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Ernest Hemingway

The Worst Greatest Author in the World?

Although Ernest Hemingway is usually cited as the most influential writer of the Twentieth Century, he has also been labeled as a "once-great writer" and even "the worst greatest author in American letters". If he was never exactly a controversial writer, it's still not uncommon for younger readers today to crack open the The Sun Also Rises and go into spittle flinging diatribes about who could anyone admire the writer of such an anti-Semitic and racist pile of dreck about a bunch of boozing zeros doing absolutely nothing except going to a lousy bullfight. And yet the Jewish writer Chaim Potok greatly admired Hemingway and considered Papa a major influence. So there's definitely more here than meets the eye.

It can't be denied that some of Hemingway's books are peppered with epithets and characterizations that are now so completely verboten that they would be blue penciled without a moment of editorial thought. At the same time, people did talk and think the way his characters do, and believe it or not, even a lot of - quote - "educated people" - unquote - still do. But did Hemingway share the values of his creations? As with most other authors, in some cases he probably did, and in others, probably not.

All critics agree that Hemingway's works of are unequal quality, but when they talk about which ones are good and which are bad you wonder if everyone's reading the same books. The story "In Another Country" can be (and has been) cited as the writing of a poet in his prime, and or it can be (and has been) used as the quintessential model for bad writing. But if you call for a good/bad selection, The Old Man and the Sea is what won him the Nobel Prize, and Across the River and Into the Trees has been described as so bad that it's nothing more than unintentional self-parody.

The biographers also agree that Hemingway was a complex man. On the one hand he had what can only be called a compulsion to make a show of the macho hair-on-the-chest image which was so much of his public persona, and yet he was quite shy and bookish and spent much of his leisure time reading. He reveled in blood sports like hunting and fishing, and at the same time he loved pets, both dogs and cats, but particularly cats.

The groundbreaking book about Hemingway (and the first real, if partial, biography) was Papa Hemingway. Published in 1966, it encompasses the last fourteen years of Hemingway's life and is told by and from the perspective of Hemingway's friend and business partner, A. E. Hotchner. Hotch himself, by the way, is a fine writer, and the first sentence in Papa Hemingway has to be the greatest beginning of any biography ever written.

The book was pilloried by many of Papa's other friends and family, particularly Ernest's fourth wife Mary (Mary, in fact, tried to block its publication). Despite the cover blurb on the paperback version that the book "holds back nothing", Hotch held back quite a bit. Hotch's reticence may have been partly pragmatic (three characters were given pseudonyms), but there's no doubt he was also being respectful to Ernest's memory. Although he mentions Hemingway's friendship with Adriana Ivancich, he completely skirts over (no pun intended) how Ernest had become so infatuated with the nineteen year old Italian countess that his behavior toward Mary soon became boorish and even abusive. One night Mary made a minor remark that irritated Ernest, and he turned and threw a glass of wine into her face - an event witnessed by Adriana, Adriana's mother, and a room full of dinner guests. Hotch also omitted telling about a horrible argument between Ernest and Mary (related in the preface of a later edition) where Ernest accused Mary of bestowing, well, "favors" on military leaders in World War II in exchanged for information for her newspaper stories. The argument - strident and obscene - was also before a room full of guests which, and as would be expected, entirely ruined the evening for everyone.

Separating the chaff from the wheat has been a major problem with Hemingway biographers and once more it was Hotch who first warned the world of Ernest's mischievous pleasure: the "practical joke fantasy". Actually Papa's pleasure is better tagged "completely bullshitting the listener." Among the bullsh---, pardon, "practical joke fantasies" that Hotch related was Hemingway's - ah - encounter (wink, wink) with famed spy Mata Hari. Hotch, took Papa at his word until he realized Hemingway didn't even cross the Atlantic until 1918, and Mata Hari had been executed by the French in 1917. Papa also told Hotch about hitting it off (literally) with the girlfriend of Legs Diamond - in a restaurant kitchen and on a stairway, in fact. Even Hotch didn't believe that story.

