The latest issue of the New Yorker, dated July 3, includes one of the best essays about Ernest Hemingway I have ever read: “A New Man: Ernest Hemingway — revised and revisited,” written by Adam Gopnik.
It is in part of a review of the new biography, Mary V. Dearborn’s 735-page “Ernest Hemingway.”
That one is on my book shelf waiting perhaps for this winter, when I will be more interested in reading than, say, walking around Lake Calhoun just minutes away from our place in Bloomington, Minn.
Here are some excerpts from the long piece. Anyone with more than a passing interest in the individual who is perhaps America’s greatest writer owes it to himself or herself to read it in its entirety.
Some of Gopnik’s commentary deals with Hemingway’s gender reversal fetishes, found most spectacularly in the novel “The Garden of Eden,” not published during his lifetime. The subject was considered immoral a half-century ago, but hardly raises an eyebrow now.
But, Gopnik says, “The new attempts to make Papa matter by making him a lot less Papa and a little more Mama are, finally, not all that persuasive. Hemingway remains Hemingway — the macho attitudes continue to penetrate the prose even when the gender roles get switched around. And those macho attitudes include many admirable things: a genuine love of courage, a surprising readiness to celebrate failure if it is bought with bravery, an unsparing sense of the fatality of human existence, a love of the small pleasures that ennoble it.”
He quotes a paragraph from “The Garden of Eden”:
“On this morning there was brioche and red raspberry preserve and the eggs were boiled and there was a pat of butter that melted as they stirred them and salted them lightly and ground pepper over them in the cups … He remembered that easily and he was happy with his which he diced up with the spoon and ate with only the flow of the butter to moisten them and the fresh early morning texture and the bite of the coarsely ground pepper grains and the hot coffee and the chickory-fragrant bowl of cafe au lait.”
Comments Gopnik: “The flow of the butter and the bite of the pepper” — there is more effective gender-blending in his breakfasts than in his bedrooms. The pleasure he takes in the world’s surface is more plural than the poses he chooses on the world’s stage.
“Always an epicurean before he was a stoic, Hemingway is at his worst when he is boasting and bluffing and ruling the roost, at his best when he is bending and breaking and writing down breakfast. Macho and minimalist alike, the sentences are thrilling still in their exactitude and audacity.
“Coming away even from the sad last pages of his biography, the reader feels that Hemingway earned the epitaph he would most have wanted. He WAS a brave man, and he did know how to write.”