As a writer, you should not judge, you should understand.
I just returned from Ireland where I finished reading a book called Paris Without End: The True Story of Hemingway’s First Wife. I loved it.
I’ve read at least five Hemingway biographies as well as the wonderful Bernice Kertin’s book called The Hemingway Women. I nevertheless learned a great deal from this wonderful book by Gioia Diliberto. The insights were fascinating.
As I finished the book, I thought about the irony of Hadley’s pain about being what she called “written out of” The Sun Also Rises. Everybody appeared in some form or another in the book (Duff Twysden as Brett; Pat Guthrie as Mike Campbell; Robert Cohen was Harold Loeb; Bill Gorton was Don Ogden Stewart; and Hem was Jake–maybe) and she was nowhere to be seen. It hurt her, although she made light of it.
Hem did dedicate that book to her and her son, still, she was nowhere in evidence. The irony is that the last good writing that Hemingway did was A Moveable Feast, which was, in essence, a love poem in prose to Hadley. While some of the past may have been romanticized, there never was any question in his mind that he did his best writing and was his best self with her and never was that again in his heart. It is said that a page of A Moveable Feast was found in his typewriter at the locale of his suicide.
Having said all of the above, I thought about whether there was a Hemingway /Ireland connection. There is not a whole lot of Hemingway in Ireland, but he does have a strong connection in his friendship with James Joyce, who, of course, is the quintessential Irish writer and poet. In their Paris days, they engaged in quite a number of drunken sprees, although Hemingway’s drinking at the time was more excessive social drinking than what it became. James Joyce was a small, bespeckled man, and Hemingway was a hulking, large fellow. At more than one bar, Joyce, heavily intoxicated, would start to pick some fight verbally and, when physical threats were made, he’d wave his hand and say, “Handle it Hemingway.” Hemingway was know to have assisted James Joyce back to his Paris flat where James Joyce’s wife would answer the door with great disgust and say, “Well, if it isn’t the two great writers, James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway.”
What I do think Hemingway would appreciate about Ireland is the natural beauty, the outdoorsy lifestyle, the fishing, and the rugged coast that has been kept rugged.
My own experience was that there was little affectation; the food was simple, fresh and terrific; and a conversation was always to be had if you simply began one with someone sitting next to you.
Hem never got over enjoying sitting down with local people and talking, whether it was in China, Key West, Cuba or Ketchum, Idaho. While on a trek to China with Martha, at her instigation, he was in his element immediately talking to people just riding bikes or sitting on the dock, while she found it all too dirty and too rustic.
I’m not a beer drinker, so I didn’t lift a Guinness in Hem’s honor, but I did down some wonderful scotch and soda in his memory. While much has been made of Hemingway’s macho image, Gioia Diliberto makes the point that each of his books really was a romantic love story at its heart. Brett and Jake had a love that could never be totally fulfilled; Catherine and Frederic left everything behind to escape into Switzerland in the hope of making their life work; Maria and Robert Jordan made one of the greatest love stories ever told. Consequently, it’s all very fitting that Ireland, the land of romance and high drama, has a Hemingway connection.