But because Papa wrote so convincingly some Hemingway scholars have turned to his books for biographical information. Unfortunately, this is so dangerous a practice that it should be banned along with smoking in restaurants, belching at lunch, and loudly and wetly breaking wind in church. Even Papa himself hinted we shouldn't do that (believe his stories, that is, not break wind in church). "If the reader prefers," he wrote in his preface to the surprisingly gentle book with the misspelled title, A Moveable Feast, "this book may be regarded as a work of fiction".

Despite the warning, Ernest's first "academic" biographer Carlos Baker took the vignettes at face value, particularly the devastating portrait of Scott Fitzgerald. But later biographer Kenneth Lynn found that Hemingway's contemporary correspondence about Scott (and Scott's about Ernest) show no indication that Scott really had exhibited the petulant and childish behavior Ernest described thirty years later. So unless Ernest's stories can be verified with an independent source, they need to be taken with a pound or two of salt.

Ernest enjoyed male camaraderie, particularly in the traditional good-old-boy pastimes like hunting, fishing, and other sports (boxing was a particular favorite). But if a friend "didn't measure up" (a very vague but favorite Hemingwayesque term) Ernest might not only skewer the miscreant publicly, but also stick them in as a thinly disguised and quite unsympathetic character in a book or story. It was immediately recognized by the cognoscenti that the whole "mob" in The Sun Also Rises was based on Hemingway's crowd that went with him to Pamplona. When the book came out some were amused; others enraged. it's probably not unfair to say that toward the end of his life Ernest had as many former friends as friends.

Today what most likely makes Hemingway still such a part of American culture is less "Hemingway awe" (to quote Hotch) rather than "Hemingway envy". A typical Papa-workday is you get up at six in the morning, write at your desk until noon, and then take the rest of the day off. You filled in your idle hours reading, fishing, drinking in a bar, or visiting some friends. Then when the book is finished (it took all of six weeks to complete the first draft of "The Sun Also Rises") you can take a vacation for several months in places like Spain, Paris, and Venice or go off on a safari to Africa. A great job if you can get it.

Ernest promoted the image of starting off as a starving artist who sometimes had to snatch pigeons from Parisian parks like the Jardin du Luxembourg to feed his family. But Ernest was never poor. He was born on July 21, 1899 to comfortable middle class surroundings. His father was a successful Chicago-area physician and when Ernest implied to a bunch of high school kids that he couldn't afford college after he "went to war" ("There was no GI Bill then", he explained) that, too, was a "practical joke fantasy" (ergo, complete bullshit). After high school Ernest got a newspaper job at the Kansas City Star (a job, by the way, arranged by an influential uncle) and when he got back from Europe in 1918, he had enough money so he didn't have to work for a year. Not attending college was his choice and against the wishes of his family.

It is ironic that Hemingway, who was fascinated by war and admired those who waged it, never fought as a combat soldier. One story is that he was rejected for military service in World War I because of defective eyesight. But this doesn't make much sense since at the time he didn't wear glasses and could see good enough to read, and write, and hunt.

Another version was his dad forbade him to join the army. So instead Ernest volunteered for the Red Cross, which Dr. Hemingway hoped would keep his son out of harm's way. If this is true, then the strategy backfired since it was while handing out chocolate and sundries to Italian soldiers that Ernest was hit by the mortar fire and sustained the wounds that became an important part of the Hemingway legend. After Ernest returned home, he continued his journalism career as a reporter for the Toronto Star and then went abroad as their European correspondent. Soon, we learn, he quit journalism and settled in Paris where he devoted himself to writing.

Far from being the starving artist mixing among the West Bank expatriates, Ernest's financial situation was more like that of Robert Cohn, the - quote - "villain" - unquote - of The Sun Also Rises. So Robert could have the leisure to write books, we are told, his mother settled him an allowance of $300 a month (very good money in the 1920's). For Hem, it was his first wife, Hadley Richardson, and her trust fund of $250 a month that allowed Ernest to quit the job at the Star and knuckle down to writing fiction. And his second wife, Pauline, came from such a wealthy family that not only did her uncle Gus pay for the safari which led to Hemingway's book Green Hills of Africa, but Gus even paid for Ernest and Pauline's home in Key West which is now a Hemingway museum. A good job, indeed, if you can get it.

