This book is a large-minded, rigorously fair summation of the best thought on Hemingway's writing, his life, traumas, pathologies, his family and friends, his even more abundant cast of personal, literary and cultural enemies. There is new reporting, too, about significant events and previously ignored witnesses aboard Pilar, a 38-foot ocean fishing boat delivered to Hemingway in 1934. Like earlier books by this deft storyteller, this parallel biography of Pilar and her captain is extremely well written. Moreover, in the academic field of Hemingway studies, the book will stand as an indispensable document.
The Washington Post
NBCC–award winner Hendrickson (Sons of Mississippi) offers an admirably absorbing, important, and moving interpretation of Hemingway's ambitions, passions, and tragedies during the last 27 years of his life. When Hemingway purchased the sleek fishing boat Pilar in 1934, he was on the cusp of literary celebrity, flush with good health, and ebullient about pursuing deep sea adventures. The release from his desk was a reward for productive writing and the change replenished his creative energy. But eventually Hemingway's health and work declined. When he committed suicide in 1961, he hadn't been aboard the Pilar in many months. Acutely sensitive to his subject's volatile, "gratuitously mean" personality, Hendrickson offers fascinating details and sheds new light on Hemingway's kinder, more generous side from interviews with people befriended by Hemingway in his prime. Most importantly, Hendrickson interviewed each of Hemingway's sons. He suggests, not for the first time but with poignant detail, the probability that Papa's youngest son, Gregory (Gigi), a compulsive cross-dresser who eventually had gender-altering surgery, was acting out impulses that his father yearned for yet denied. Hendrickson makes new connections between ex-wife Pauline's sudden death after Hemingway's cruel accusations against Gigi, and Gigi's lifelong guilt over her death. In the end, Hendrickson writes of the tormented Gigi and his conflicted father, "I consider them far braver than we ever knew." 23 illus. (Sept. 23)
From the Publisher
“I read [Hemingway’s Boat] without a pause . . . [It’s] a biography that is at once admiring and devastating, and full of material that I wouldn’t have thought even existed and of people who knew Hemingway whom I’d never heard of—an eye opener of a book, full of unexpected riches, fascinating digressions, and leaving one at the end wishing the book were longer, and thinking long and hard about the price of fame and success in America, and the dangers of seemingly getting everything you wanted out of life—it just may be the best book I’ve read this year, and certainly the best book I’ve read about an American writer in a long, long time.”
-Michael Korda, Newsweek Favorite Books 2011
“A lyrical and expansive search for the essence of a famous writer—heart, soul, and hull.”
-Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune Top Picks of 2011
“The author, an accomplished storyteller, interprets myriad tiny details of Ernest Hemingway’s life, and through them says something new about a writer everyone thinks they know.”
-The Economist Books of the Year 2011
“Hendrickson’s engrossing book offers a fresh slant on the rise and fall of a father figure of American literature.”
-San Francisco Chronicle Best Books of 2011
“Hendrickson deftly maps out the ‘irresolvable differences’ within Hemingway in this rather unusual take on biography, explaining that although Hemingway’s writing is ‘rooted in geography’ and ‘linear movements’, his life, ‘like his boat, beat against so many cross-currents’—as Hendrickson’s own exploration does, taking many ‘departures from the main frame’. In doing so, he surveys a huge amount of information: boat journals, letters—Hemingway wrote several thousand over his lifetime—and interviews with figures routinely seen as footnotes by most major Hemingway biographers. . . . The boat is the spiritual centre of the book, and however far Hendrickson strays he always brings us back to her, bobbing on the azure waters. . . . [T]he book becomes more than a study of Hemingway; it is a study of frailty, imagination, humanity, fathers and sons (all kinds) and torment. . . . ‘Memory is hunger,’ Hemingway wrote in A Moveable Feast. Hendrickson has achieved the near impossible and increased that hunger. In The Snows of Kilimanjaro, Papa writes, ‘No one has explained what the leopard was seeking at that altitude’, yet Hendrickson gets closer than most, taking the mantle out of the hands of the industry and into the arms of poetry.”
-The Irish Times
“There's never been a biography quite like this one . . . The stories are rich with contradiction and humanity, and so raw and immediate you can smell the salt air.”
-Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2011: The Top 10
“Rich and enthralling . . . Paul Hendrickson is a deeply informed and inspired guide. He often appears in the first person, addressing the reader and exhorting him or her to speculate, imagine, or feel. He has researched exhaustively, been to the places Hemingway frequented, and talked to whoever was part of or had a connection to the Hemingway days. His diligence and spirit are remarkable. It is like traveling with an irrepressible talker who may go off on tangents but never loses the power to amaze . . . Hemingway’s Boat is a book written with the virtuosity of a novelist, hagiographic in the right way, sympathetic, assiduous, and imaginative. It does not rival the biographies but rather stands brilliantly beside them—the sea, Key West, Cuba, all the places, the life he had and gloried in. His commanding personality comes to life again in these pages, his great charm and warmth as well as his egotism and aggression.”
-James Salter, The New York Review of Books
“Large-minded [and] rigorously fair . . . An indispensable document . . . With this sterling summation of the entire Hemingway canon, Hendrickson shows what has eluded some very able scholars. A writer’s life can contain two conflicting existences, one of purely original genius and one of irreversible destructiveness. It’s a lucky genius who gets credit for the first and a free pass on the second. Hendrickson issues no free pass to Papa. He gives the ravaged old man something more honest: a fair summing-up of a life like no other.”
-Howell Raines, The Washington Post
“A rich book and a wandering one . . . Hemingway’s Boat is about Hemingway, about what was good in him and what was bad, about what brought a man who took pleasure in so much to the point where he could take his own life. It is about the joy he spread and the infection he carried . . . For Hendrickson, discovering just how unhappy and unsettled Hemingway was for so long makes him more of a hero. He states his case persuasively, which is why this book is so good.”
-Allan Massie, The Wall Street Journal
“Heartbreaking . . . Hemingway’s Boat includes some of the most moving, beautiful pieces of biography I have ever read . . . In the best of these streaming ‘other lives’ . . . Hendrickson’s two strongest gifts—that compassion and his research and reporting prowess—combine to masterly effect.”
-Arthur Phillips, The New York Times Book Review
“Brilliant . . . Through painstaking reporting, through conscientious sifting of the evidence, and most of all, through vivid, heartfelt, luminous writing, Hendrickson gets to the heart of both Hemingway and his world . . . Hendrickson writes sentences that seem lit from within—but not in a showy way. Rather, they glow with the yearning of the humble seeker, the diligent observer who understands that we’ll never get to the end of the Hemingway story—yet we have to start somewhere.”
-Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune
“Glorious . . . A copious, mystical portrait . . . [Pilar] proves that there just might be one more way of telling Papa’s story . . . Hendrickson handles her like the relic she is, and makes of her a cunning, capable metaphor for Hemingway’s contradictory drives . . . Hendrickson fills in the negative space exuberantly. He imagines each scene completely, and then imagines himself into it. The book becomes a participatory biography—the details are rendered with a hallucinatory intensity . . . This big-hearted book leaves us with a litany of sorrows, but also images of grace: of heroism in Gigi’s muddled final moments; of tenderness and lucidity in Hemingway’s paranoid last days; and of Pilar and her promise of escape, renewal, and the open sea.”
-Parul Sehgal, Cleveland Plain-Dealer
“The most honest and honestly excellent prose about Papa Hemingway to date . . . Hendrickson’s quirky, compelling, and compassionate biography of a literary lion slants great.”
-Linda Elisabeth Beattie, Louisville Courier-Journal
“This unfailingly intelligent meditation on the achievement of genius and the corrosion of fame brings a man we thought we knew to life in a wholly different light.”
“[Pilar is a] brilliant conceit. . . No wan symbol or factitious theory [serves] as blinkered Virgil, but instead a tactile, intensely documented, sensual, action-crammed vessel that [carries] a rich cargo of story . . . The utilitarian yet graceful lines of Pilar form a sturdy armature for the sculpture of Hemingway that Hendrickson hews from the marble of history in Hemingway’s Boat. Thanks to Hendrickson’s insights, his laborious research, and his sturdy, cannily wrought, often lyrical prose, the famed novelist comes alive again in uncluttered, fresh dimensions, vividly at the helm of his boat once more.”
-Paul Di Filippo, The Barnes & Noble Review
“An often lyrical mélange of biography, lit-crit meditation and straight reportage . . . Hendrickson delves deep into the margins, running down fascinating profiles of a handful of characters who had been treated like bit players in earlier works and searching for renewed significance in some episodes that had previously been relegated to footnotes . . . Smart and lovingly crafted, a worthy addition.”
