Edition 30 November 2017, by Hendrik Ike
In the most recent addition to the Hemingway annals, Mary V. Dearborn lays bare the rise and fall of one of America’s most enduring writers. ‘Ernest Hemingway: A Biography’ is a substantial piece of work, just shy of 800 pages. Despite its length, upon completion you are left wholly informed and yet astonished. Dearborn beautifully describes Hemingway’s development from boyhood to youth, from schoolboy to ambulance driver, journalist to writer, and artist to celebrity. Meticulous in her approach to detail and research, Dearborn connects the dots for us, logging the characters that seemingly float in and out of this complicated man’s life. Building upon the work of other notable Hemingway biographers such as Paul Hendrickson, Dearborn has departed from the clique of scholars who simply brand Hemingway as a bragging, chauvinist heman. She renders with accuracy and devotion the evolution of his sensitive psyche, the episodes that cemented his rise to literary fame, and the synonymous catastrophes which paint him as deeply flawed human being.
Regardless of this dichotomy, it’s impossible to argue that Hemingway lived a sedate life. Active in global conflicts, big game hunter and marlin fisherman, war correspondent, Pulitzer and Nobel prize winner, poet, playwright, boxer; the list is endless. So is the number of injuries he incurred during his sixty-one years, including mortar-shrapnel wounds, brain haemorrhages, shooting his leg by mistake, two airplane crashes and much more. If you also account for his gargantuan alcohol consumption, it is a wonder that Hemingway managed to churn out nine novels at all, let alone six pieces of non-fiction and over seven short story collections. His record of correspondence is in itself staggering – Hemingway wrote over 6000 letters in his life. Dearborn has descended upon this wealth of material with rigor and delicately weaves these chronicles into his personal story to present a deeper portrait of the man. But, what can we learn from this account of his life? Hemingway transformed the state of fiction, utilising a minimalist style to touch upon feelings, fables and essences that force the reader to question what we want most of life. And Dearborn displays the beauty and horror that sprouted from his value system. Upon taking his own life in 1961, Hemingway’s work was in total eclipse. It is now with a certain sombre recognition that we re-evaluate Hemingway as a misunderstood artist. Beyond the muscle, she endows the mystique.