The month of July is doubly significant for the American Nobel laureate Ernest Miller Hemingway, who was born on July 21, 1899 and who died on July 2, 1961. With this issue Star Campus pays tribute to the great novelist.
The Art of Living and Dying
Razia Sultana Khan
IT is almost half a century since Hemingway's death on July 2, 1961, by a self inflicted bullet wound, shocked not just his readers but the rest of the world. Looking at the philosophy he lived by and which he encapsulated in most of his writing, his suicide should have come as no surprise.
I grew up reading Hemingway: cried my eyes red when Catherine died giving birth in Farewell to Arms, was shocked and fascinated by the character of Brett Ashley in The Sun Also Rises, anguished over the fisherman's plight in The Old Man and the Sea, and was kept awake nights tortured by the emotions of a husband, who, unable to face the screams of his wife giving birth without anesthesia, slits his own throat in “Indian Camp.” There was something about the writing, no matter how disturbing, that pulled me in and kept me devouring his work.
Decades later, with the benefit of maturity, the enormity of his talent finally sunk in. There is a dictum that budding creative writers are familiar with, “Show, don't tell”. Don't ask the reader to feel what you feel, draw the picture and let him/her respond to it. Simple enough to understand, harder to follow.
Then I read Hemingway's “iceberg” theory of fiction writing in a Paris Review interview and finally understood why his short pithy sentences, pared of any extra flesh struck home:
Hemingway's life is one of the most well-documented lives in American literature, partly due to his talent and popularity, and perhaps, partly to his very colorful personal life. Earnest Hemingway was born on July 21, 1898, at Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, the second of six children of Grace Hemingway and Clarence Edmonds Hemingway. He held his first fishing rod when he was two and graduated to a shotgun and rifle before he was in his teens. His father, a medical doctor, was also a sports enthusiast who loved hunting and fishing. His father wanted him to become a doctor while his mother, artistically inclined herself, wanted him to be a cellist. At Oak Park High School Hemingway wrote for the school newspaper, The Trapeze. At fifteen he ran away, was returned home, barely finished high school and then was off again. This time he went to Kansas City where he became a cub reporter for the Kansas City Star. In 1918 he joined an American ambulance unit bound for the Italian front and later transferred to the Italian infantry. He was wounded in a trench-mortar explosion soon after and ended up in a Milan hospital. Here he met Agnes von Kurowsky, who was to became the prototype for Catherine Barkley in A Farewell to Arms (1929). He was very modest of his war experiences. “I spent most of the time in hospitals,” was his usual comment.
In 1921 he married Hadley Richardson, his high school sweetheart, and they moved to Paris, where he began his literary carrier. Six years later Hemingway divorced Hadley and married Pauline Pfeiffer, a fashion editor for Vogue magazine in Paris. Hemingway spent the early part of his career as a journalist. In 1937, he went to Spain to cover the Spanish civil War for the North American Newspaper Alliance and out of his experience here resulted the novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). This year, 1940, also saw the end of his marriage to Pauline and marriage to his next wife, Martha Gellhorn, a newspaper correspondent. The marriage, however, lasted only five years and in 1945 he divorced her. The following year he married Mary Welsh, his fourth and last wife. In 1954 Hemingway received the Nobel Prize for Literature. He died at his home in Ketchum, Idaho, on July 2, 1961.
There are certain assumptions about life that any reader of Hemingway needs to understand. First is the central fact of existence, that one must eventually die and this awareness, for him, is one of the guiding forces in life. Most of Hemingway's fiction looks at man's attitudes towards life in the presence of death. The settings vary: a battlefield, in the bullring, hunting, or in some other life-threatening situation. The focus is usually on how s/he faces death: gracefully or otherwise. Everyone knows they have to die but some live life to the fullest despite that awareness, in fact, with the awareness of their immortality surrounding them, and perhaps because of the knowledge of that immortality.
From the beginning, the dominant concern of Hemingway's short stories is with initiation; the mythic pattern of the heroic quest, whose end point is death. His triumph, however, is the knowledge that it can be faced gracefully and with courage.
In Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway's philosophy is stated clearly: "All stories," he remarked there, "end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you. . . .”