-Larry Lebowitz, Miami Herald
“This may be the great Hemingway book of the past twenty years. It gives us, at long last, the New Hemingway we’ve needed. We are persuaded that, at long last, we have somehow encountered Hemingway whole—apparition and monster, buffoon and barbarian, literary titan and pretender, macho man and soft-hearted benefactor, and above all, the great artist wrestling with anxieties that are secret gifts and advantages that were vicious impediments . . . [Hendrickson is] so attentive to detail that he will notice the polish on a woman’s nails, but, at the same time, so intuitive that he can neutralize some of the oldest toxins flowing through the bloodstream of Hemingway’s life narrative.”
-Jeff Simon, Buffalo News
“Writing with stylistic verve, great heart and profound insight, Paul Hendrickson gives us a fresh way to understand one of the most written-about, fascinating characters in American letters . . . Hendrickson doesn’t reveal Hemingway’s life as much as he illuminates it with his characteristic passion and intelligence, in a great match of biographer and subject.”
-Elizabeth Taylor, Chicago Tribune
“Paul Hendrickson wrote Hemingway’s Boat almost as a rebuke to the many conflicting Hemingway biographies and ‘daffy critical studies.’ If he could ground a narrative in something that existed and still exists, that Hemingway loved, if he could learn about such a treasured possession, then maybe he could learn something about Hemingway, too. He does, in spades, and so do Hendrickson’s lucky readers . . . Captivating.”
-Roger K. Miller, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Engrossing . . . Movingly told . . . Hemingway’s Boat brings a commanding personality—and all the fears and insecurities that came with it—brilliantly to life side by side with the lives of minor characters, neglected witnesses who have their own stories to tell.”
-J. Malcolm Garcia, The Kansas City Star
“Inspired . . . Enthralling . . . Hendrickson writes so well that every page is a pleasure to absorb.”
-Steve Weinberg, The Christian Science Monitor
“Hendrickson’s innovative writing and approach make for a book that is both delightful and profound.”
“Less a biography than a deeply reported, achingly considered meditative essay, Hemingway’s Boat covers a vast amount of territory in the life of the mythic, difficult-to-understand Papa, all of it coming back in some way to Hemingway’s beloved 38-foot, two-engine, ocean-plying Pilar. Fishing, fatherhood, manhood, writing, the infinite pull of the Gulf Stream—these constitute only the starting point of Hendrickson’s sympathetic, illuminating wanderings . . . Hendrickson’s book is filled with intensity, humanity, and more.”
-Starred review, Booklist
“Splendid . . . A moving, highly evocative account . . . Seven years in the making, this vivid portrait allows us to see Hemingway on the Pilar once again, standing on the flying bridge and guiding her out of the harbor at sunrise. Appearing on the 50th anniversary of Hemingway’s death, this beautifully written, nuanced meditation deserves a wide audience.”
-Starred review, Kirkus
“Admirably absorbing, important, and moving . . . Poignant . . . Acutely sensitive to his subject’s volatile, ‘gratuitously mean’ personality, Hendrickson offers fascinating details and sheds new light on Hemingway’s kinder, more generous side.”
-Starred review, Publishers Weekly
“Unique . . . Hendrickson has come neither to praise nor bury his subject, but to give him a fair shot . . . Featuring spry writing and clever insight but thankfully little critical analysis of Ernest Hemingway’s work (that’s been done to death), Hendrickson brings fresh meat to the table, delivering one of the most satisfying Hemingway assessments in many years. A delight for Ernesto’s numerous fans.”
-Starred review, Library Journal
“Complex but clear and easy to follow . . . With fresh information and insights, [Hemingway’s Boat] adds significantly—as many other books have not—to what we know about a complicated and great American writer.”
-Clyde Edgerton, Garden & Gun
“Hemingway's Boat is Paul Hendrickson at his peak, which is as good as it gets. I've not read a book in years that struck me so deeply paragraph after paragraph, page after page, chapter after chapter—the writing, research, sensibility, honesty, sadness and guts to steer Pilar and Hemingway down so many unexplored and revelatory ocean streams."
