolina. Collections beget collections.  A great research library assembles, preserves, and provides access to manuscripts, letters, and rare books.  They are not for show; they are for use..

 

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