My Hemingway Gift

photo of Hemingway handwriting at his desk.

Ernest Hemingway at work.

[Image source and wiki commons ]

I was born on June 9th, 1961. Three days prior to my birth, Dr Carl Jung passed away. A few weeks after it, Ernest Hemingway, debilitated and depressed, ended his own life. But let’s celebrate that life. For it was a full life, packed with creativity and zest. And what a marvellous legacy humanity has inherited from this all-too-human genius. As Janine Russell‘s lovely blog demonstrates, and as Hemingway said,  ‘There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed’. Writing is a passion. It is also terribly hard work. Relentless work, in that once you are into a project it never leaves your mind. You struggle with it, day and night.

Hemingway said he was never happier than when he was writing, when he was ‘in the book’ and ‘making it up’. I read this just now in a great book gifted to me by my husband Fintan on our recent wedding anniversary. Hemingway’s Boat by Paul Hendrickson delves into the writer’s life and work from the time he acquired Pilar at the height of his fame in 1934, until his tragic death in 1961. We meet a driven man, often compassionate and caring with a fierce sense of social justice. But also sometimes prejudiced, insensitive, aggressive and intolerable. Hemingway produced wonderful work. His work is not only inspiring at a very human level, it is also highly instructive for anyone keen to develop their literary craft. There is no doubt in my mind that Hemingway also regretted the heartaches he is reported to have caused in the context of some of the relationships in his life but he gave so much too, these must be forgiven. We must recognise that our failings are rarely executed in a deliberate fashion – like us all, Hemingway may at times have failed to understand his own impulses or the impact of his behaviour until after the events. Perhaps then, regrets played a part in his eventual emotional decline. He had much to be proud of too.

What shines through for me in Hemingway’s work  and in this recent analysis through the lens of his life on the high seas, is

  • a love of life,
  • a capacity to live ‘in the Now’,
  • a dedication to truth and authenticity and
  • a deep sense of  empathy with the existential angst of all humans everywhere.

And how do we live with our own mortality and with the impact of war and cruelty?

Love and meaning, that is Hemingway’s answer and that is his creative well.

A Farewell to Arms is one of my favourites, written in 1929, but I think For Whom the Bell Tolls is his absolute masterpiece. For now, I’m enjoying Paul Hendrickson‘s book, highly recommended.


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