In 1953, Ernest and Mary had been vacationing in Spain and on August 6, they sailed to Kenya and intended to safari with some friends, including Ernest's old friend and big game hunter Phillip Percival who also had been their guide on the safari paid by Uncle Gus (Mary's gun bearer, a tiny African named Charo, had also been Pauline's bearer). At the time Kenya was in the throes of the Mau-Mau uprising, but they kept to the regions south of Nairobi and had no problems.

Things went well (although Ernest could be petty and childish, particularly when some of the other guests shot better than he did). But everything came to an end that January. When Ernest and Mary were taking a sight seeing flight to the Murchison Falls in Uganda, their pilot, Roy Marsh, swerved to miss some birds and ran into some telegraph wires. The plane crashed, but all three emerged virtually unscratched. They took a boat back to Butiba, and when flying out on a small commuter de Havilland that plane also crashed. Again all survived, but this time Ernest was severely injured.

Some mark this accident as the beginning of Ernest's slow but steady mental and physical decline. But Ernest's lifelong and habitual boozing was probably a more significant contributor. Recent biographers have pictured Ernest as a near constant drinker, who started chugging in the morning and continued far into the night. Some who were actually with him for prolonged visits, though, would remember he'd have a drink or two at lunch, a couple in the late afternoon, wine with dinner, and a few nightcaps (believe it or not, at the time that was considered a light to moderate drinker). Then there are those who remember that, yes, Papa drank a lot, but, they hastened to add, they never saw him drunk. But all that means, biographer Kenneth Lynn has pointed out, was Hemingway had the ability appear sober even when he was completely plastered.

Occasionally Ernest, alarmed at the nearly deadly rising of his cholesterol and blood pressure, voluntarily curtailed his drinking. But even when ordered by a doctor to cut back, this might mean he was restricted to "only" five ounces of whiskey a day and one to two glasses of wine with his meals. It doesn't take higher mathematics to show that from alcohol estimations of prepared drinks even when Ernest was on a health kick he could be drinking as many as 8 to 10 drinks a day. It certainly makes you wonder how much Ernest drank when he was healthy.

So picturing Ernest as a heavy and at times almost constant drinker is not unfair. Such a lifestyle is harmful even if the drinking is in binges but devastating when imbibing the booze could fill out the entire day for weeks or months at a time. Naturally you can't keep such a lifestyle up forever, not if you want to stay physically and mentally healthy. And Ernest did neither.

By 1960, Ernest was in the throes of a full blown mental illness: paranoid, delusional, and suicidal. The major facet of his illness was that the "Feds" were out to get him for a variety of infractions from tax evasion (not true as Ernest was very careful to pay Uncle Sam his due) to "impairing the morals of a minor" (also totally false). As early as 1948 Ernest claimed he could spot an FBI agent immediately, but in the last year of his life, he was seeing them everywhere. He once "fingered" two FBI agents in a restaurant in Idaho when they were really two traveling salesmen. There was another time he saw two employees working after hours in his bank and was convinced they were FBI auditing his accounts. Eventually (and by some subterfuge), his friends and family got him to enter the Mayo Clinic.

As an aside it should be pointed out that through the Freedom of Information Act, author Jeffrey Meyers found that J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI had been monitoring Ernest. It seems the FBI's interest began with Ernest's covering the Spanish Civil War and kept going for quite a few years.

So was Ernest mentally ill after all? That is, are you crazy if they really are out to get you? Yes, Ernest was severely ill. That Hoover and his boys were keeping tabs on Ernest it doesn't mean that there was any specific criminal investigation in progress. Certainly it doesn't seem that the FBI was out to "get" him (whatever that means).

Ernest was released from the Mayo Clinic on January 22, 1961, a little more than seven weeks after his admission. Although his friends saw some improvement, he soon returned to his delusions and on April 25, Ernest's mental state had deteriorated to the point where he had to be physically and forcibly restrained from suicide. He was again admitted to the Mayo Clinic.

