How does a man live well? That is the question that I think Ernest Hemingway considered, and it is his tragedy that he never lived up to his vision of what makes a man good. Hemingway’s father committed suicide, as he would do himself after suffering ill health and depression. The legacy of suicide is a cruel one, and Ernest’s son Gregory would take his own life too, continuing the impression that life is not always worth living or struggling through.
After much reading, and there is plenty out there, I come away feeling a pathos toward the writer, a sort of kinship in the confusion of what being human means. He is a glorious mixture of different impetuses, just as we all are. He wrote about it and he wanted you to read that. He loved Shakespeare and Tolstoy, admiring their acuity in reading human motivations and characteristics. Shakespeare was his ‘undisputed champion’ and in the New Yorker’s profile of Hemingway, he is reported to have said I started out very quiet and I beat Mr. Turgenev. Then I trained hard and I beat Mr. de Maupassant. I’ve fought two draws with Mr. Stendhal, and I think I had an edge in the last one. But nobody’s going to get me in any ring with Mr. Tolstoy unless I’m crazy or I keep getting better.
The man was complex and although he lived a brash life in many ways, hunting, fighting, fishing – in actual fact his impulse was to write, and his personality was far more introverted than may appear to the casual reader. I believe this tension in living differently to his nature provoked much of his later problems with alcohol and depression. He wrote with intensity and authenticity, and it is these that promote his work into the ‘greats’. I get the feeling that he despised much about himself, having a self awareness without that accompanying level of delusion that saves most of us.
For a more thorough life story , look to the biographers, of which there have been plenty, but for the man, look to his writing. You will find him there, not always in the obvious, but in the characters he draws there are pointers.