The hero of his earlier stories, Nick Adams, who many see as a thinly disguised persona of himself, develops from an innocent state, unaware of his mortality to a condition of knowledge. Hemingway's short story “Indian Camp,” is a story about a boy who goes with his doctor-father on a trip into an Indian village to deliver a baby. The delivery is a difficult one and is finally done by Caesarian section without anesthesia. The mother's screams cause her husband, who is on the bunk above her, to slit his own throat as the baby is born. The theme of the story suggests that in the middle of life there is death. The seasonal cycle parallels the human life cycle. The story begins in early morning (the early state of Nick's innocence) and on the way back, though Nick denies the lesson he has learned: "In the early morning on the lake sitting in the stern of the boat with his father rowing, he [Nick] felt quite sure that he would never die," he has been initiated and has acquired the awareness of death, the knowledge of life in the presence of death.
In the short story, "Big Two-Hearted River," (another Nick Adams story) an older Nick returns to a place where he has fished in his youth to find that the town has been burnt down. There is only one character in this story and nothing seems to happen. The fact is that, in a sense, everything of importance to Nick happens in this story. Here all the traditional values he learnt as a child are discarded or purged (“burned away”). The process involves Nick's experiencing every sensory detail: the smells, the sights, even the sense of touch. Nick realizes that though the surface of the land is lost, life in the real or primitive form, remains and if he is to survive he must adapt.
The Nick Adams stories in particular explore different facets of the initiation process, into manhood and into life. We see the development of the hero from a condition of innocence, where he is unaware and unconcerned about his mortality, into a condition of experience or knowledge. The two stories I have looked at, "Indian Camp" and "Big Two-Hearted River" illustrate the iceberg theory in the deceptive simplicity of their story lines.
Hemingway' characters use economy in the art of living, demonstrating the barest of emotions and this is duplicated in Hemingway's craft of writing. He uses concise staccato sentences with few authorial comments. His style is gritty, with deadpan descriptions of often gruesome events. He is a master of dialogue, terse and understated, and through his brilliant use of repetition, (the short story “Hills Like White Elephants”) he is able to make the reader remember what has been said. His punchy, pared-down style and ability to zero in on the perfect characterizing detail of a person or scene has influenced many novelists and attracted all types of readers.
Hemingway's stories are very different to the traditional nineteenth and early twentieth century stories, with neat endings and details fitting into place. His sentences are pithy, pointed and precise. His style is uniquely his. Take this short sentence from For Whom the Bell Tolls: “He was dead and that was all.” It is this unmatched clarity of writing as well as his mastery of conveying emotion which defines him as a writer. Winner of both the Puliter and Nobel Prizes, Hemingway's greatest contribution, as the Nobel Prize committee acknowledged, was in the area of "prose style." In his use of the "zero ending," which goes counter to the traditional "well-made" ending, Hemingway has influenced the form of the modern short story.
(The writer is Head of The Department of English and The Department of Modern Languages, Independent University, Bangladesh.)
An 'earnest' Hemingway
Nobel laureate in literature
Dr Binoy Barman
I love to compliment Hemingway, the Nobel laureate in literature, with the word 'earnest' which bears a phonic affinity with his first name 'Ernest', reminiscent of Oscar Wilde's protagonist in “The Importance of Being Earnest”. Hemingway had a little reservation, though, with his own name because of this Wilde play. But above all unease, he made his name respectable to the whole world, attaching it to solemn glory, really proving the importance of being 'Ernest'. He wrote earnestly. He took great care in whatever he wrote. He earned name and fame as a fiction writer, to the extent of being crowned with the Nobel Prize and the Pulitzer Prize. All his writings carry the impression of deep meditation and sound planning. His selection of theme, organisation of plot, characterisation, setting, point of view, diction and syntax -- all provide evidence for his subtly calculating mind. He used to research every work before he settled down to put pen on paper.
He had a habit of rewriting manuscript several times. He was a sort of perfectionist -- that was his speciality.
Hemingway exercised acute sincerity in portraying people's lives around him. He became truthful in telling the tales of life with an amalgamation of fact and imagination. His short stories and novels are alive with the laughter and sobs of the real people. He has been realistic in his approach to writing, with a modernist pattern of vision, thought and language. Wallace Stevens once termed Hemingway 'the most significant of living poets, so far as the subject of extraordinary reality is concerned'. By 'poet' Stevens meant the author's stylistic achievements in his short fiction. Prose was Hemingway's poetry -- narrative poetry, containing the beauty of symbolism and imagery. Like Gertrude Stein, Hemingway applied techniques from modernist poetry to his writing, such as the artful use of repetition, although in lesser extent than Stein. Hemingway kept the reader's mind engrossed in his narration through a process of revealing half-hidden truth, best understood with the metaphor of 'ice-berg'. Hemingway's much quoted 'ice-berg theory' was that “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows and the reader will have a feeling of those things as though the writer had stated them.”