The most controversial aspect of Ernest's treatment was, well, the controversial treatment, electroconvulsive shock therapy (ECT). Now usually recommended only in cases of severe delusions and depressions and if nothing else works, most people know of ECT only from extremely negative, outdated, fictional, (and so now inaccurate) motion pictures like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" and "Shock Treatment" (the latter being a barely Grade C movie with top-notch Grade A actors: Ossie David, Roddy McDowall, and Lauren Bacall).

Recently writers have tended to equate the ECT with Ernest's spiraling depressions caused by his inability to write and his memory loss. But from what people who were with him have said, Ernest had been having trouble writing well before his hospitalization. He would struggle all day and fail to write (or even correct) a single sentence. On the other hand, his complaints of memory loss, a known side effect of ECT, did not occur until after he was hospitalized and clearly resulted him being more depressed than ever.

Whether ECT really helps 80 - 90 % of the time or not, on April 26, the Mayo doctors judged Ernest sufficiently improved that he could be released. Then on July 2, 1961 and in his home in Ketchum, Iowa, Ernest got up early. He walked down to the living room, selected a double barreled shotgun from the cabinet, and put two shells in the chambers. He put the stock on the floor, the barrel to his forehead, and tripped both triggers.


Although Ernest stated he never wanted biographies written about him, today you can barely go to a book store or library without finding a new volume about Papa. There are in fact more books about Papa than by Papa. Be that as it may, here in more or less chronological order are some good books about Ernest.

Papa Hemingway: A Personal Memoir, Random House (1966). This is Hotch's very readable account. Although received with ire by many of Ernest's other friends and family, the depictions of what it was like to be with Ernest - the good and the bad - have pretty much been confirmed by others. This book was the also first to accurately describe Ernest's fall from a more or less healthy middle aged man into an elderly mental patient with the psychosis which was to lead to his suicide.

The book by the way, begins "In the spring of 1948 I was dispatched to Cuba to make a horse's ass out of myself by asking Ernest Hemingway to write an article on 'The Future of Literature.'"

They just don't write 'em like that much anymore.

Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story, Carlos Baker, Scribner (1969). Carlos, an English professor from Princeton, provided us with the first "academic" biography. This book appeared early enough that many of Ernest's friends and acquaintances were still healthy, hale, relatively young, and willing to be interviewed. The big disadvantage (and it is a big one) is Carlos usually takes Ernest at his word. In particular, Ernest's own account of his wounding in Italy (where he carries a wounded soldier after being hit in the knee by machine gun fire) plus the sketches in A Moveable Feast are taken as reliable source material.


Papa: A Personal Memoir,  Gregory Hemingway, Houghton Mifflin (1976). "At fifty," Gregory writes, "my father was a phony." Despite this rather sharp comment and what we know now about Gregory and his relationship with his dad, this is a rather gentle and warm book. This was written long before we learned about Gig's own massive emotional and mental problems of which we need not dwell (and which Gregory completely skirted - again no pun intended). By the late 1950's Papa would not even mention Gregory's name.

Once more Gregory takes a swipe at Hotch, saying that the father he had was "quite a man, not A. E. Hotchner's Papa Hemingway." But to those of us on the outside looking in, it sure seem like they are the one and the same.

How It Was, Mary Hemingway, Knopf, 1976. Very well written as Mary herself was a capable journalist. But Ernest does not come off looking too good. Mary, as expected, takes a minor dig at Hotch, and then goes on and paints a picture of their relationship where Ernest would throw wine into her face if she said something that irritated him.

Mary's main problem with Papa Hemingway was Hotch said Papa committed suicide. No one disputes this today, but at first Mary claimed Ernest's death was accidental; he was killed while cleaning his gun. That was, in fact, what was reported in many papers, and officially the death was never ruled a suicide.

Mary later said she was not consciously lying - she just couldn't accept what happened. Perhaps, but the more cynical readers will point out that life insurance companies pay nothing if the death is suicide.

There was one bizarre comment Mary made in her book. Mary said she considered locking the cabinet that held Ernest's guns. But no, she decided, no one had the right to keep a man from his possessions, and she left it unlocked. Very strange reasoning.

