Hemingway and the Biographical Heresy

"Vilify! Vilify! Some of it will always stick."

When I learned some time ago that the critic Kenneth S. Lynn was bringing out a book on the late Ernest Hemingway, hard on the heels of the large biographical study by Jeffrey Myers, I anticipated a reasonably cogent analysis of the stories, the several novels, and the most important of the nonfiction as well. Instead, what we now have on hand is more of the same—the gossipers and the neo-Freudian biographers pecking away at a life that was already shattered long before the man, in a moment of agony, became his own executioner. With that one shot, the myth of the public persona of Ernest Hemingway should have been put to rest forever.

But it hasn't been put to rest at all. It was of course Hemingway himself who was largely responsible for the creation of the myth of the author as undisputed macho in American letters, just as the poet Robert Frost had early passed himself off as our resident bucolic poet. We know that Hemingway had a bitch of a mom in Grace Hall, who dressed him in his sister's clothes and called him her "summer girl," but how does this bear upon the writer's great achievement itself? Hemingway is our only major writer who, after his first two or three books, has been savaged for not producing a masterpiece every time. This is the ploy of the cream-puff critics...

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