Ernest Hemingway: A book review by Bob Morris

Ernest Hemingway: A Biography
Mary V. Dearborn
A Borzoi Book Published by Alfred A. Knopf (May 2017)

A brilliant, probably definitive examination of “what formed this remarkably complex and brilliant writer”

I have read several dozen previously published books about the life and/or the work of Ernest Hemingway and now presume to suggest that Mary Dearborn offers the best single source for the general reader. She obviously admires the best of his work, noting that he published “a string of novels and stories that made readers see the world, because of him, as a different place, more vibrant, more alive, more elemental, and at the same time more romantic.”

These are among the several dozen passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Dearborn’s coverage:

o Hemingway’s father, Clarence (“Ed”) Hemingway (13-16)
o His mother, Grace Hemingway (14-36)
o His childhood (Pages 18-34)
o His adolescence (34-45)
o His relationship with his father (92-93, 238-244, 254-258, 264-265, and 269-270)

o Max Perkins (116, 163, 265, and 280-281)
o Hadley Richardson Hemingway (98-107, 206-215, and 221-232)
o His literary connections in Paris (106-120 and 158-166)
o His development as a writer in Paris (115-170)
o His mental illness (171-172, 606-607, and 611-627)

o Pauline Pfeiffer Hemingway (179-180, 204-210, 236-238, and 241-242)
o Gerald and Sara Murphy (199-205, 220-226, and 314-315)
o F. Scott Fitzgerald on Hemingway’s and his work (217-219, 280-283, and 361-363)
o Gertrude Stein’s relationship with Hemingway (286-288 and 323-325)
o Martha Gellhorn Hemingway (368-382, 390-399, 403-411, and 417-419)

o Hemingway’s social circle in Cuba (431-434, 489-490, 498-499, and 503-504)
o Mary Welch Hemingway (447-448)
o The “gender question” (482-487)
o Nobel Prize (569-571)
o Hemingway’s suicide (7-8, 21, 33, and 614)

Sometimes (not always) valuable insights are provided in an introduction, preface, or prologue to a biography and that is certainly true in this case. Dearborn observes, “Harry, the narrator in one of Hemingway’s most powerful stories, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, is himself a writer who reviews his life and his career and who, while slowly dying, recognizes his failed mission. ‘There was so much to write,’ Harry thinks. ‘He had seen the world change….He had been in it and he had watched it and it was his duty to write of it, but now he never would.’” (The story was published in 1936.)

These same comments could be said of Hemingway in the early-morning on July 2, 1961. He could no longer derive enormous pleasure from his life and no longer believed in his ability to write.

“He selected a double-barreled Boss shotgun, put two shells in it, and took it upstairs to the entryway of the house. There he steadied the butt of the gun on the floor, leaned over, put his forehead on the gun barrels, and pulled the trigger.”

I agree with Mary Dearborn: “What happened to Hemingway was a tragedy for him; a tragedy for his family, who had to endure it and were often damaged in the process; and a tragedy for us.”

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