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Tag: Ernest Hemingway

Writers On Writers

“The only one capable of inventing heroes was Bernard Shaw.”
Jorge Luis Borges

“Keynes’s intellect was the sharpest and clearest that I have ever known. When I argued with him, I felt that I took my life in my hands, and I seldom emerged without feeling something of a fool.”
Bertrand Russell

“Fitzgerald was a better just-plain writer than all of us put together.”
John O’Hara

“Schopenhauer’s saying, that ‘a man can do as he will, but not will as he will,’ has been an inspiration to me since my youth up, and a continual consolation and unfailing well-spring of patience in the face of the hardships of life, my own and others’.”
Albert Einstein

“Gertrude Stein, all courage and will, is a soldier of minimalism.”
Elizabeth Hardwick

“Lord Byron makes man after his own image, woman after his own heart; the one is a capricious tyrant, the other a yielding slave.”
William Hazlitt

“George Orwell was the wintry conscience of a generation which in the thirties had heard the call of the rasher assumptions of political faith. He was a kind of saint and, in that character, more likely in politics to chastise his own side than the enemy.”
V. S. Pritchett

“We will never be finished with the reading or rereading of Hegel.”
Jacques Derrida

“I wonder now what Ernest Hemingway’s dictionary looked like, since he got along so well with dinky words that everybody can spell and truly understand.”
Kurt Vonnegut

“The genius of Coleridge is like a sunken treasure ship, and Coleridge a diver too timid and lazy to bring its riches to the surface.”
Hugh Kingsmill

Source: Wikipedia


Writers On Writers

“The trouble with Freudian psychology is that it is based exclusively on a study of the sick. Freud never met a healthy human being—only patients and other psychoanalysts. “
Aldous Huxley

“I don’t know what service I provided for Cheever except to be delighted with his work.”
William Maxwell

“Victor Hugo was a madman who thought he was Victor Hugo.”
Jean Cocteau

“I’ve tried to read Proust so often, and I recognize the beauty of his style, but he puts me to sleep.”

Ray Bradbury

“Nabokov is a natural dandy on the grand international scale.”
Anthony Burgess

“Ezra was right half the time, and when he was wrong, he was so wrong you were never in any doubt about it.”
Ernest Hemingway

“Descartes spent far too much time in bed subject to the persistent hallucination that he was thinking.”
Flann O’Brien

“What writers influenced me as a young man? Chekhov! As a dramatist? Chekhov! As a story writer? Chekhov!”
Tennessee Williams

“Only a technique like Faulkner’s could have enabled me to write down what I was seeing.”
García Márquez

“Beckett destroys language with silence.”
Eugène Ionesco

Sources: The Paris Review, Brainy Quote 

Ernest Hemingway: The self-righteous, no good and bastardly monarch of American literature

Ernest Hemingway was a sovereign of stalwart, muscular fiction whose “gentleness and understanding and probity was never far away from his most appalling behaviour”. And Hemingway could certainly be appalling, so much so that most of his life reads like a cautionary tale. Except every word in Paul Hendrickson’s new biography, Hemingway’s Boat, is based on archived documents from the JFK Presidential Library, the testimony of Hemingway’s family and friends, his corpus of work and studious ratiocination on behalf of the biographer. And yet there are gaps in Hemingway’s apocryphal legacy, which Hendrickson fills with caution on the side of temerity. There have been many books about Hemingway throughout the years, which helped compound the myth of his success as a turn of luck. Hendrickson dispels this popular notion early on by saying there’s no truth in the fact that Hemingway “sprung full-blown into the American consciousness as a serious writer” overnight. “What is true,” writes Hendrickson, “is that, for nearly his whole life, Hemingway had a genius, among his many geniuses, for gathering knowledge inside of him with astonishing… The statement can apply as much to the intricacies of big-game fishing as to the art of shaking daiquiris as to the craft of writing fiction: he simply found out, and lodged it inside him very fast. In so many instances, he seemed to mutate from eager novice to acknowledged expert with barely any larval stage in between.” This was also true of Hemingway when it came to sailing and angling, a penchant for which he developed as early as a “five-year-old-nightcrawler-fisherman” in Horton Bay, Michigan, and later resurrected with the purchase of Pilar, the boat which became a permanent fixture in the turbulent seas of his life.

