x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

The instant expert: Ernest Hemingway

This week Rick Arthur looks at the life and times of the American author Ernest Hemingway, who was born on July 21, 1899.

THE BASICS Ernest Miller Hemingway was a great American author of the 20th century. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. A victim of depression, he killed himself with a shotgun on July 2, 1961.

THE MINIMALIST Hemingway wrote simple, forceful sentences. He used few adverbs or adjectives. He excelled at concise dialogue and description. He was polysyndetic (a word he would hate; it means he liked the word "and").

THE MAN Larger than life, to say the least. Let's just graze the surface and note: four wars, four wives, two plane crashes and one entire "Lost Generation", along with journalism, hunting, fishing, drinking, the refusal to suffer fools gladly, Africa, Cuba and Key West, Florida.

THE MAJOR WORKS The short stories Indian Camp (1926) and The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber (1935), the novels The Sun Also Rises (1926), A Farewell to Arms (1929), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) and The Old Man and the Sea (1951), the bullfighting chronicle Death in the Afternoon (1932) and the posthumous memoirs A Moveable Feast (1964) and True at First Light (1999) make up a compelling core.

ARMCHAIR PSYCHOLOGY Hemingway's mother dressed him as a girl for at least his first two years. Hmmm. Did his penchant for writing about such masculine stalwarts as soldiers, hunters and bullfighters - and his life as a sportsman - stem from a reaction formation?

HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD, PART ONE Film-makers have always loved Papa. At least a dozen of his works have been adapted for the cinema, notably: A Farewell to Arms (1932, Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes); For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943, Cooper, Ingrid Bergman); To Have and Have Not (1944, a sardonic Humphrey Bogart and a sizzling Lauren Bacall); The Snows of Kilimanjaro (1952, Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward, Ava Gardner); and The Old Man and the Sea (1958, Spencer Tracy).

HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD, PART TWO Film-makers still love Papa. Papa Hemingway, based on the AE Hotchner biography, is in development; Hemingway & Fuentes, due next year, stars Anthony Hopkins as the author and Andy Garcia as the boat captain who inspired him to write The Old Man and the Sea; and Hemingway & Gellhorn,an HBO drama also due in 2012, depicts the romance between Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn, his third wife and the inspiration for For Whom the Bell Tolls. It stars Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman.

AND HOORAY FOR WOODY The US character actor Corey Stoll (Law & Order) deftly parodies Hemingway in Woody Allen's latest film, Midnight in Paris, with lines such as "No subject is terrible if the story is true and if the prose is clean and honest." The film (coming to UAE cinemas on September 15) captures the Jazz Age City of Lights and its vibrant cast of characters - including Gertrude Stein, Cole Porter, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, TS Eliot, Josephine Baker, Luis Buñuel, Man Ray, F Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, and others - that Hemingway chronicled in A Moveable Feast.

A GATHERING OF GREYBEARDS Hemingway look-alikes pour into Sloppy Joe's bar in Key West every year for the annual Papa Hemingway Contest to find the man who most resembles the author.

THE DISSENTING OPINION Hemingway's books were burned in Berlin in 1933 "as being a monument of modern decadence". His parents called his work "filth". "Sounds pretty damned biblical to me," Zelda Fitzgerald is said to have sniffed after hearing Scott read from A Farewell to Arms. Some critics say Hemingway's work is misogynistic and homophobic. All such views are bonkers, except the last, and that to only a minor extent.

 

On his style

Ernest Hemingway's sparse style was honed in his years on newspapers, when he learnt to report and write crisply. Shortly before he died, he gave the Wisdom Foundation his observations on life, art, love and death. Playboy magazine published them in January 1963. Hemingway said:

"I do most of my work in my head. I never begin to write until my ideas are in order. Frequently I recite passages of dialogue as it is being written; the ear is a good censor.

"I never set down a sentence on paper until I have it so expressed that it will be clear to anyone. "Yet I sometimes think that my style is suggestive rather than direct. The reader must often use his imagination or lose the most subtle part of my thoughts.

"I take great pains with my work, pruning and revising with a tireless hand. I have the welfare of my creations very much at heart. I cut them with infinite care, and burnish them until they become brilliant. While many another writer would be content to leave in massive proportions, I polish into a tiny gem." The essence of what he says may be this:

"A writer's style should be direct and personal, his imagery rich and earthy, and his words simple and vigorous.

"The greatest writers have the gift of brilliant brevity, are hard workers, diligent scholars and competent stylists."