Portrait Of Hemingway, Lillian Ross, Simon and Schuster (1961). Originally published in the New Yorker in 1950 as "How Do You Like It Now, Gentlemen?", this was considered by many of Ernest's friends to be a hatchet job. John O'Hara wrote in the New York Times that the article pictured Hemingway's drinking habits like those of "a gleeful parole officer" (whatever that means) and that the "authentic" Hemingway speech,"written in tin-ear fashion", sounded more like the dialog of the Indian chief in "Annie, Get Your Gun".

Hemingway's own opinion was inconsistent, saying to Lillian to it was a "good straight piece" and then complaining to Hotchner that it was awful. In a contemporary letter to Erntest, Hotch said he thought the article was accurate but it did bring home to him how differently people see the same things. Later as related in Papa Hemingway, Hotch was more critical of the article. On the other hand, Ernest had read and approved the galleys, and his later claim that they arrived too late to change anything is apparently false.

After a recent re-reading of the article and sifting through the information, a CooperToons opinion is the article was accurate. Gregory Hemingway said the "fake Indian" talk was exactly the way his father talked at the time - a time (in Gregory's words) when his father was a phony. Lillian herself thought the problem was that people assumed she was ridiculing Hemingway just because she was reporting him accurately. He was in town to relax and no one should be surprised that he wasn't taking things too seriously. It's hard to see anything negative or derogatory in it the article. The best way to resolve the controversy is that Lillian provided us with an accurate contemporary snapshot of Ernest, who by that time had become completely wrapped up in his public image, an image that was not always flattering to the principals.

Hemingway, Kenneth Lynn, Simon and Schuster (1987). Referred to as a "revisionist" biography, actually what Kenneth did was use proper biographical sources rather than take Ernest at his word. Kenneth compared much of Hemingway's own accounts to the actual contemporary documents and argues convincingly that many of the famous Papa stories as told by Papa are suspect at best and likely completely bogus.

Still, the book is fairly moderate in tone to everyone, including the Mayo doctors whom he points out are required by medical ethics not to discuss their patients records. It has also been quite fashionable to flail the Mayo doctors for allowing Ernest to leave; even though Ernest clearly had hoodwinked them into thinking he was better. However, whether Ernest conned the doctors or not, Kenneth points out that since Ernest voluntarily admitted himself, if he wanted to leave there was no legal way the doctors could keep him against his will.

Hemingway: A Biography, Jeffrey Meyers, Harper Collin (1985). The tone of this book is at times a bit editorial, and even skirts toward the psychoanalytical (it claims Ernest saw Adriana's brother, Giafranco, as a male substitute for Adriana). At the same time there's still a lot of information on Hemingway. The book is pretty negative about Hotch, though, and is very negative about the Mayo treatment and even Rochester itself.

One example of the negative tone is the last photo of Ernest in the book. It is blurred and appears to be cropped from a larger photo. The caption says that due to the "dazed and vacant stare" of Ernest's eyes the picture "reveals" the ECT ruined Ernest's memory. Why authors sometimes draw scientific and medical conclusions from blurred, out of focus photographs of how people look is puzzling. Snapshots can freeze a fleeting and atypical glance which has no relation at all to the individuals thoughts, health, or mood and so is of questionable validity. In fact, it's not valid at all, particularly since in this case someone else can look at a picture and simply see Ernest looking attentively the camera with a hint of a smile.

The sad truth is that treatment of mental illnesses remains one of the most problematical medical disciplines. Even defining a mental disease outside of a social context is difficult if not actually impossible, and proper behavior is always in terms of more or less arbitrary societal norms. A university psychologist once told a class of students that he defined a normal person as someone not in a mental hospital, and a well known author once wrote that the majority is always sane. Still there are people who are clearly so far off the deep end that you just can't slap them on the back and say, "Well, sir or madam, you obviously are just a person who does not easily adopt to our sociological norms, and it is of the greatest lack of ethics that we can recommend any kind of behavior modification that will induce you to conform with the standard behavior of our society."

