Carnivore Dreams – Hemingway


Most photos of Hemingway are of him middle-aged or old, with the white beard, or at the prime of his life with a huge Marlin fish or gun in his hand. But I like to think of him young, when all about who he was and who he became was forming — when he was hurt as all of us are — and what led to not only his fine writing, but his mistakes and regrets. I’m re-reading A Moveable Feast, arguably my favorite Hemingway book. Though his fiction was always autobiographical, this, of course, is nonfiction.

He says of his first wife Hadley when returning from a trist with his soon to be second wife, Pauline:  ”When I saw my wife . . . at the station, I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her.”

And I suspect that was one of the things that haunted him.

Hemingway, I suspect, was a mass of regrets. Perhaps he had a difficult childhood, his father committing suicide (as he was later to do along with a grand-daughter), or maybe he had things too easy in other ways — literary writers rarely achieve fame and fortune as he did. Or could afford to experience life as he did. His father was a doctor, so he was fairly privileged.

I suspect he was most unhappy with his own mistakes.

People think they can imitate Hemingway or denigrate him for his simple style. But Hemingway changed fiction forever — at least for while — though his influence remains. His style is no longer in and people are back to over-writing and over-explaining emotion–Hemingway’s stories existed between the lines — he simply painted the picture and let YOU fill in the emotion — what is hanging between people—because no matter how much people yell and scream, the story always lies in what is NOT said. Hemingway understood that. I’ve heard his iceberg theory described as emotional whining or some silly thing, that it was actually so emotional it read like whining? — which can only be said by someone who wishes he had half Hemingway’s talent. If you can achieve whining without describing actual emotion, I’d say that is quite a feat. His journalistic style was groundbreaking, but more than that: his iceberg theory. What you leave out is equally as important as what you put in.

Even if my style is not the short declarative sentences he was known for, I use the iceberg theory in all my writing. And I also use setting as character as he did.

I loved how Woody Allen poked gentle fun at him in Midnight in Paris, having the character talk just the way Hemingway wrote. Which was both humorous and yet still showed Woody’s admiration of him. He has the character speak about how the only time you lose your fear of death is losing yourself in the passion of making love with the right woman. I am not sure if Hemingway ever said that–or Woody said that — and I am paraphrasing it anyway, but it seemed to capture Hemingway’s character. (I suspect Woody is most terrified of death than anything and is interested in Hemingway’s preoccupation with it.)

But the words Hemingway DID use to tell a story, were often as beautiful as those he left out: “In Africa, what was true at first light was a lie by noon…” From Green Hills of Africa. I think I have that right. The rest of the sentence was lovely, too, but after reading just those words, you have to stop and drown yourself in them.

I have been reading a little before editing every day. I decided to write most of my life into my memoir, when I prefer Hemingway’s choice of writing more fully about a short period of his life (Feast takes place in his time in Paris) and I may take that up after this project. It’s nice to have the big events summarized, and much of my memoir consists of creative nonfiction pieces, separate stories, strung together, but Hemingway makes me want to explore things even a bit more.

Happy Thurs. I will edit a few hours, exercise, and hose down. It’s hamburger for dinner with a few shitaake mushrooms, gravy and potatoes for the boys. Mushrooms are one of the few vegetables I eat.

Reading Hemingway makes me want to pour a touch of rum into my cream (he talks about a Rum St. James) and make my version of Bailey’s. And maybe even a sip of wine with the burger. So might just do that.

8 thoughts on “Carnivore Dreams – Hemingway

    1. Thank you, John. When I was an adjunct professor at Northern Michigan, I only taught creative writing once, usually Freshman English. But I taught Hemingway precisely because of his iceberg theory and his journalistic style, his use of setting as character, visual writing. Always so strange to see people over-simplify Hemingway. 🙂

  1. Though I was semi-familiar with his early days, my mental image centers around Key West [we lived 25 years in Florida] and it’s Hemmingway look-alike contests. It was nice to see the image which I suppose could have been taken in Paris.

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