David Barnes on the Masculinity and Baggage of Ernest Hemingway at 100 Years
By David Barnes, April 17, 2023
In the playwright Simon Gray’s literary diary The Last Cigarette, there’s a moment where he struggles to recall the name of a particular figure. Gray keeps returning to the image of a strutting, bare-chested, big-bellied man on a boat, holding up a huge dead fish.
He has “a grey beard, a square bullish face, something stupid about it, and aggressive.” Who is it, Gray asks himself, who is this obnoxious, swaggering figure?
“Hemingway!,” he finally remembers.
For many writers, talking about Ernest Hemingway is like talking about an embarrassing ancestor. Hemingway comes burdened with baggage, lots of it; pugilistic metaphors and hard-drinking aphorisms, an obsession with a pure and “clean” prose, a brittle misogyny and a vainglorious narcissism. And then there are all the dead animals. There they are, heaping up behind the great man’s hulking physique: Key West marlin, and bulls, and elephants, and antelope, and lions.
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