Hemingway was a man of talent with spectacular personality. His ego consisted of two basic propensities -- adventure and creativity. He had an adventurous mind with potent creative faculty. He got the trait of adventure from his father and that of creativity from his mother. His father aroused in him a love for nature, giving him the first lesson of fishing and rowing while his mother inculcated the sense of art in his mind, exposing him to opera, music and painting. His father taught him how to use an axe and gun while his mother taught him how to sing and dance. The former trained him in physical courage and endurance while the latter made him sensitive to human emotions. With the twin influence of his parents, he became an extrovert, however, not losing in the least the power to look deep into his own mind. He was a meditative saint with the boldness of a warrior. He was a combination of two rare qualities, two opposite trends, which perennially battled in his inner entity, extraordinarily still in utter restlessness, sharply focussed in chaotic confusion. He ran in a winning spree, but he won only to lose himself. Therefore it must be a Hemingway truism that he was at odds with himself.
Hemingway's adventurous mind took him outdoors, with a motto of being afraid of nothing. His sound upbringing gave him a determination to be exceptional at everything he would lay hand in. His inner stirrings were not to be suppressed by any means. On reaching adolescence, Ernest had developed into a well rounded young man, with a strong body and mind. He gained superb athletic skills. He learnt boxing and canoeing during his school days. He became expert in hunting and fishing. As an adult he utilised all these skills to his advantage. He took a hunting trip to Africa to shoot lions. He also hunted elephants there. In 1935 he won his first fishing competition at Bimini in the British West Indies.
In Bimini he also offered the hostile fishermen 200 dollars provided anyone could stay in the boxing ring with him for four rounds. No one won the money; Hemingway beat them all. He had a fascination for bullfight. He wrote reports and stories on bullfighting, while he was staying in Spain. He expressed his predilection for the bloody sport in “Death in the Afternoon”.
From his adventurous mind, Hemingway developed a tendency to involve himself in risky jobs. He was fearless. He dreamed of being a hero who would fight in battle field. After graduating from school, he attempted to join the army. But he was not selected due to his defect in eye sight. It was a lifelong disappointment for him. But he was not a man to back down. He must fulfil his dream in alternative ways. He would go to the battlefield as a support staff and display his heroism at opportune moment. He went to Italy during the World War I as an ambulance driver under the aegis of Red Cross. In other wars he would be present in the battle field as a journalist. He could not become a soldier but war had always beckoned him. A hero resided in him and he worshiped that godly image. He felt happy that he was awarded the Italian Silver Medal of Bravery for his valiant participation in World War I and a Bronze Star for his bravery during World War II.
Failure in starting a military career had another effect on him. His dream was diverted. He aspired to become a writing hero instead, brandishing the lethal weapon in hand -- his pen. Thereby he would also get an opportunity to create heroic characters. He would be the master of his own world of confrontations. He did so. In earnest he planned a writing career. While in school he edited the school's magazine and published stories and poems in it. This early practice helped him in embarking on a noble occupation. After completing his study in school, he joined Kansas City Star as a reporter at the age of seventeen. He worked there for six months. In fact his laconic style of writing was indebted to his work in that newspaper. In later years he worked as a reporter for different Canadian and American newspapers including the Toronto Star Weekly, Cooperative Commonwealth and the North American Newspaper Alliance (NANA) travelling to Europe to cover such events as the Greek Revolution and the Spanish Civil War.
Hemingway loved and hated war. He took part in wars with an illusion of heroism but his romantic mind was disillusioned when he witnessed the devastation brought by it. In Italy he saw the site of explosion of a munitions factory. He saw the mindless trading of bullets and bombs and how people are killed and wounded. In 1918 he himself suffered a severe leg wound when he was performing his duty to serve the frontline soldiers. It is said that he had 227 scars on his wounded leg. With the theme of war, he wrote “A Farewell to Arms” which was published in 1929. It is the study of an American ambulance officer's disillusionment in the war and his role as a deserter. The writer says in his memoir: “When you go to war as a boy you have a great illusion of immortality. Other people get killed; not you ... Then when you are badly wounded the first time you lose that illusion and you know it can happen to you.”
