Hemingway's Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost

Hemingway's Boat: Everything He Loved in Life, and Lost

by Paul Hendrickson

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400075355
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/24/2012
Pages: 704
Sales rank: 438,107
Product dimensions: 5.34(w) x 7.82(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Paul Hendrickson’s previous book, Sons of Mississippi, won the 2003 National Book Critics Circle Award for nonfiction. Since 1998 he has been on the faculty of the Creative Writing Program at the University of Pennsylvania. For two decades before that he was a staff writer at The Washington Post. Among his other books are Looking for the Light: The Hidden Life and Art of Marion Post Wolcott (1992 finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award) and The Living and the Dead: Robert McNamara and Five Lives of a Lost War (1996 finalist for the National Book Award). He has been the recipient of writing fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Lyndhurst Foundation, and the Alicia Patterson Foundation. In 2009 he was a joint visiting professor of documentary practice at Duke University and of American studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is the father of two grown sons and lives with his wife, Cecilia, outside Philadelphia.

Read an Excerpt

AMERICAN LIGHT

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.

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Hemingway's Boat 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thoroughly researched. Adept storytelling. And moving biographies of many lesser known Hemingway confidants friends and family. Perhaps most heartbreaking is the extensive reporting on Hemingway's youngest son Gigi. Overall a compelling and enjoyable read for any Hemingway enthusiast.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read The Paris Wife and wanted to know more about Hemingway and his lifehis book did not disappoint.
bravesfan More than 1 year ago
Excellent portrayal of an important part of hemingways life. The parallel existence of pilar and hemingways life are uncanny. Great look at the family dynamic on a superficial level.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A little more about the details of boat and fishing than I really was interested in - but author made up for it with his overall view of Hemingway and his family. I felt like I got to know them and wanted to know them even better.
BrianBNJ More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It gave great insights into the Hemingway family psyche. Plus, I can relate directly to the Key West, deep sea fishing and Africa experiences in my own life. Made me want to re-read some Hemingway favorites!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written view of Hemingway's last years. Explains his mind set and how that lead to his suicide. Loved the metaphor of Pilar. I will be asking our book club to read this book this month.
etxgardener on LibraryThing 5 months ago
This book is billed as a reconsideration of Ernest Hemingway that, presumably, will make the reader think better of a man who is most often portrayed as a boorish bully and also, perhaps a closeted homosexual. It covers the years 1934 to his death by suicide in 1961 and uses his beloved boat, Pilar as a metaphor for the last half of his life.Paul Hendrickson has done extensive research not only into Hemingway and his family, but also into many of the tangential persons who crossed path with the author during his life. He writes lyrically in a stream of consciousness manner about the demons that haunted not only Hemingway himself, but also his family, particularly his youngest son, Gregory, known in the family as Gigi and the sections about his son and several other people who who the author befriended. These parts of the book are a joy to read.However, if the author's goal was to make the reader think better of Ernest Hemingway, he has not succeeded - at least not with this reader. Hemingway certainly was capable of great kindnesses, but they all seemed to be with people who could be regarded as his social and intellectual unequals. With other writers, his wives and his family, he is still the arrogant & mean-spirited bully of my imagination - always having to put in the hateful & spiteful remark, tearing down other people in order to sustain his own ego. Perhaps that is why he still fascinates 50 years after he ended his own life. It's hard to turn ones eyes away from a train wreck.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
How can the hardcover be on sale for $6.38?
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