Ernest Hemingway

By: Devin McKinney
July 21, 2014


As a young writer, ERNEST HEMINGWAY (1899-1961) knew he could recreate American fiction if he held a true, remorseless bead on the scenes before his eyes and the sentences forming in his head. Bravado and self-belief kept him trying and failing; when war came, experience coalesced with ambition, and he began to carve a vision as nature carves a river. The issue of his first thirteen published years — novels, stories, nonfiction — remains deeply compassionate and heroically unsentimental, both modernist and timeless in its witness of brutality in war and peace: savaged corpses and mystic landscapes, gangsters and gang rapes, epidemics of despair circling the earth. No view of Hemingway as mere macho mythmaker will survive an immersion in this work.

The pomposities of middle age landed hard: For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) is both a work of great power and a bilious self-parody. By his fifties he was badly weathered and averse to shock, artificer of best-selling fable and willing inmate of his own prison: “Papa Hemingway.” But consider: if he’d not become Papa, not fed himself and his public on bullfights and bullshit, he’d surely have killed himself much earlier than he did, defeated by all he’d seen and felt, written or failed to write. “Papa” kept Hemingway alive for that last decade — during which he wrote A Moveable Feast (1964), among the loveliest chronicles of youth we have, in whose pages it is unimaginable that anyone, least of all its author, could ever die.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Hart Crane, Don Knotts.

READ MORE about members of the Hardboiled Generation (1894-1903).


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What do you think?

  1. Lovely — like “Papa” was the one reaching back in time to coax one last great story out of a closed-up heart…better than Ray Bradbury’s version. The kind of poetry Hemingway might have cast a cloud on, but your perception for maybe the first time shows me how his long shadow can be a shade.

  2. P.S. I wonder if America’s midcentury hit as hard as his own — as a kid I much preferred the relatively lush language of For Whom to the scorched verbal landscape of A Farewell, but now that you mention it the descriptions of local customs and isolated atrocity in For Whom have a condescending tone that would have been more clear-eyed before — almost a folkloric kitsch (which I sensed even in high school but couldn’t yet place), and even though we still had all of WW2 to fight by the time that book was written, maybe he was already looking back through the distant eyes of a tourist, ready for America’s retreat from the world it would save and then rule from far away. Maybe though these sights would never leave him, he had indeed gone home.

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