-David Maraniss, author of When Pride Still Mattered: A Life of Vince Lombardi
“The complex life of a deservedly renowned, brilliantly energetic storyteller is here told with knowing sensitivity, and remarkably, without resort to the mannerisms of the psychiatric clinic or to the various canons of the literary and educational worlds. In a sense, Paul Hendrickson, an essayist and skilled documentary writer, himself builds Hemingway’s boat, sees its practical and metaphorical significance to a novelist who struggled mightily, sometimes with success, sometimes with failure, to navigate life’s challenging hurdles, obstacles, opportunities, as they came his way, wave after wave of them, in his boldly, bravely original, yet often melancholy effort to stay afloat, keep on top of things as a writer, husband, father.”
-Robert Coles, author of Children of Crisis: A Study of Courage and Fear
“Just when you thought there was nothing left to say about Papa, along comes Hemingway's Boat. Paul Hendrickson proposes that the thirty-eight-foot motor yacht Pilar was the true love of Hemingway's life, and from this slant angle manages to bring the revered and reviled author of ‘The Snows of Kilamanjaro’ back to life for us once again.”
-Jay McInerney, author of How It Ended: New and Collected Stories
“Paul Hendrickson is the most innovative and creative nonfiction writer I know. Just read Hemingway's Boat and you'll see what I mean. He has an almost saintly compassion for both the greatness and the foibles of Hemingway, and he brings the reader directly into Papa's sultry Cuban lair like never before. A landmark publishing event.”
-Douglas G. Brinkley, author of The Great Deluge
From the trout streams of his youth to the Gulf Stream of his adult years, boats and water were a constant presence in Ernest Hemingway's journey. Hendrickson (Sons of Mississippi: A Story of Race and Its Legacy) takes a unique tack by framing the last 27 years of Hemingway's over-dissected life with his yacht, Pilar. Outlasting marriages and relationships with friends and family, the 38' Brooklyn-built fishing machine was the lasting love of his life. Hendrickson has come neither to praise nor to bury his subject, but to give him a fair shot. Hemingway is filtered through the eyes of friends and family; with full chapters focusing on Pilar's strange mate Arnold Samuelson and several chapters following Walter Houk, a still-living acquaintance from the Cuba days. Hemingway's youngest and most troubled son, Gregory, is also featured prominently. Hemingway had such a dominating personality that he unknowingly damaged those around him, with siblings and offspring suffering the worst. VERDICT Featuring spry writing and clever insight but thankfully little critical analysis of EH's work (that's been done to death), Hendrickson brings fresh meat to the table, delivering one of the most satisfying Hemingway assessments in many years. A delight for Ernesto's numerous fans.—Mike Rogers, Library Journal
A splendid view of Papa and his beloved boatPilar.
"You know you love the sea and would not be anywhere else," wrote Ernest Hemingway inIslands in the Stream. In 1934, already the "reigning monarch of American literature" forThe Sun Also RisesandA Farewell to Arms, he bought a 38-foot motorized fishing vessel at a Brooklyn boatyard and set out for the Caribbean. "Mr. H. is like a wild thing with his boat," wrote Pauline, his second wife. An integral part of his final 27 years,Pilaroffered afternoons of solace on waters between Key West and Cuba, during which Hemingway fished, drank, wrote, bickered with wives and sons and entertained visitors. A formerWashington Postfeature writer and winner of a National Book Critics Circle award, Hendrickson (Nonfiction Writing/Univ. of Pennsylvania;Sons of Mississippi: A Story of Race and Its Legacy, 2003, etc.) offers a moving, highly evocative account of Hemingway's turbulent later years, when he lost the favor of critics, the love of wives and friends and, ultimately, his ability to write. Drawing on interviews, documents (including 34Pilarlogs) and secondary sources, the author succeeds in restoring a sense of Hemingway the man, seen as a flawed, self-sabotaging individual whose kindness and gentleness have been overlooked in accounts of his cruel and boorish side. Even as he attacked critics and fired his shotgun angrily at sea birds, the tortured author proved remarkably sweet and friendly to many, including Arnold Samuelson, an admiring young writer who became Hemingway's assistant onPilar; and Walter Houk, now in his 80s, who remembers the author fondly as "a great man with great faults." Seven years in the making, this vivid portrait allows us to see Hemingway on thePilaronce again, standing on the flying bridge and guiding her out of the harbor at sunrise.
Appearing on the 50th anniversary of Hemingway's death, this beautifully written, nuanced meditation deserves a wide audience.
