A closer look at Ernest Hemingway – the meticulous writer
The iconic Nobel-Prize winning modern classicist, Ernest Hemingway, one of the world’s best known post-war novelists and a short story writer, is making an Indian debut with publisher Simon & Schuster reprinting 13 of his titles – both in print and e-book formats in collaboration with Hemingway Estate, (the author’s legacy and home in US), whose intellectual rights are managed by son Patrick Hemingway. The list will include India-specific editions with special Indian tariff.
The new editions of Ernest Hemingway’s best-selling titles will carry additional inputs about the making of the book, new snapshots on the writer’s life and biographical notes that have not been published before. The updated editions are offshoot of an ongoing project by Hemingway Literary Estate to introduce the writer’s soul to readers in a way that connects to his book, the contexts in which the books were authored and the “labour that went into each novel” with revised editions.
Manager of the Hemingway Estate, Michael Katakis, a American writer and photographer, who is in India to discuss options to broaden the “nature of Hemingway publications in India, including the possibility of translations in Indian languages”, said “in a culture of 500 caste groups, 22 official languages and 400 additional languages, the only road block that Hemingway would face in reaching the emerging readers in the tier 2 and tier 3 cities would be language”. “I am open o translations in a major Indian language,” Katakis said.
The writer, who has been taking Hemingway to readers across the world in new ways with “revised reprints, books with information appendix about the writer, digital editions and printing new bodies of works that Hemingway wrote before committing suicide and had hoped to publish one day” observed that Hemingway’s word views and literary sensitivities were not difficult to relate to across cross-cultural and cross-generational readers because he spoke about the essence of life.
Hemingway, who collected bulk of his writing material from the World Wars that he covered, deals with “essentials like the taste of white wine on the lips, the loss of love, innocence, the near insanity and absurdity of war and the post-war alienation.
“His works resonate with the man and his intellect — connecting the senses with commonplace imageries like the smell of wet boots and wet leather. These are sensory details that you can feel in India or Cuba- there is a human connection. He was really national in writing,” Katakis told this writer in the national capital.
The Hemingway Literary Estate tries to make the books interesting in new ways. In a revised edition of “Farewell to Arms”, Katakis and Patrick Hemingway included “46 possible endings that Ernest Hemingway wrote for the story as a special appendix at the end of the book to explain why he chose the ending that was published and the effort he had made to devise multiple endings”.
“In 1999, Patrick edited 1,000 pages of ‘The African Manuscript’. It was published with a letter by Ernest Hemingway which hoped that the book would be published one day. It was titled ‘True At First Light,’” Katakis said. The book, published in the centenary of Ernest Hemingway’s birth in 1999 looks at “conflict within a marriage and the clash between European and native cultures in Africa”.
“Patrick, a white game hunter in Africa, was with his father when Ernest Hemingway and his fourth wife Mary went on an East African safari in 1953-54. They were involved in two plane crashes. Ernest Hemingway wrote the manuscript while recovering from his injuries in Cuba,” Katakis recalled.
On a personal vein, Katakis said “his late wife, an anthropologist, went through the manuscript and felt that it was worth publishing”. The Hemingway Literary Estate is now working with the Cambridge University Press to collate “Ernest’s letters- thousands of them that he had written during his lifetime to personalities as diverse as Gary Cooper and Helen Hayes who starred in the screen adaptation of “Farewell To Arms”. The anthologies will run into 10 volumes. The Hemingway Literary Estate is currently working on a new edition of the writer’s 1926 novel, “The Son Also Rises”.
Ernest Hemingway’s appeal as a writer without borders lies in he fact that “he was a journalist”. His books were emotionally and visually detailed- a craft which he mastered as a war and conflict reporter. “Unlike other writers, he sought inspiration from the wars,” Katakis pointed out.
Born in Illinois in 1899, he was initiated into the rite of fine print in a Kansas City newspaper at 17. He debuted in the army as a draftee in the Italian ambulance unit, where he was wounded. He returned to US after several months of confinement in army hospitals in Italy (where he was also decorated). His went back to his calling – journalism - and covered conflicts. A man of nuanced emotions, Hemingway married four times – thrice to fellow war correspondents.
Critics say “it is one of the reasons that gave Hemingway an insight into complex wartime love” and the “loss” that it brought in its wake. In the 20s, Hemingway joined a group of expatriate Americans in Paris, which featured in his first significant novel, “The Son Also Rises (1926)” followed by “Farewell to Arms (1929). Hemingway used his experiences in Spain during the civil war for his iconic novel, “For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) and “The Old Man and the Sea” in 1952. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1954.
“As his mental health deteriorated in the later years largely because of his injuries while driving ambulance in wartime Italy, he failed to cope with age and failing memory in later years. He was treated with electro-shocks for amnesia triggering depression,” Katakis said. Hemingway shot himself to death in 1961.
Over the decades, Hemingway has continued to inspire generations of writers with his “iceberg principle” that a writer writes 10 per cent of his story and allows the reader to feel 90 per cent. “He once went to a museum to see a Cezanne and said he wanted to write like the impressionistic painter,” Katakis said.
As a result, the Hemingway character was like a marshmallow. “They were no Fred Astair or Ginger Rogers. Hemingway did not believe in life and people with happy endings – looked at hard realities,” Katakis analysed.
For bulk of Indians untouched by the wars, Hemingway is sill an enigma — a sad literary reality that Hemingway Literary Estate wants to address with more vigorous promotion of the writer’s novels in an age of “rapidly spreading American consumerism”.
“Ernest Hemingway represents the traditional soul of America,” Katakis summed up.
Madhusree can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org