Critical Essays The Hemingway Lifestyle


Finally, in many ways Ernest Hemingway exemplified for the twentieth century what it means to live like a writer. The most visible example of his influence in this area has been Norman Mailer. Though Mailer's often baroque style could hardly be more different from Hemingway's (an exception is the laconic "nonfiction novel" The Executioner's Song, which many critics consider Mailer's best book), he seems to have modeled his life after Hemingway's, seeking fistfights, serial wives (Hemingway had four, Mailer six so far), and "Papa"-like celebrity in general. And the career of the dilettantish George Plimpton was a kind of parody of Hemingway's: Plimpton lived in Paris as a young man, but founded a magazine (The Paris Review) rather than writing stories and novels. After that, he has engaged in a number of stunts that seemed actually to mock Hemingway's vigorous lifestyle while attempting to pay it tribute: briefly fighting a champion boxer and playing professional football, for instance, then writing books about the experiences.

Prior to the publication of A Farewell to Arms, the Romantic poets probably served as our primary model for the writing life. A writer was a tortured soul recollecting his or her experiences in tranquility, à la Wordsworth, Shelley, and Keats. Hemingway changed all that. Proust composed Remembrance of Things Past in bed; Hemingway wrote standing up. Then he went big-game hunting or deep-sea fishing — or to the bullfights.

Today, Hemingway's thematic influence is a victim of its own success. The tough-talking private investigator is such a pervasive figure in our culture that it seems always to have existed. As his death recedes farther into the past, the "Papa" lifestyle becomes harder to recall — and, therefore, tougher to emulate than when Hemingway's exploits were a fixture in newsreels and the pages of Life magazine. Regarding the influence of his prose itself, however, the Nobel Prize committee was correct when it rewarded Ernest Hemingway "for his powerful, style-forming mastery of the art of narration." He changed the way we write and read literature, and he changed it forever.