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Ernest Hemingway



     Dan Wilhelmi, the Hoover Institution's most helpful computer expert, is by background a political scientist with a keen interest in international affairs. He has called my attention to the special section in the New York Times (6/11/99) devoted to Hemingway, marking the centennial of his birth. The newspaper space devoted to an individual simply reflects his news value, not his instrinsic value. Hitler beats Hemingway in his regard.
     Dan expresses his own healthy opinion: "As a Stanford student, I took a class in the English Department called "Fitzgerald and Hemingway." I loved the former, tolerated the latter. The professor who taught the course omitted For Whom the Bell Tolls from the reading list, saying that it was an awful book."
     Many distinguished journalists wrote about the Spanish Civil War. Hemingway was not one of them, He was a paracaidista, a parachutist who dropped into Spain. My favorite correspondent was Ernest Grimaud de Caux, who spent decades in Madrid as the correspondent of The Times of London. A kind, thoughtful, and well-informed obserever, he followed the diplomatic corps to Biarritz where they went toward the end of the Civil War. There he was picked up after the Germans seized occupied France and spent the rest of the war in a concentration camp. After the war he was freed, and went back to Madrid with his wife. He was his old charming self, but she had lost her mind. They are buried in Madrid.
     Despite his Nobel prize in literature, Hemingway could not be described as leading an exemplary life. When he was shot in 1961 at the age of 61, his fourth wife claimed it was accident, but it was a suicide. At her request, the coroner did not hold at autopsy but described his death as the result of "self-inflicted gunshot wounds in the head." The media devoted pages to this lost member of the lost generation. The world being what it is, the noble de Caux is forgotten.
     Hemingway represented a whole group I came to despise, the foreign bohemians who sent to Paris after World War I because the franc was devalued and life was easy. The group included Picasso and Salvador Dalí, to mention just two irresponsible Spanish clowns. They loved the Paris of the "mad years", and rejoiced in being among Cocteau's enfants terribles and the other admirers of Josephine Baker's crazy danse nègre. The Spanish Republic, indeed all of Europe, needed good citizens, and none of this gang could be described as such.
     Hemingway had a bullfighter's vision of Spain. When Death in the Afternoon (1932) established his reputation as the great popularizer of bullfighting, he said he had seen 1,500 bulls killed. What a way to understand Spain! In 1959 he was invited to visit the Soviet Union. He said "Why should I go to Russia when there is bullfighting in Spain?" Those of us who have spent years studying the languages and history of Spain and Russia have misspent our lives.
     Hemingway was fascinated by violence amd behaved like a lout, especially when he was drunk. Max Eastman told him he had false hair on his chest. To prove that it was real, Hemingway punched him Very macho. Blame his father. His pious mother have him a cello, bu he preferred the gun his father gave him when he was 10. It sounds like 1999!
     Doctriaire leftists are just as bad as doctrinaire rightists. They show an incapacity for careful observation and considered thought. In May, 1937 he returned to the United States and predicted the victory of the Spanish Republicans. To me, Franco's strategy and final victory was already apparent. He settled in Cuba and later befriended Fidel Castro. An A.P. 1960 photograph showed the two embracing. The admirers of Castro like Gabrield García Márquez were friends and admirers of Hemingway. He received the Nobel Literature Prize in 1954. My position is clear. This prize should be abolished or expanded to include writers like historians whose works cannot be described as belles lettres, but whose contribution to society and whose intellectual significance are real. Admittedly, modern American fiction cannot be described as belle, and Hemingway is largely to blame.

Ronald Hilton - 07/11/99


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