This Week In Literary History: Remembering Hemingway


In the middle of the celebratory feel of this week, as we head into Independence Day Weekend, I would be remiss if we did not take a moment to remember this week (yesterday, in fact) as the anniversary of the death of Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway was born this month in 1899 in our very own Oak Park,
attended Oak Park and River Forest High Schools until his graduation in
1917. After working as a reporter for the Kansas City Star and serving
in the Red Cross Ambulance
Corps in WWI, Hemingway returned to Oak Park briefly before moving to
Toronto. Then, Hemingway moved back to Chicago, where he continued to
do work for The Toronto Star. He married his first wife and the
two lived initially on a top floor apartment on the 1300 block of N.
Clark Street, then at 1239 N. Dearborn, which bears a plaque today
reading, "The Hemingway Apartment". In the early 1930s, Hemingway lived in Key West,
and rumor has it (okay, okay, I was told first-hand) that a certain
current Chicago author made a point of making out with his wife in the
Florida Hemingway residence, to mark the occasion. But, I digress.

After Hemingway's suicide in 1961, there was a fair amount of
discussion about his posthumous work, too. Hemingway, you see, was a
very prolific letter-correspondent and made quite clear the fact that
he never wanted any of his letters published. In 1981, several letters
were, in fact, published in Ernest Hemingway Selected Letters, and so was met with some degree of controversy. Other letters between Hemingway and his editor were published later in The Only Thing That Counts in 1996. 

(Coincidentally, we visited the topic of posthumous publication rights on Chicago Subtext just days ago.)


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  • You know, on further thought of the posthumous publishing of unintended work, it occurred to me that it really boils down to a question of the enduring legacy of legendary personae. There are few names in literature as lionized and retroactively hyped as Ernest Hemingway. The man wrote really magnificent stories, but ultimately there's a sort of duality that exists between wanting to see him as just a regular guy that one could relate to, and wanting to see him as part of some pantheon of literature. In ancient Rome, he could be said to have undergone apotheosis, or the creation of a popularly agreed-on "God who had Lived".

    So the real question is: do we want to keep our ordained literary Gods, or do we want to remember them accurately as very flawed, human, and understandable people? I think there's an agenda there in both cases. Gods give us inspiration, and simple people allow us license to forgive and empathize. If you follow the recent Hollywood rash of biopics, there's a predictable formula involved whereby the flaws of our out-sized human legends are exposed and then we as an audience are led through the exercise of understanding and rationalizing any number of flawed behaviors.

    For example: I have a feeling Johnny Cash would not have chosen to let his fans think of him as a recalcitrant druggie with a checkered family life, but probably more because he saw the specific details of the past as more embarassing than the general overview. We as an audience, on the other hand, have a stake in going through it with him vicariously so that we can dismiss away the drugs and rocky relationships as part of the road he took to become the legend he was in our minds all along.

  • I heard Hemingway once said Oak Park was a town of "wide lawns and narrow minds."
    I kinda agree.It's psuedo liberal, pseduo tolerant. I should know. I grew up there.

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