The Problem with Ernest Hemingway

21 Dec
6049c48905722b132f943fb8bf9b187d

Great Hemingway writing quotes here.

Young girls around the world adore Marilyn Monroe. They wear her image on their shirts, on purses. They quote what she said about beauty and self-confidence, only to find out later that she never actually said those things. The problem is that huge swathes of these girls have never even seen a Marilyn Monroe film, some of her fans can’t even name one. I’m friends with a couple of people like this. I try not to judge them, though, because in my world (the world of writers and readers), we do the same thing to Ernest Hemingway.

I love Ernest Hemingway, but he is the Marilyn Monroe of writers. Most anyone who reads or writes will profess a deep, holy love toward him, often citing him as their hero. My journals are full of his quotes. I’ve watched “Midnight in Paris” more times than I can count. I’ve read every fictional and non-fictional thing written about him. I even once had a beta fish that I named Ernest. But my big confession is that I don’t actually like the majority of his books.

I’ve read the major ones and could give a brief summary of the plot lines. I know why he is one of the most important writers of the 20th century: his razor-sharp, journalistic prose. But it’s not my thing. I like descriptions. I like being pulled into a scene with imagery and metaphors. And I’m not a fan of war, which is a huge part of most of his books. The one book by him that I adore is “A Moveable Feast” which was published posthumously. I see it as a departure from his iconic prose. He indulges metaphor and description. He gushes about Paris without much restraint. Or maybe his prose was easier to stomach when he wasn’t talking about battlefields and soldiers. Maybe I need to reread “A Farewell to Arms”?

You see, I carry so much guilt at not loving Hemingway’s books as much as I think I should. I carry a lot of his advice on writing and life around with me as comfort. And I wish I had the grace of his prose, which he admittedly attributed to being able to revise and discard. He reminds me of that perfect guy that you just don’t fall in love with. He’s handsome, smart, loves animals, loves you, but something in the chemistry is amiss and you can’t, despite your most valiant attempts, feel love for this person. I want to love Hemingway. I sorta love Hemingway. Just not in the way he deserves to be read and loved.

I think he’s an easy person to idealize as a writer. He traveled the world, transformed literature, had wild love affairs, wrote important pieces about things that he cared about. But another parallel can be drawn between his fan base and Marilyn Monroe’s. When people idolize Marilyn Monroe, they conveniently forget that she had crushing insecurities, that she suffered through an abusive relationship, that she was addicted to sleeping pills and might have even taken her own life with them. Hemingway, likewise, struggled with depression and took his own life. One of his oft-quoted lines is one that I downright hate.

“Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know.”

I can’t abide that. I think it is a harmful and mean thing to say. I don’t think happiness is a reflection of intelligence as much as it is a reflection of a mindset. I think people are really and truly happy when they turn their mind to it. Some of the most beautiful pieces of art, music, literature have come out of dark times and sad people, but I think some of it has come from happy individuals. I think about this quote a lot when I am happy and worry that my writing will suffer for it. He’s bullying me into choosing either happiness or intelligence, when I think that it is possible to choose both. And maybe that’s what pushes me away from his novels. This overarching gloom of war and death and failure doesn’t inspire me as much as his love and excitement and happiness in Paris. That’s the part of his writing that means something to me.

So instead of ending this on a criticism of the patriarch of modern writing, I’ll end it on one of my favorite quotes from “A Moveable Feast.” A quote that makes me want to quit my job and move to Montmartre. To find my own mustachioed Hemingway and while away the hours debating back and forth about politics, love, happiness, writing. No matter how I feel about some of his books, the man could craft an elegant sentence.

“You belong to me and all Paris belongs to me and I belong to this notebook and this pencil.”

Am I alone in this? How do other people really, honestly feel about Hemingway? Love him, but don’t like him? Are there other authors out there that have that type of relationship with their readers?

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