I have found the recent six-part documentary Hemingway by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick and narrated by Peter Coyote––now available on BBC iPlayer––compulsive viewing.
I read A Farewell to Arms when I was at school and it was one of the few experiences of a ‘set book’ that I actually enjoyed. Much as I have always loved reading, I never liked ‘reading to order’ as was so often the case at school. As a young adult, I read The Sun Also Rises, and I enjoyed that, too. I was at an age when I was receptive to being thrilled, and less inclined to be critical.
Nowadays, I find I can’t read either book.
Everything about Ernest Hemingway is huge. His physique; his influence; his myth.
However, I find myself not liking any part of it. Everything I hear about the man himself I dislike; I dislike the industry that has grown up surrounding him; perhaps, most crucially, I now dislike his writing. The style that many still wax lyrical about as being ground-breakingly modern and concise, I now find immature and unreadable.
It seems rather poor form to criticise a writer who is in no position to defend himself––unlike when Hemingway challenged Max Eastman to a ‘who has the most chest hair’ contest for apparently criticising his masculinity––although I know that he still has myriad advocates who will continue to fight his corner for him.
But, in a peculiar way, this response sums up much of my reason for disliking Hemingway: everything becomes a fight. His life; his writing; his legacy. Personally, I prefer to shy away from conflict rather than to actively seek it, and it makes me feel more the Man for doing so.
In a contemporary climate, the simple existence of Ernest Hemingway raises a challenge for me, in a way that his work no longer does.
© Fergus Longfellow
Fergus Longfellow loses the chest hair competition.