Great white hunter

Fifty years on from Ernest Hemingway’s death

EL Doctorow

We know too much about Ernest Hemingway to think of his work apart from his life. With the success of his first novel, The Sun Also Rises (1926), he became a public figure. He worked, usually on a short lead time, from his own experiences: the places he’d been, the people he knew. If a novel encodes the writer’s life, Hemingway’s code is easily deciphered.

He was at home everywhere in the world except the provincial Illinois town where he was born. He made of Europe and Africa and Cuba the territories of his imagination. He liked to kill things: he shot lion in Africa, pigeon in France, grizzly bear in the Rockies, grouse in Wyoming, and when he wasn’t busy personally killing things he went to the bullfights in Spain. From the waters off the Cuban coast he once brought in a 512-pound marlin. After celebrating and getting drunk with his friends, he went back to the dock where the great fish hung upside down and used it as a punching bag.

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Hemingway with wife number four, Mary Welsh, in 1959: “His values applied equally to birds, beasts, deep-sea fish and women”

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