Hemingway was notoriously mercurial. He reviled his “chickenshit critics,” whom he execrated with vituperative epistles and his “turncoat” friends (Max Eastman, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Edmund Wilson, Charles Scribner) for failing to bend to his will. Eventually, he earned himself a reputation as an antagonistic cockalorum, whose talent had gone to “malice and nonsense and self-praise” as the bite of fame chomped down on his ego. In a poem about his former friend Archibald MacLeish seconded this notion, saying: “What became of him? Fame became of him.” Few could keep up with Hemingway; fewer still could endure his boorishness or withstand his competitive sportsmanship, which cost him handsomely both in friendships and in reputation particularly after the publication of The Green Hills of Africa, which was universally panned. The critics were merciless. One of them, John Chamberlain, who was writing for the New York Times at the time, said the book was “divided between big game lore and salon controversy”.  Chamberlain went on: “Mr Hemingway has so simplified his method that all his characters talk the lingo perfected in The Sun Also Rises, whether these characters are British, Austrian, Arabian, Ethiopian or Kikuyu…Can it be that Hemingway has been writing pidgin English from the start?…to offer Green Hills of Africa as a profound philosophical experience is something else again. It is simply an overextended book about hunting, with a few incidental felicities and a number of literary wisecracks thrown in.” According to Hemingway, however, the book was misunderstood by reviewers, who failed to see his calling as a man of nature, an explorer in the throes of a daring adventure.

Hendrickson aims to succeed where Hemingway failed by depicting his subject first and foremost as an adventurer “catching 420 blue marlins” and sailing to foreign lands rather than a “monarch of American literature” famed for his “imagistic economical stroke”. And to a certain extent the biographer prospers, as reading the book one gets a distinct impression of Hemingway’s preternatural inclination for the outdoors. Hendrickson is also keen to outline his subject’s virtues saying “when it was good with Papa – the writing, the fishing, the drinking, the eating, the talking, the palling around” was in fact so good it made “few things seem better.” But his picture of Hemingway also aims to be a balanced one as he scrupulously documents Hemingway’s frequent bouts of anger, embarrassing public outbursts and pointed cruelty, especially toward his successive spouses. At one point Hendrickson posits that Hemingway “was always making things up from what he knew,” and this was no different when it came to his wives, who always made it into his books in one “unflattering way or another”. Not only that, Hendrickson suggests that Hemingway felt guilty for the break-up of his first marriage and in part could never fully devote himself to his subsequent wives. Certainly, they seemed to be secondary to his sporting life and to Pilar, for it was there that that he dreamed up new books and taught his sons “how to reel in something that feels like Moby Dick,” that he accidentally shot himself in both legs, fell drunk from the flying bridge, wrote “achy, generous, uplifting, poetic letters,” propositioned women, hunted German subs and saved guests and family members from shark attacks. Pilar was “intimately his, and he hers, for twenty-seven-years which were his final twenty-seven-years. She’d lasted through three wives, the Nobel Prize, and all his ruin.” Unfortunately, she may have also contributed to it.

