By Sarah Fischel
“If you have a success you have it for the wrong reasons. If you become popular it is always because of the worst aspects of your work.”- Ernest Hemingway on “The Sun Also Rises”
Ernest Hemingway remains one of the most influential authors in America even more than fifty years after his death by suicide. His renown reaches beyond the works he is known for, as his larger-than-life persona is remembered even by those who have not read the novels that gained him recognition. Often, it was his glamorous and adventurous lifestyle rather than his prose that stirred up interest.
“For a long time critics and scholars have found two Hemingways emerging,” said Josh Silverstein, founder of Timeless Hemingway, a website dedicated to Hemingway’s life and works (http://www.timelesshemingway.com/). “The first is Ernest Hemingway the brilliant writer, the second is ‘Papa Hemingway’ signifying Hemingway’s more masculine public alias.”
Not only did Hemingway achieve celebrity status, through both his writing and public persona, but he is credited with playing an active role in cultivating his celebrity and a particular image of himself. His fiction writings are often taken as autobiographical, giving readers a view of a dramatic life of war and adventured mirrored in his life outside of writing, a life Hemingway made sure was observed by the public.
While fighting in World War I Hemingway had an army appointed public relations officer. He received a silver medal of bravery for saving an Italian soldier and when he returned he was honored as a hero in the American press on the eve of his writing career. Soon after, the publication of his first novel, “The Sun Also Rises” coincided with a new age of fame and celebrity in America. The 1920’s were a period of modern advertising, Hollywood movies and their stars, culminating in a new form of a celebrity equated with success. However, it seemed inconceivable to bring an author into that same realm of stardom.
Yet Hemingway made himself a literary star using the mechanisms of modern Hollywood and celebrity culture. This climate m been perfect for the charismatic young author who stated early on his desire to be listed with the “Who’s Who.” Hemingway worked with PR representatives, with publishers sending pictures to the press showing the author skiing in Europe or with a large catch from a day of fishing. Hemingway complained of invasion of privacy and interference with his work while simultaneously making himself readily available to journalists and photographers, as well as socializing with gossip columnists.
While Hemingway purposefully crafted his public image, it does not seem to be far from the truth. Stories like “The Snows of Kilimanharo” came from his own adventures, his real life safari experience. On his adventures Hemingway was involved in two plane crashes and one car accident, being declared dead each time. The danger and drama of his real life was the same found in his novels and short stories.
“’Papa Hemingway’ is Ernest Hemingway,” said Silverstein. “But, it is an overcompensating version of himself, taking the term ‘masculinity’ to all new levels, even causing peril to himself doing so.”
It was exactly this masculinity, particularly his public demonstrations of it, that gave Hemingway recognition in his own time and beyond. At a time when writing as a career for grown men was often not respected, according to authors like Matthew Bruccoli writes in his “Hemingway and the Mechanisms of Fame,” Hemingway became reputable through his hobbies of hunting, fishing, drinking, etc.
“He epitomized the Lost Generation,” said Connie Erwin, coordinator at the Ernest Hemingway Museum in Hemingway’s hometown of Oak Park, Illinois. “He was a masculine man but still a man of letters. He read voraciously, wrote constantly and still went off on adventures.”
It seems Hemingway’s combination of manly thrill seeker and gifted writer were the key to his celebrity success. As Bruccoli writes, “It was understood that when Hemingway was hunting, fishing, boozing and brawling, he was doing it for the eventual enrichment of American literature…he was the anti-intellectual intellectual.”
It is heavily due to this double life as revered author and ‘anti-intellectual’ that has caused Hemingway’s fame to remain in tact so many years later. With at least one book written about him every year, Hemingway is remembered by fans and non-readers alike and even has a product line inspired by him including clothing, reading glasses and teddy bears.
“No writer has been written about as much as Hemingway except for Shakespeare,” said Erwin. “He was such an incredibly complex man who stirred people’s interest. I mean, people have even researched and written about his cats!”