from Prospect

Busting the Hemingway myth

A new documentary breaks new ground by exploring the American writer’s mental health and gender fluidity—but it still doesn’t go far enough

By Lucinda Smyth

Hemingway and his fourth wife Mary. Credit: BBC

In 1949, Ernest Hemingway took the journalist Lillian Ross on a whistle-stop tour of New York. “Want to go to the Bronx Zoo, Metropolitan Museum, Museum of Modern Art, ditto of Natural History, and see a fight,” Hemingway insisted. “Want to see the good Breughel at the Met.” In the event, they went to almost none of those places. They went to a bar to talk about hunting. They went to lunch with Marlene Dietrich—nicknamed “the Kraut”—to talk about the war. They went to Hemingway’s hotel lobby. They went to a different bar. At the suggestion of Mary, Hemingway’s fourth wife, they went to Abercrombie and Fitch to buy him a coat. Hemingway eyed himself in the mirror. “Hangs like a shroud,” he said bitterly.

Seventy years later, Ross’s irreverent profile remains one of the best pieces written about Hemingway. It shows a different side to the writer who is still so often shrouded in macho myth. Drinkin’, shootin’, fishin’, bullfightin’: we all know the Hemingway legend. The shadow of his legacy is so bulky, in fact, that it’s almost impossible to consider his work without addressing the personality behind it. Reactions to Hemingway the man can be tediously defensive: He might have been a goddamn son of a bitch—but hell! Could he nail a sentence! So how to approach him in 2021?

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