Serious Business

Love It/Hate It: Ernest Hemingway

Welcome to Love It/Hate It, where two opinionated P-Mag writers mouth off to each other about pop culture icons. 

Today, pileofmonkeys and I take on legendary literary Brah, Ernest Hemingway. Each of us will posit one argument, which will be answered by the other side. We’ll leave it to you, dear readers, to decide who’s most rightest.

Selena: Hemingway is terrible. While historians may disagree, E. Hemingway is everything wrong with the American classics. In a sea of white fellas narrating the American experience of other white fellas in fiction we’re all supposed to identify with, he still manages to stand out. He’s got the entitlement of Hawthorne, the ego of Melville, the sneer of Salinger, and the liver of Poe, all channeled through his penis. At least those four could channel all their man-angst into aesthetic sentences, which is a feat Ernest “modifiers are for sissies” Hemingway never managed to accomplish. You might argue that there is a place for minimalism in literature – a point I would be loathe to argue – but I don’t think Hemingway’s particular take on staccato writing qualifies.

PoM: Hemingway is not terrible. If we’re picking on his “simplistic” style, compared to some of his contemporaries though, notably William “I never met twelve adjectives I didn’t like” Faulkner, Hemingway’s brevity is refreshing. His economy of words is something that few authors, even the ones who try really really hard, can ever achieve. And yes, he’s yet another white dude writing, which in and of itself is problematic, but looking at Hemingway through a modern eye requires separating his bravado and bluster from his actual writing. Unlike, say, Bret Easton Ellis (*hocckk*ptooie), who cites him as an inspiration, Hemingway reserves as much as he reveals. He assumes his reader brings his or her own knowledge to the work, and doesn’t spend a chapter drawing conclusions that the reader comes to after a paragraph.

Selena: Bret Easton Ellis is the very worst, and his love for Hemingway may or may not have influenced my hatred of one or both of them. But fair points, all.

PoM: I think that Hemingway is misunderstood. It’s as popular to hate him as it is to hate Jane Austen (who I actually do hate, but that’s another column entirely). We eye him through a current lens, and look at his douchey persona and macho drunken lifestyle, and project all of that onto his work. I often hear that he’s anti-feminist and a woman-hater. I’d argue, though, that Catherine (A Farewell to Arms) is actually one of his most fully developed and realized characters. Even though he eventually had a fairly final falling-out with Gertrude Stein, they were close friends for most of his time in Paris, and I can’t picture anyone coming out of a friendship like that uninfluenced. I think we tend to project a little of his admittedly obnoxious personality on his writing. While I don’t think you can ever truly separate an author from his work, I think that many authors, Hemingway included, can stretch beyond the autobiographical and create some really amazing stuff. Was Hemingway a cantankerous, cocky jackass? Absolutely. Does that mean his writing is irredeemable? Nope.

Selena: I’d hate Hemingway if he was as beloved as Betty White, so I’m grandfathering myself out of that argument. But you bring up an interesting point about separating the artist from the art, which is infinitely easier to do if you like the artist to begin with, but that, also, is a column for another day. In the call-out age, combined with the 24-hour “news” cycle, it’s harder than ever to have/find pop culture heroes. I think this expectation that actors/writers/performers we enjoy meet every item on our “what makes an awesome person” checklist is unrealistic, for one, and potentially a self(?)-fulfilling prophecy. As much as I preach here, I can’t honestly say my dislike of Hemingway’s writing isn’t influenced by my dislike of Hemingway, the person.

By [E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

11 replies on “Love It/Hate It: Ernest Hemingway”

Oh belov’d PoM, why must you hate Ms. Austen? It does truely give me a sad.

Ya know, Hemingway was one of the more usable lessons writing wise in high school, not for content or story or anything like that. I desperately needed to learn brevity, and a teacher was trying very hard to teach it to me. He had given me the hamburger speech (see below) and I was interested but had difficulty translating that into assignments. So Hemingway as an example of one approach to brevity.

Hamburger speech:

“You are like… like a gourmet chef. You like making fancy things. Your customer orders a burger. So you make the burger, but you also put sparklers and fireworks and whatever else on the damn thing. But here’s the thing- your customer? Just wanted a burger. And sometimes you need to just make the burger by itself.”

I learn from this speech every time I retell it. But yeah.

It also makes me sad when someone as awesome as PoM doesn’t like Jane Austen. I just…I want everyone I like to appreciate the awesomeness of Jane Austen as much as I do!

And yeah, brevity is good. I don’t like Hemingway, never have been able to get through any of his books except Garden of Eden, but I do at least appreciate that he can be brief (if excessively so sometimes.)

“You might argue that there is a place for minimalism in literature — a point I would be loathe to argue — but I don’t think Hemingway’s particular take on staccato writing qualifies.”

His short stories showcase his style better than novel-length, I think, e.g.: Hills Like White Elephants (and of course the ‘six-word short story’ he’s famous for).

ETA to add the link to that for anyone who hasn’t read it:

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