Hemingway on his emotional life

Thursday, April 29, 2010

I find myself recurrently thinking about — brooding on — Hemingway’s emotional life. I feel that I understand him as perhaps his biographers do not, quite. What you think, papa?

Yes, you do. Not because you have any particular insight into my life – many of them see the externals much more clearly – but because you know more, consciously, about the fluctuations of moods and almost possessions that we are. You could write that.

Maybe. I don’t have any kind of handle on form. Oh – as I did with Joseph?

The bar isn’t higher, just different. Joseph might not exist. I might be demonstrably different from what you get. But it is the same thing either way.

All right, let’s talk about your rages. Looking at it now from a wider perspective, how do you see it?

Concussions aren’t good for you, for one thing.

Neither is frustration.

No, neither is frustration, but in general you can deal with frustration without rage. It isn’t just a matter of self-control. I had a lot of self-control in some directions.

You would frequently explode at Max Perkins, it looks like.

I’d pour out my anger and suspicion and frustration and worry, and my feeling of not being supported, and my sense of being taken for granted, yes. And there was so much jealousy there, too, though I didn’t quite let myself realize it.

And quite a bit of fear, it seems to me.

Well, fear, yes. Old “’fraid of nothin’” dealt with different fears every day of his life. Some I could acknowledge, because they were rational and merely showed that I knew the risks I was taking. Others I couldn’t admit it because I felt I shouldn’t be afraid of them. And some I didn’t dare admit because I didn’t think it was safe to – and the publication of my letters shows that I was right, too.


10:30 AM. Maybe the way to proceed is to ask a leading question and let you proceed, or – if you already know what you want to talk about, just let you go ahead, as I did with Joseph four and a half years ago.

So, papa – what would you like to say about your life and/or reading and/or experiences.

I came out of the hospital in Italy as Jack London came out of the bars in the Klondike, with no first-hand experience, but a wealth of secondhand experience. After all, I had never fired a rifle at an opponent, and hadn’t even had the preliminary fear of going into combat. The shell that injured me was a bolt out of the blue to a boy who assumed his own invulnerability. So what I knew was pain and suffering and irrational fear. Everything else was secondhand; the life in the lines, the comradeship of arms, the mixtures of fears and courage that filled people at different times, the nature of the Italians.

I was on slightly more first-hand ground with the love affair, except I glamorized it, adding an older man’s perspective on a very young man’s experience. I killed Agnes as I had had to kill my love for her when she rejected me – but the emotions and experiences Frederic Henry had were those I learned much later in life than 18. So to that extent there is a fairytale element in the love story.

Alright, I romanced, telling my story to the press and to my fellows at home. I told it as I dreamed it, rather than as it was. You could look at it as novelizing without the writing of it. But the things that I pretended had happened to me, I knew, even though secondhand.

I do see that. And of course you and I discussed this somewhat three years ago when I read The Young Hemingway while in England.

Well, this is the foundation for understanding my later life, you see. Not Paris, not my upbringing, not the things that happened in Spain and all. Being wounded without warning, being the first of the Americans in the hospital, listening for many months to the real veterans, being able to pretend I was a veteran too, and sort of feeling that because of my wounds, I was. And then knowing that I had a whole extra life to lead, for I could have been killed, even was killed, but came back –. This was the central experience of my life, and it came before I was 20.

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