Yet, as Hendrickson notes, it was mainly Hemingway that ruined himself as he continued to self-destruct and alienate people by “telling terrific lies about real people” in his work, which he believed “was somehow more truer than it had actually happened”.  Writing about Hemingway in his book, The True Gen, Denis Brian describes him as a “charming bully and artful sadist who sought to get you drunk in a bar and then take you out into the dark and sucker punch you.” Occasionally, Hemingway shared this opinion of himself once saying to a friend he was “self-righteous, no good and bastardly”. The “son of an old Oak Park doctor and a socially pretentious mother” from a “faith-heavy Midwestern family” got his tempter from his father “who had a propensity to erupt into red rage”. Hemingway’s own anger got worse with time. When his reputation was dwindling he hoped to ingratiate himself with the critics again with the publication of Across the Trees and into the River, a book he thought his best. “I have read it 206 times to try and make it better and to cut out any mistakes or injustices,” he wrote, “ and on the last reading I loved it very much and it broke my fucking heart for the 206th time”. But the press almost unanimously deemed it “embarrassing” and “held together by blind rage”.  Hemingway took out his anger on his fourth wife, Mary, periodically subjecting her to verbal abuse (“whore, bitch, liar, moron”), countless public infidelities and increasingly manic behaviour.  “At table his favourite and frequent means of protesting any word, glance, gesture or food he doesn’t like,” she wrote to his publisher, “is to put his full, freshly served plate on the floor.” By this point, Hemingway was in his early 50s and “not a well man”.  He suffered with “ringing ears, migraines, hypertension, diabetes, kidney problems, depression, and paranoia – and all these ailments, and others, were not only ageing him at what seemed a far faster rate than his chronological age, but each was prone to balloon up wildly and almost virally before subsiding again.” Years of hard living, as well as physical and cerebral exertion, left Hemingway a shell of a man he once was and he could no longer find solace in anything except Pilar, his wondrous “fishing machine” for which his love only deepened with age.

“I envy you like hell,” wrote Fitzgerald to Hemingway toward the end of his life without realising the irony of his words, for by this point the “twentieth century Byron,” as Hemingway was once described, was no longer the brilliant “voyager in literary modernism” but rather a bitter and ailing scrivener responsible for “egregiously bad” copy. Among the many snapshots of Hemingway offered by posterity, and an array of biographical paraphernalia, the most prevailing one remains that of him as a writer of perhaps fleeting but profound talent. Hendrickson’s work certainly provides another dimension to his legacy, but one which neither adds nor detracts from the place Hemingway had previously occupied. The book offers a cornucopia of information about Hemingway’s sporting passions, which defined most of his life and in a somewhat nebulous way gives a more complete picture of the writer who to a certain extent has been a casualty of his own popularity. But the last word lies with Hemingway, who after receiving the Nobel Prize in 1954 penned a letter to the Swedish Academy, saying: “Things may not be immediately discernible in what a man writes, and in this sometimes he is fortunate; but eventually they are quite clear and by these and the degree of alchemy that he possesses he will endure or be forgotten.” And forgotten he will certainly never be.

Writers on Writers

“Henry James is the maestro of the semicolon.”
Truman Capote

“I have tried lately to read Shakespeare and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me.”
Charles Darwin

“I think I have a more poetical mind than Butler’s.”
E.M Forster

“As great a poet as Dante might have been, I wouldn’t have had the slightest wish to have known him personally.”
W.H Auden

After Proust there are certain things that simply cannot be done again.”
Francoise Sagan

“Dumas: that extraordinary old gentleman, who sat down and thought nothing of writing six volumes of The Count of Monte Cristo in a few months.”
Aldous Huxley

“De Sade is the one completely consistent and thoroughgoing revolutionary of history.”
Aldous Huxley

“I think that Hemingway made real discoveries about the use of language in his first novel, The Sun Also Rises. I admired the way he made drunk people talk.”
Evelyn Waugh

“Old age realises the dreams of youth: look at Dean Swift; in his youth he built an asylum for the insane, in his old age he was himself an inmate.”
Søren Kierkegaard

“It’s unthinkable not to love – you’d have a severe nervous breakdown. Or you’d have to be Philip Larkin.”
Lawrence Durrell

Sources: The Paris Review, Goodreads 

Keith Waterhouse: Half-pissed half–the-time, but very prolific

Keith Waterhouse, known universally for penning the tale of Billy Liar, was a prolific novelist, playwright, satirist and Fleet Street tout.  His substantial body of work bears testament to a man for whom writing was not only a vocation but also something of a compulsion. Renowned for his sybaritic streak, he drank like a true Yorkshire man: liberally. And yet Waterhouse never failed to follow his lifelong practice of writing every day. I chanced upon a new copy of Palace Pier, one of Waterhouse’s later efforts, in an Oxfam in Hammersmith, and set about reading it over my morning tea. A couple of pages in and I was transported into the “seafaring town” of Brighton, its “pocket size pubs with the interior of drinking barracks”, its formerly glorious but now decrepit Pier, and the protagonist Chris Duffy’s matutinal routine, which commenced every day, without deviation, with “bran flakes and vodka… in lieu of coffee”.