Things are complicated in that the Average American Image of psychiatry is - like most Average American Opinions today - largely formed by watching television shows and motion pictures. TV and movies are, it must be emphasized, usually fiction. Even so called docudramas will be told with an agenda and even can include episodes spun entirely out of the screenwriter's cloth. To make a good story, the films about psychiatrists are almost exclusively negative in tone and the doctor's and nurses are nuttier than the patients with good doses of sadism thrown into their personalities and professional activities. ECT in particular is represented as virtual torture.

The modern treatment, though, is carried out under general anesthesia plus muscle relaxants so the patient feels nothing during the procedure. The biggest question, like that for all mental treatments, is its efficacy. Nowadays, though, ECT evaluations are done using double blind clinical studies where improvement is triply rated by doctors, nurses, and the patients themselves. They can also include control tests where the patients undergo "simulated" ECT. That is, they go through the rigmarole of the procedure - prep, anesthesia, and recovery - but skip the actual part where they get zapped. That helps answer the question whether ECT really works or whether its the modern equivalent of the shaman shaking the rattle above the patient.

From these type of tests, official psychiatric opinion is that improvement is expected 80 - 90 % of the time with a confidence of > 99 %. But the variability of the treatment is, well, variable. Pick up a psychiatric journal (there's got to be one lying around somewhere) and you might find that in a given clinical trial only 60 % of the patients got better.

The most important side effect of ECT is memory loss. The extent and type of loss, like much of what's found in clinical trials, differs depending on what you read. Usually the amnesia is reported to occur around the time of the treatment and certain events may never be recovered. But some people have reported longer term losses, and one report found that there were more problems with remembering "world" events (what happened on your vacation at Marseilles) than "self" events (just remembering who you are).

Hindsight is 20/20 but read the various biographies of Ernest and it's clear he had memory problems after his ECT and these were for "world" events. Now for people posting cartoons and caricatures on the Internet, that might not be any big deal. But for a serious writer, though, memory loss could be devastating. Certainly during and after Ernest's hospitalization he complained the doctor's were "putting him out of business", and since Ernest had been having problems writing already, it's not surprising he felt he was getting worse. Although the Mayo doctors - the best in the world we're told - have perhaps been trashed sufficiently, we have to wonder. Did they speak frankly with Ernest about memory problems following the treatment so he would be sufficiently prepared if and when it occurred? This was, after all, the early nineteen sixties and the concept of informed consent and patient right-to-know was nowhere near as developed as it is today. Who knows? But we have to wonder if Ernest were being treated today whether the end would have been different.

One exception, by the way, to the stereotypical "psychiatrists are sadistic jerks" portrayal is the 1957 film, Fear Strikes Out. Starring a pre-Psycho Anthony Perkins as the real life major league outfielder Jim Piersall, the movie has Jim (Anthony) go nuts during a ball game and end up institutionalized. Although the film is inaccurate regarding the nature of Jim's disease and specific incidents (the real Jim had manic-depressive illness with its resultant bizarre behavior; the movie has him cracking up after he hits a home run), it is a good enough movie with excellent actors all around. Karl Malden is great as Jim's pushy father.

What is particularly surprising is how accurately the movie shows the manner ECT is supposed to be used. Jim/Anthony is admitted to the hospital and descends to a near catatonic state. After the doctor discusses using ECT with Jim/Anthony's wife, the ECT is administered (off screen). Although the treatment does not cure Jim, it makes him responsive enough to begin psychotherapy.

Today, though, administering ECT to a catatonic patient would require a legal hearing. For someone in Jim/Anthony's state, if the family agreed, the request would probably be granted.

The psychiatrist, by they way, was played by Adam Williams, a little known actor who nonetheless does a good job depicting the psychiatrist as a thoughtful, kind, and concerned physician doing what he can to help the patient and the patient's family.

Well, some doctors must be like that.

Jimmy Piersall, by the way, at the time of this writing is alive and, as far as is known, well.