Hemingway was headlong adventurous in his love-making. He built relationships with women one after another, getting united and then separated. He could not settle in a single woman. His mind was always shifting. Nurtured in the materialist Western culture, his mind searched for variation in life. He went for a new woman whenever the hangover of romance is over with an acquainted one. This ultimately gave him a bad reputation of 'womaniser'. Hemingway promiscuity is legendary; it is the contorted realisation of his gallantry, a sort of 'anti-heroism'. To understand it, we have to analyse the psyche of the writer in makeup and maturity. His first love was Agnes von Kurowsky, whom he met in a hospital in Milan. He fell in love with the girl while being nursed by her. He proposed to marry her but she dismissed. He got the first shock of love. Indeed it was a trauma for him which he never overcame. He was afraid of dismissal ever since. And he did not let any woman to do that any more; rather he took the first chance himself. He married four times. And three times he dismissed them before they could do it. Of his four wives -- Hadley Richardson, Pauline Pfeiffer, Martha Gellhorn and Mary Welsh -- only the last one lived with him during the final moments of his life. But here also Hemingway stuck to his philosophy. He did not give her chance to say 'no' to him.
There is another aspect of Hemingway's women-centred psychology. Hemingway was afraid of loneliness. He desired the association of people with whom he wanted to live amid activities. He needed the caress of women to take care of his lonely hours. He considered the feminine touch as a healing factor, as intoxicating as liquor, an ointment in wound. This is also the reason he failed to show proper respect to the female characters in his creations, which might be seen as a manifestation of misogyny. He felt lonely in the crowd of mass, in the bevy of divas. As a writing entity, he was solitary. His Nobel Prize receiving speech, which was read out in his absence, makes a point: “Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer's loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.”
Hemingway hardly led a static life. He travelled widely to have experience of varieties of people and cultures before he extracted them for his writings. He travelled around Canada, France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, England, China, Cuba and Peru. In 1934 he bought a boat named Pilar and sailed around the Caribbean and other oceanic areas. In addition to hunting expeditions in Africa and Wyoming, Hemingway developed a passion for deep-sea fishing in the waters off Key West, the Bahamas, and Cuba. His life on sea has been specially reflected in the novella “The Old Man and the Sea” (1952). It narrates the story of an old fisherman, his long and lonely struggle with a fish and the sea, and his victory in defeat. The protagonist Santiago catches a giant marlin after weeks of disappointments, and as he returns to the harbour, the sharks eat the fish, lashed to his boat. The moral that is conveyed through the story is: 'A man can be destroyed but not defeated.' It is the most widely acclaimed work of a larger than life hero of the modern times.
Hemingway admired able people, creative people. He sought and enjoyed the association of creative genius. While in Paris, as a young writer he was introduced to and influenced by Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and Ezra Pound. At Stein's salon, Hemingway also met influential painters such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, and Juan Gris. He termed the group of writers and artists as the 'Lost Generation'. He talked to them, heard their heartbeats and felt their pulses. He wrote “The Sun Also Rises” allusively commemorating their accomplishments. The novel epitomises in an appropriate tone the aspirations of the post-war expatriate generation, narrated by an American journalist, in the settings of France and Spain. Main characters are Lady Brett Ashley and Jake Barnes. Jake and Brett and their odd group of friends have various adventures around Europe and in an attempt to cope with their despair they turn to alcohol, violence, and sex. The story depicts masterly both the sunny and shadowy sides of life.
Hemingway's life was full of accidents. It is to be so for a desperate risk-taker. In 1918 he got a leg injury in Italian battle field. In 1928 he suffered a severe injury in their Paris bathroom, which left a prominent scar on his forehead. He also cut his foot badly which became infected with anthrax. He broke his right arm in a car accident in 1930, cut his right eyeball, had a forehead gash, sliced index finger, and tore chin. In 1944 while in England he fell victim to a car accident. In 1945 in another car accident he smashed his knee and sustained another deep wound on his forehead. He was seriously injured in an airplane crash while hunting in Uganda. During a fishing expedition with family, a bushfire broke out and he was again injured, with second degree burns on his legs, front torso, lips, left hand and right forearm. In the latter part of his life he suffered from sore throats, kidney problems, hemorrhoids, dyspepsia and pneumonia. He also showed a symptom of mental illness. To lessen physical and mental pains he resorted to heavy drinking.
