Andrew O’Hagan on Hemingway’s Letters: How It Sort of Was

One of LRB’s best writers (and that’s saying something) takes in Don Ernesto’s personal myth making, drinking, and list making. Nice piece of prose, with a nod to another fave, John Sutherland.

Amidst the details of Hemingway’s self-fashioning of the war hero identity (maybe of a bit of the modernist program?) comes this striking bit from Martha Gellhorn and the following paragraph on H as the writerly “bullshit detector.”

A 1918 photo of Hemingway: he’s fetching in his vulnerability, also weirdly hot given his later look.

Martha Gellhorn was famous for several things, among them being married to ‘E’ and never talking about it, but once, in my presence, she pointed at a candle and said: ‘If E was here he would say there were two candles. He’d insist. Even though we can all see there is one candle on the table, E would say “two” and he would argue his case and never give up until he believed it himself and we all believed it, too.’

Yet feet apart, shoulders square, cigar snug in the corner of the mouth, eyes sparkling with experience, Hemingway is the bullshit-detector of modern literature: every verb earned by toil, every noun inhabited, every adjective deleted, they say, the better to tell you how it was. (He was always a ‘gauge of morale’, Edmund Wilson wrote, ‘a barometer of his times’.) But like many simple writers, Hemingway grew to be ideological and defensive. The world wasn’t big enough for his style and Fitzgerald’s: one of them had to be a faker, and it was never going to be the one who had run with the bulls in Pamplona, as opposed to running with the bullshit in Hollywood.

Now I wish I had watched the HBO thing on them, but I wonder if they tamped down the myths or just “ran with the bullshit”?

Full article at http://www.lrb.co.uk/v34/n11/andrew-ohagan/issues-for-his-prose-style A lot of LRB is behind a paywall, but they put a few gems out front.

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