Running With The Bulls My Years with the Hemingways, Valerie Hemingway, Ballantine (2004). Valerie first met Hemingway when she was sent to interview him in 1959 while he was in Spain gathering information for what became The Dangerous Summer. Ernest took a shine to the young nineteen year old Irish colleen and hired her as his secretary. At Ernest's funeral she was snubbed by everyone except Gregory, Ernest's youngest son, who was also being snubbed. The two later married, and Valerie found that difficulties with Ernest were nothing compared to life with Gig.

Dear Papa, Dear Hotch: The Correspondence of Ernest Hemingway and A. E. Hotchner, Albert J. DeFazio III (Editor), University of Missouri Press (2005). Almost half a century after his death, books about Papa still arouse interest. This book, as the title says, has a good chunk of the letters Hotch and Papa wrote.

The editors had to edit quite a bit to make the letters intelligible but they also included appendices and footnotes so that it is possible to reconstruct the letters as they actually are on the written page. The book not only lets us read Ernest's words, but also lets us view aspects of Hotch's own life that most people would consider private.

Perhaps the biggest surprise to the followers of the Hemingway/Hotchner friendship is how much of what Papa said to Hotch in conversation (and reported in Papa Hemingway) are nearly verbatim what he wrote in his letters. Quite a coincidence, gentlemen. Then there are still some difficulties in sorting out Papa's - quote - "practical joke fantasies" - unquote - from real facts. In almost the same stroke of the pen (or tap of the keyboard) Hotch tells of some "practical joke fantasies" and then goes on to talk about the incredible tales of Ernest's memory. No doubt Ernest did have good recall, but the skeptical will wonder if when memory was lacking, he just filled in the gaps. That Papa could pull whoppers is not in dispute.

You also learn here that Papa was a horrible speller. Few people have noticed that A Moveable Feast should be A Movable Feast. Hotch suggested the title to Mary and, so the story goes, they deliberately kept the spelling as Ernest left it. Actually "moveable" does look more correct that "movable".

Misspelling by authors, by the way, izn'd tew unuzhuel.


Ernest Hemingway Reading, Caedmon Records (1965). This was an LP, also released on a cassette, which, among other things, included Ernest telling his story about his (fictitious) encounter with Mata Hari. Ernest's voice is a bit of a surprise. If not really what you'd call high pitched (as some people say), it's not a deep chested gruff boom you might expect seeing his he-man, macho image. Tenor, perhaps, but not high pitched. But you can, if you listen carefully, sometimes detect his slight speech impediment (noted by Carlos Baker), a hint of "w" in his "r". That said, Ernest reads in a clear, distinct, and easily understood voice, and with some practice would have been a quite effective speaker.

Other References

Ernest Hemingway, FBI Files. Through the miracle of the Internet you can actually obtain at least some of the FBI files of Ernest. Navigate to

and you'll find the files in .pdf format.

Even early on the FBI was (as you might expect) concerned because Hemingway supported the Republican (i. e., Communist) side against the Nationalists (i. e., Fascists) in the Spanish Civil War. They also noted that Ernest (horrors!) actually criticized the FBI and associated with organizations (like writer's organization) that Edgar didn't like.

After the mid-1950's, it seems Edgar's interest in Ernest fell off. There's only one file included that is from the time of Ernest's hospitalization. Written in mid-January, 1961, it simply said they learned that Ernest, thinking he was subject of an FBI probe, was worried because he was admitted under an assumed name so as to avoid publicity. One of the doctors called the local FBI office to ask if it was OK to say the FBI had no objections with using the pseudonym. The FBI said there were none and it was OK to tell Ernest.

The memo scarcely seems to imply there was any real connection with the FBI and the Mayo doctors or that there was a real investigation ongoing about Ernest. But at the same time, it doesn't mean there wasn't. As usual with stuff obtained from the Freedom of Information Act, there's a lot of stuff blacked out or missing.

A search on the Internet also turns up a lot of other sites for Ernest, most of which seem pretty reliable.

Television (Ugh)

There have been a number of docu-dramas and what are now termed biopics about Ernest. Since scriptwriters are held to no standards of accuracy (particularly when writing about non-liable dead people), it's better just to unplug the television, throw away the DVD's, and start reading real books. That is if you want a chance of figuring out what really happened.