Read an Excerpt
APRIL 3, 1934. The temperature in Manhattan got into the high sixties. G-men shot an accomplice of Dillinger's in Minnesota; the Nazis were running guns to the Moors; Seminoles were reviving a tribal dance in honor of alligators in Florida; Lou Gehrig had two homers in an exhibition game in Atlanta. And roughly the bottom third of America was out of work.
According to "Steamship Movements in New York," a column that runs daily in the business section of the Evening Journal, nine liners are to dock today. The SS Paris, 34,500 tons, is just sliding in after a seven-day Atlantic crossing, from Le Havre via Plymouth, at Pier 57 on the West Side of New York City.
"Expected to dock: 5:00 P.M.," reports the newspaper. And she does.
If this were a Movietone News item about Hemingway the big-game hunter, arriving home after eight months abroad, and you were in a darkened movie palace of the thirties awaiting the feature, you'd see ropes being thrown off, gangplanks being lowered, steamer trunks being unloaded, and passengers starting gaily to stream off. You'd see the New York press boys with their rumpled suits and stained ties and skinny notebooks and Speed Graphic cameras clawing for position. The blocky white lettering superimposed on the flickering images would announce: "Back from Lion Hunt in East Africa!" They'd bring up the sound track-something stirring, to suggest the march of time. And then would come the voice-over-wouldn't it be Ed Herlihy's?-with its electric charge: "Famed author Mr. Ernest Hemingway, just back on the French liner Paris with Mrs. Hemingway from conquering the lion and the rhino and the wildebeest and the greater kudu, says that death in the afternoon is far less engrossing in a Spanish bull ring than on the African veldt."
The press boys clotted at the bottom of the gangplank badly want Hemingway, and they want Katharine Hepburn (she is on the boat, too, and makes wonderful copy, when she deigns to speak), but apparently none of them knows (for none of their papers will have it tomorrow) that an even bigger trophy has just berthed at Pier 57: Marlene Dietrich. She's going to give them the nifty slip. Publicity? Who needs it? Maybe Dietrich's hiding out in her stateroom. She might have registered under a different name-glamorous figures routinely do this. In fact, Hepburn is on the manifest as "Miss Katherine Ludlow." (Her husband is Ludlow Ogden Smith.) She has decided not to hide from the pack.
The famous and close and long-lasting Dietrich-Hemingway friendship dates from this Atlantic crossing. For the rest of his life, Hemingway mostly called her the Kraut, when he wasn't addressing her as "daughter," the latter being how he liked to address women younger than himself, famous or otherwise, whom he'd not-apparently-taken to bed. Dietrich was two and a half years younger. There is a well- traveled story about how she was stepping into the ship's dining room to join a dinner party. Every open-jawed man at the table rose to give her his chair, but just as she started to sit down, the international flame with the statuesque body and lusty voice counted the mouths and saw that there were twelve diners. "Oh. I'm the thirteenth. You will excuse me if I don't join you. I'm superstitious about thirteen at dinner," she said, starting to withdraw. But just then Hemingway blocked her way. "Excuse me," he said. "I don't mean to intrude. But I'd be glad to be the fourteenth."
Afterward, they supposedly strolled the decks arm in arm and told each other-maybe like Bogart and Claude Rains in Casablanca, except that that movie hadn't been made yet-that this was going to be the start of a beautiful friendship. At least this is the legend, and Dietrich herself greatly helped it along in 1955 in a first-person cover story in the Sunday supplement of the New York Herald Tribune. The piece was titled "The Most Fascinating Man I Know." She talked of how she and Hemingway had depended on each other through the years, how she'd protected his deeply personal letters to her in a strongbox. Actually, Dietrich may not have even written the piece- according to Mary Hemingway, it was ghosted by journalist and scriptwriter A. E. Hotchner, one of Hemingway's last confidants, or toadies, depending on your point of view, for the two-decades-younger Hotch, as Hemingway often called him, has been described as both in the vast, roily, envy-ridden sea of Hemingway studies. In any case, among smaller errors, Dietrich or her ghost got the name of the boat wrong; she said it was the other (even grander) star of the French line, the Île de France.
But this is a newsreel of the imagination. Hemingway's poised at the
Paris's rail with his spouse. He's intent on purchasing a boat, but right now he's allowing photographs to be made, and he's popping quotes. Freeze the frame. Stop time in a box.
