Ernest Hemingway is the great American adjective, writes Tom Jacobs, even though he spent most of his time drinking in Europe, hunting in Africa and fishing in Cuba. Now, the US wants to turn the Hemingway name into a bargaining chip…
To this day, Ernest Hemingway is considered to be some sort of personification of American culture.
He was a war hero, a hunter, a gun enthusiast, a fisherman, a fighter and a drinker. His group of drinking buddies was comprised of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and Orson Welles. The name Hemingway, with a succeeding “-esque” has become an adjective that not only means a minimalistic approach to writing, but also a replacement word for “masculinity”. To inherit the Hemingway family name is to be recognised as a member of a sort of culturally-appointed royal family in a nation that hasn’t had a monarchy since the 17th century.
For a man that was so “American”, Hemingway didn’t really have that much to do with America.
When he enlisted in World War I, it was as an ambulance driver for the Italians. His hunting expeditions were mostly to Africa and his drinking and fighting took place in bars all across Europe. He was a member of the “Lost Generation”, a name he bestowed upon the group of American expatriate writers he hung out with in Paris when he lived there in the 1920s. Even his writing, the reason for his fame, rarely used America as a setting – instead he opted for places like Spain and France as a stomping ground in which his characters could be miserable.
So I did find it humorous when I read that the Hemingway name was being used to encourage closer ties between America and Cuba, so that American researchers could gain access to his detailed fishing journals. As I’ve already mentioned, Hemingway was a fisherman. He wrote his Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Old Man and the Sea in Cuba where he lived from 1939 to 1960. The novel itself is about an ageing fisherman named Santiago, who goes toe-to-fin with a giant marlin in the Gulf Stream.
Hemingway’s long residency on the south-east edge of Havana meant that he was able to make the most of his love of fishing. He kept journals documenting the large, predatory game fish that lived in the waters around Cuba. American researchers have been trying to get their hands on these logs, as information regarding the health of deep sea fish populations prior to industrial fishing is hard to find.
The historically shaky relationship between the two nations has made this difficult, as Cuba has refused to release the fishing logs to the Americans.
Now Ernest’s grandsons John and Patrick have been brought along to help, with their Hemingway name being used as leverage. It will be interesting to see if the Cubans see the Hemingway name in the same light as the Americans – important regardless of the person to whom it’s attached; whether it be a John or a Patrick instead of the man who became an adjective and a literature powerhouse with novels like The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms.
It’s like the ageing fisherman in The Old Man and the Sea except instead of using a rod, he’s just shouting “Bait!”