Why Don’t I Like Ernest Hemingway?

I finished reading The Paris Wife recently for my prison book club. The Paris Wife is the story of Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley, and her experience as his spouse while living as a member of The Lost Generation in Paris. The book was excellent: beautifully written, honest, and terribly tragic (as we all know how their relationship ends …). Because of The Paris Wife, I decided it was time to revisit Ernest Hemingway. And God help me.

3876I decided to pick up The Sun Also Rises, because the bull fight scenes in Pamplona were a huge part of The Paris Wife. I knew, thanks to Hadley’s first person account, that The Sun Also Rises is very true, featuring people who actually existed, who were “friends” of the Hemingway’s. I use the term “friends” loosely because honestly I’m not sure how much any of these people liked each other, which is made even more apparent in The Sun Also Rises.

A small novel, Sun took me way longer than it should have to complete. Not because the diction was difficult; obviously not—we’re talking about Hemingway, a master of using very few words to get across huge thematic points. No, Sun took me a long time to read because I was bored.

Granted, I want to give Hemingway his due. He is a genius with dialogue. He says so much by saying nothing at all. Most of the time, everything is subtext, but it’s brilliant! Brilliant! So dialogue: points! Many points. He understands human nature and is capable of creating an entire, fully realized character with nothing but his or her words. That is not easy.

Yet, I find his work to be boring. I can’t put my finger on it. I suppose, in the case of The Sun Also Rises, the repetition of “another bottle of wine” and “I’m tight” got a little old. They’re all drunk the entire book, which is why the ugliness comes out—why friends leave Pamplona as enemies.

EH6670PMaybe his descriptions. I don’t like his descriptions. They’re not flowery enough for me. My favorite authors are European—Spanish mostly—and those romance language dudes know how to speak pretty. Hemingway? Not so much, which is part of his fame, part of his allure. Yet, this stagnant use of language was not alluring to me. BORED!

I have another theory: do you think Hemingway wrote for a male audience? Do you suppose, as a female, I just don’t relate? I mean, he was a Man’s Man. He was a a fighter, a drunk, a womanizer. Maybe if I had a set of balls, his work would resonate better, because as a woman, I find his female characters to be quite despicable—and maybe that’s what he intended. No matter how much he loved women in his life, he had a way of tossing them away when the next best thing came around. Perhaps he fits this philosophy into his work.

In conclusion, I gave Hemingway another shot. Did I enjoy myself? Eh. At times. There were brilliant lines: “I have a rotten habit of picturing the bedroom scenes of my friends.” Or: “I was a little drunk. Not drunk in any positive sense but just enough to be careless.” Another: “Cohn had a wonderful quality of bringing out the worst in anybody.” My God, brilliant!!

That said I won’t be going back to good old Ernest. I still have flashbacks of the horror of The Old Man and the Sea from high school, and although The Sun Also Rises was better, I’m still not interested in tackling his body of work. Thanks, Ernest, for being you and for creating a new style of American writing. However, we’re breaking up. It’s not you; it’s me.

11 thoughts on “Why Don’t I Like Ernest Hemingway?

  1. I don’t like him either. His macho schtick gets on my nerves and puts me off. Have you seen the movie Midnight in Paris? It has a brilliant satire of him. I love your closing line in this post. :-)

    (FYI, I clicked over here from the blog thread on AW.)

  2. yeah I mostly agree. also, so much of Hemingway is about distance and direction — like ahead 200 yards, rising to the left from the road blah blah — which is so confusing to me because I can’t compute that information. He’s pretentious in his unpretentiousness. When’s the last time you read Fitzgerald? That’s a writer I can, and have, read over and over and over. The difference between, IMO, a mechanic and poet (Hemingway and Fitzgerald).

    • He’s pretentious in his unpretentiousness.

      Ha! Perfect!!

      Yes, I love Fitzgerald. Love, love, love. The Great Gatsby is one of the best books of all time and a novel I hold very dear to my heart. Their differences, despite their shared era, are immense.

  3. It’s all right not to join the choir, really. “Papa” was an original stylist in his day, and this will always be a mark of distinction.
    I have the opposite problem- *loving* books no one heard of. That’s all right, too.

  4. Sara – I KNEW I’d like your review of “Sun.” I also enjoyed some of the comments it engendered. Other than the short stories,I can’t find time to re-read any of his work anymore. Actually, because of Papa, I created one of the better laughs of my lifetime. It’s February, 1972,and I’m living in Los Angeles, awakened early one morning by a very serious earthquake that took down my chimney and half-emptied my swimming pool. Now this was a time before email, before computers, and Western Union was a logical way in which to connect with people. That afternoon I drove to the nearest Western Union office and sent to a good friend—and my comedy-writing partner for TV—a telegram which read,in its entirety: “The earth moved. Truly.”

  5. Girl, Hemingway is an acquired taste for sure! I definitely gravitated toward his work in college, but I think that was because I wanted to learn from the brevity of his prose. My fiction writing as a freshman (God help us) was incredibly verbose and WAY too flowery. Reading Hemingway taught me to create meaningful dialogue and how to edit my own work so it wasn’t overdone. So, for that, I’ll always hold a soft spot in my heart for his work…I, however, enjoyed The Paris Wife much more than The Sun Also Rises…And the satire of him in Midnight in Paris is truly fabulous!

    • But I LIKE your flowery prose. You’re right; you are an excellent editor, however, so we’ll thank him for that. I’m just glad you didn’t turn into a Hemingway minion; we would have lost out on some of your most beautiful and impressive talents!

  6. Thank you! I hated Hemingway in junior high, I hated him in high school, and I hate him now. I don’t expect I’ll ever be able to appreciate him, even though, like you, I acknowledge and admire his brilliance.

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