Pauline Hemingway is in a zebra-striped suit and an almost dowdy hat, curled at the brim, tilting right to left. Her right shoulder touches her husband's left. She is so small beside him. Her hair is cropped like a boy's. She has a boyish physique and is known for her disinclination to use makeup. (It's true she likes to keep her nails and toes manicured for her husband, often lacquering them in light pink.) Her body is turned a few degrees away from the rail, as if she might decide to walk off any second now. She's probably not getting a word in edgewise. She isn't a beautiful woman, but she isn't unattractive, either. She is four years and a day older than her husband, who is leaning forward, right into the middle of things, as if right into the middle of reporters' notebooks. Both his arms are on the rail, and his right hand is holding the brim of a fedora that has a wide, dark band. He's wearing a suit and tie and there's a sliver of handkerchief visible at the top of his vest pocket. No matter his dress, he's unmistakably a man of the outdoors, with the body of an athlete. His hair looks Brylcreemed and newly cut, although a strand or two at the back of his head are out of place. Around his seventeen-and-a-half-inch neck, inside his dress shirt, is a scapular: he's a convert to Catholicism, which is his wife's devoutly practiced faith. (She's a "cradle Catholic," while his on- again, off-again devotions are reputed to have arisen out of the shocks of World War I.) He's known to wear his scapular unfailingly in these years. It's got an image of Christ on it, suspended from a brown, shoestring-like loop. At home, in Key West, friends have observed him with the scapular, and how he'll make the sign of the cross before he goes in swimming.
That smile: hobnailed and hard-boiled all the way, just this side of aggressive. The more you study the photograph, however, the more you see that both Hemingways are holding a pose.
This picture, or versions of it, is going to get picked up and run in many hinterland places, including in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, where winter still has the earth in her grip, and where a young, self- styled, Hemingway-like character will see the photograph and tear it out of the Pioneer Press and fold it into his pocket and pack his knapsack and hop a freight to Florida, in hopes of meeting his writing idol. The young man's name is Arnold Morse Samuelson, and he is in for the ride of his life. But that's running out ahead.
Not every city editor in New York-there are something like nine dailies in the city in 1934-has sent a reporter to the docks today to shag quotes and to compose deathless passages on deadline about the return of the native. (In the old days of the news business, these pieces were often known as "brights." Go get me a Hemingway bright, some pale, overweight editor at the Times surely growled at a reporter on the city desk.) And what is the "fascinating man" saying to the press boys? He's telling them how he gives first honors to the leopards, "because they strike the fastest." But the lion is such a noble beast, too, he says. "He is not afraid or stupid. He does not want to fight, but sometimes man makes him, and then it is up to the man to shoot his way out of what he has got himself into." With the lion and the leopard, "you're either quick or you're dead. I saw a lion do one hundred yards in three seconds flat, which may give you an idea." The hunter saw ninety-six lions altogether and at one point he photographed twenty-nine lionesses "preening themselves like a group of finishing school girls." He made a moral bargain with himself to bring down only animals that were utter strangers to him; the lions that he'd stalked with his camera he could somehow not force himself to shoot. But now he intends to return to his home in Key West and resume his vocation. His season of intense writing, he hints, may or may not concern Africa.
The World-Telegram will have a seven-grapher tomorrow, page 11 ("Jungle Praised by Hemingway"). The lead:
Ernest Hemingway, author_._._._is back home and "nearly broke" after eight months abroad, three of which he spent on the "dark continent." The trouble with bull-fighting, in the opinion of the man who admits he knows so little about it that he wrote a book on the subject, is simply that it's too formal. Like all invitation affairs, he holds, it has a plethora of rules. Out in the brush where the hunter fights for a clawhold with his prey as man to beast-and no rules committee in the offing-it's more fun.
The Herald Tribune's subhead on its Hemingway bright (eleven paragraphs, page 4): "Author, Back from African Hunt, Says He Never Shot Beasts Trailed for Camera." The lead: "Ernest Hemingway, enthusiastic over the three months he had passed in East Africa stalking big game with rifle and camera, returned yesterday on the French liner Paris with Mrs. Hemingway, who shared his adventures. Mr. Hemingway was in such high spirits that he granted an interview, something unusual for him."