Chris Duffy is a 61 year “out-of-the-frame” writer, who repines over his lack of success and the “basterdising bastards” who deemed his second novel a poor ersatz of the first. Rejected by every agent in London and told by his former publisher that one cannot “go on writing the same old novel over and over again” he wards off indigence by selling bibelots on North Lane market.  Desperate to get back into the writing game, Duffy will do anything, because he hasn’t a reputation to lose. He is a conflux of diffidence and arrogance, of substance and blatherskite, but above all, he’s “half-pissed, half–the-time” and only “half certain” about his literary capabilities and “that’s how books fail to get written.”

He resides, along with three other oddball denizens of Brighton, in a Victorian house owned by a “veteran pub lady” and Duffy’s part-time paramour called Maureen, a fellow bric-a-brac peddler and “lazy sod” Mickey, and a laggard elderly dear by the name of Olive, who “afflicted with stream-of-consciousness diarrhoea” lives in the garret “collecting waste paper and going slightly mad”. The characters are all as bonkers as each other, and propel the plot forward in bouts of interaction with the story’s egregious, yet likable, protagonist. Blackpool born Duffy arrived there after a fruitless pursuit of his estranged wife, Maggs, whom he married “pissed” and was “pissed when she left” him. Recollecting his past, Duffy’s seemingly care-free attitude begins to dwindle as he wonders “in which cloakroom” of which brackish seaside town he’d left his life and talent. But the introspection is short-lived as there are numerous “bijou pubs” to visit and even more drinks to be had until a state of such oblivion which gives “amnesia a bad name”.

The story moves across Brighton, from Theatre Royal, to the Metropole to Palace Pier and to and through numerous drinking holes dotted around the town centre. We learn about Duffy’s world through the nebula of an extended hangover. It is a world of bitter disappointment, offended pride and egotistical drive for glory because he never cared for the “dosh” anyway. The third person narrative is multi-eloquent, interspersed with the occasional vulgarity; it overflows with literary references and allusions to men of letters such as Kingsley Amis, Brendan Behan, Anthony Burgess, Ernest Hemingway and Oscar Wilde. Desperate to join the circle of literary greats, Duffy compares himself, with pomp, to world-renowned authors while detailing his raiment and concludes to look and be like one of them. But his frustration mounts as he staggers-along among the glittering panoply of the wealthy and the accomplished and the no-good upstarts gathered at the Brighton Literary Festival. By chance, and in a cruel twist of fate, he is asked to stand-in for an absentee speaker and interview a “corduroy clad bearded bugger” about his latest work. He tries to blag it but without much success, and asking the audience whether they have questions, receives a curt reply: “I have a question, sir. Where do I go to get my money back?”

Allusions to Duffy’s writing are sparse, apart from that of one novel, several decades ago, and pesky letters to the Guardian, but he himself confesses living by a slacker’s philosophy that dictates “last things last.” And almost everything comes last.  This is where the novel’s moment of peripeteia arrives, when Duffy, undergoing “a touch of alcoholic Alzheimer’s” his embonpoint ego deflated, resolves to find and “purloin an entire manuscript” written by one of his heroes, the “vastly undeterred” Patrick Hamilton. He learns of the unpublished manuscript through Maureen, and thus goes in pursuit of it, from there on in the book manifests into a farcical tableau – of stilt-walkers, fire eaters, estranged wives, snobby literati, broken reproduction vases, unfulfilled dreams and all sorts of adventures exclusive to a seaside town –   and ends on a somewhat sombre note exactly where it begins, on Palace Pier, where Duffy sits motionless watching hundreds of pages of the manuscript dance and dip “in the gale like wartime leaflets ejected from an enemy bomber”. 

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