Remembering Ernest Hemingway
Harper, M W
Remembering Ernest Hemingway.
Edited by James Plath and Frank Simons. Foreword by Lorian Hemingway
Key West, FL: Ketch and Yawl Press,1999. 168 pp. Clth $19.95. Paper $12.95.
In her foreword to the thirteen collected interviews that comprise Remembering Ernest Hemingway, Lorian Hemingway readily admits to having succumbed to the familiar compulsion to view her famous grandfather’s life and work as one and the same: “My own tie to the man has suffered from this same lack of clarity between fact and fiction, and his influence in my life has been formed, in part, by his writing, and beyond that by nothing more than a series of impressions and a few hard facts” (xi). Clearly, Lorian Hemingway’s efforts to come to terms with her sense of her grandfather closely mirror the attempts of those who read and respond to Ernest Hemingway’s work, as the biggest obstacle to critical truths about the writing remains the near-epic biography that has, at times, eclipsed the writing.
Consequently, one might be inclined to approach the testimonials of those who knew Hemingway personally with a measure of caution. After all, what can we possibly learn from further speculation about the incidents surrounding the author’s death? Or, how much insight can be gained from a recollection of Papa’s favorite joke or the number of cats in residence at his Key West home? Yet a reflection upon the overall effect of these collected conversations suggests that such singular strands of memory gain further significance when considered as part of a larger fabric of recollection, one that moves beyond our collective curiosity about the public Hemingway and begins to instruct us-in his habits of mind, work, and human connection.
Whether with Hemingway’s casual acquaintances (Key West sparring partners and harbor masters) or those with whom he was more intimate (Charles and Lorine Thompson of Key West, or two of his three sons, Patrick and Gregory Hemingway), the interviews collected by Plath and Simons over a period of twenty-five years lead the reader through the various circles of familiarity surrounding the writer and his work. Alongside the memories of fishing and hunting cronies whose recollections are subject to the distortions of time and nostalgia, are conversations with individuals who have given some clearly critical thought to their association with the writer. Of this second category of familiars, the interviews with Hemingway’s sons and Professor William Seward go far in speculating about the writer’s aesthetic sensibilities and the various states of mind that influenced them.
But Remembering Ernest Hemingway is instructive in yet another, more elliptical fashion, as its diverse recollections mirror the manner in which we have come to know and-appreciate Hemingway and his work one hundred years after his birth and nearly forty years after his death. What these people remember about Hemingway and how they remember it underscore the different ways that readers and critics respond to Hemingway’s writing. Such varied and familiar voices distinctly echo the critical discourses that have marked Hemingway studies for decades. And, as the voices make clear, the task of remembering Ernest Hemingway (both cordially and critically) is a process under constant revision.
Remembering Ernest Hemingway offers an intriguing look . at how Hemingway’s life and writing have been both valorized and misinterpreted. It affords a wealth of insight into Hemingway, his work, and the state of Hemingway studies both past and present.
–M.W. Harper, Claremont Graduate University
Copyright The Hemingway Review Spring 2000
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