The subject's first quote: "It's hard to describe just what there is to killing big game. It's very exciting and-uh-it gives you a fine feeling. It's the sort of the same thing as any killing; that is, it's fine, if you do a clean job of it and it's lousy if there's bad sportsmanship." Toward the end: "The pursuit of game having renewed his enthusiasm for life, he returned home 'to work like hell and make enough money so that I can go back to Africa and really learn something about lions.' "
It must be the Herald Trib's account that E. B. White of The New Yorker catches on his way to work on the morning of the fourth. The Herald Trib is the highbrow newspaper of choice in Manhattan, and these quotes are apparently just too much for a domesticated literary man. Because the following week, a three-stanza Hemingway send-up titled "The Law of the Jungle" appears on page 31 of The New Yorker. White's final lines:
And who, in time of darkest danger
Will only dominate a stranger.
Seventeen years from now, on the publication of Hemingway's weakest novel, Across the River and into the Trees, White, great American humorist, never a white hunter on the dark continent, will bring down Hemingway again in the magazine with a parody titled "Across the Street and into the Grill." By then parodying Hemingway will have become a cottage sport and pastime in America. White's piece will particularly enrage the author, perhaps because he instantly understands that it will get into anthologies and live way past his own death.
What was Ernest Hemingway's interior state when he stood at the Paris rail with his petite and affluent spouse on the eve of acquiring Pilar? (Pauline's uncle, Gus Pfeiffer-a New York businessman, part of whose fortune had been derived from his interests in a Paris and Manhattan perfumer named Richard Hudnut, and who liked Ernest a good deal, at least then-had staked the safari somewhere to the bottom line of about $30,000. The safari had lasted just a little over two months, not three, as was reported. Hemingway had been in Africa for nearly three months, but not in the bush for that long, and for about a week of the actual safari he was confined to a hospital bed in Nairobi, having suffered an attack of amoebic dysentery that necessitated evacuation by light plane.)
A whole lot of his state of mind can be glimpsed in his writing, not least his letter writing. Hemingway wrote somewhere between six and seven thousand letters in his life, by hand and by typewriter and by dictation, usually in free-associative bursts, often after a day's writing, to relieve tension, more or less in the way you'd speak in a conversation. This is particularly true of his letters to friends and to certain family members. "The desire to get to the man behind the work can be sometimes overwhelming. I always go back to the letters," Patrick Hemingway told me in 1987, a sentence that seems only truer with time.
Hemingway's momentary high spirits in early April 1934 must have had at least two prongs: he was back from his excellent safari adventure; and now, before heading home by train to Florida, he hoped to go to a Brooklyn boatyard and put in an order for his own longed-for fishing machine. And yet, what his letters, cojoined with verifiable facts of his life just then, suggest is that what might have seemed so clear in a photograph and in what he told some shipside reporters didn't nearly reflect what Hemingway was generally feeling inside. Every good photograph has a secret, a critic named Mark Stevens once wrote: "Something mysteriously and tantalizingly withheld, even when the world seems laid out as plainly as a corpse upon a table."
One verifiable truth is that the monarch of American letters had been riding through rough critical seas for the last few years-and much more rough going was up ahead. Somehow, nothing seemed quite as locked as it once did, and that included owning the reviewers. Not quite a year earlier-on June 13, 1933-the author for whom things had once seemed to come so effortlessly had written to his book editor: "I am tempted never to publish another damned thing. The swine arent worth writing for. I swear to Christ they're not. Every phase of the whole racket is so disgusting that it makes you feel like vomiting._._._. And it is a commonplace that I lack confidence that I am a man-What shit-And I'm supposed to go around with your good friends spreading that behind my back-And they imagine they will get away with it." He'd been referring specifically in this instance to his former friend Max Eastman (a fellow Scribners author), who'd just written a half-joking and belated review of Death in the Afternoon for The New Republic titled "Bull in the Afternoon." The Hemingway style, Eastman said, was that "of wearing false hair on the chest." In Hemingway's reading, and in the reading of some of his close friends, the piece wasn't trying to be humorous at all but rather was making overt suggestions to the effect that Hemingway must feel sexually inadequate. Well, he'd break Eastman's jaw the next time he saw him, and sell tickets to the event.
One way to read Ernest Hemingway's life is through the phenomenon of remarkable first luck. He'd become an international literary figure, specifically as a novelist, so quickly-in the second half of the 1920s, less than a decade from when he'd started out. He'd started out with stories-actually, sometimes just intensely felt imagistic fragments of stories.
From the Hardcover edition.