Hemingway loved life -- loved to enjoy it. He was not afraid of death whatsoever. When life proved unbearable to him, he shot himself with his gun. Dying, he became a hero, which he dreamed to be. Suicide was the bizarre way of expressing his personal heroism. He was earnest in life and death. The creative giant had obsession with morbidity and mortality. He loved events where there were bloodshed and death. He often chose death as the theme of his fictions. Death featured prominently in the novels “A Farewell to Arms” and “Across the River and into the Trees”.
Ernest Hemingway is one of the most important fiction writers not simply in American literature but also in world literature. He wrote nine novels, ten short story collections and five non-fiction works. He is remembered as an 'action man' -- a 'dashing writer'. He led a tremendously active life, with globe-trotting and searching for truth in simplicity and complication. He was a man filled with confidence and authority. He made adventures in practical life as well as fiction, in all earnestness.
(The writer is Assistant Professor and Head, Department of English, Daffodil International University.)
From novels to movies
AMONG the American writers, after Edgar Allan Poe, Hemingway fascinated me most for his versatility and ability in constructing powerful stories. After the early initiation in the timeless novels of Ernest Hemingway available in our family library in the Wari house, I was lucky enough to enjoy some great Hollywood movies based on his novels in the pre-Bangladesh era. Each movie not only became box office hits, but also went on to earn many prestigious awards. Most of those motion pictures featured some of the greatest actors of the golden era of Hollywood, such as Tyron Power, Ingrid Bergman, Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy, Susan Hayward, Ava Gardner, Errol Flynn, Gregory Peck, Jennifer Jones and Mel Ferrer. The sensibility and the splendour of those movies left an ever-lasting impression on my mind. No wonder I often find myself shifting through the catalogues of classic movies in various DVD stores in the city. Below I briefly discussed some of the novels and movies based on them.
A farewell to Arms
A Farewell to Arms is a powerful movie based on the equally powerful novel of the same name. It was first published in 1929. The novel spins around the protagonist Lieutenant Frederic Henry, an American soldier serving as an ambulance driver in the Italian army during World War I and his romantic affairs with a nurse. Actually the novel is based on Hemingway's own experiences during the World War I and his romantic relationship with Agnes von Kurowsky while posted in Milan. Hemingway reached the height of fame as a writer with the publication of A Farewell to Arms. The novel was adapted to film in 1932 and again in 1957.
The Old Man and the Sea
Hemingway wrote this unique story in 1952. It is considered the last major work of fiction by the author, which was published in his lifetime. The central character is the old man named Santiago, a Cuban fisherman who struggles with a giant fish called marlin deep inside the sea. The novel received the Pulitzer Prize in May, 1952, and it received special mention at the time Hemingway was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954.
Spencer Tracy was brilliant in portraying the character of the old fisherman. Like me, many English movie buffs saw this movie in the sixties in Naz cinema house.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
I still remember seeing 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' in our college days in Gulistan cinema hall and coming out wiping tears for the hero who dies in a hail of gunfire at the end. What superb performance by both Gary Cooper and the epitome of beauty Ingrid Bergman!
The novel was published in 1940. It is about Robert Jordan, a young American attached to a republican guerilla unit during the Spanish Civil War. He was an expert in explosive devices required for guerrilla activities. He was given the mission of blowing up a bridge during an attack on the city of Segovia. As he blows up the bridge and keeps firing from a machinegun he is finally gunned down by the enemy. The novel is based on Hemingway's own experiences during the Spanish Civil War.
The Snows of Kilimanjaro
A couple of years before the birth of Bangladesh I saw 'The Snows of Kilimanjaro' starring Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward and Ava Gardner in Naz cinema house. Imagine seeing two greatest tinsel town ladies of that time - Ava Gardner and Susan Hayward - together in the same film! It was a double treat. The movie itself was shot in actual locale Africa. A writer named Harry goes on a safari in Africa. He falls into a river from the canoe and is bitten by a hippo in his leg and as a result develops an infection. In the jungle he lies helpless and untreated, awaiting a slow death. In the tent, he finds plenty of time to reflect on his own life and ultimately realises that he did not achieve much as a writer. He dreams on to go to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro as he slowly drifts towards death.
The Sun Also Rises
The novel, considered the first major one by Ernest Hemingway, was published in 1926. It is all about a group of expatriate American citizens and British subjects in continental Europe during the 1920s. The novel is generally considered his best work. Time magazine included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.
The novel was taken to make a great Hollywood movie starring Tyron Power, Ava Gardner, Errol Flynn and Mel Ferrer. It came to Dhaka in the fifties first and then again in the sixties when some of us went to see for more than once.
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