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This edition of CwHD continues my series of observations on writers and how character, or the lack of same, stamps its mark on their literary style. As I observed earlier, how one lives colors every aspect of what one does. The old computer science dictum still applies: garbage in equals garbage out.
Ernest Hemingway went to Europe as a young man during the First World War, driving an ambulance in Italy. He had worked as a reporter for the Kansas City Star, and later said that the Star's style sheet was "the best rules I ever learned in the business of writing."1 The opening paragraph of the style sheet begins:
Use short sentences. Use short first paragraphs. Use vigorous English. Be positive, not negative.
He finished his war in a Milan hospital, returned to Illinois, but was soon back in Paris, determined to forge a career as a writer. 40 years on, in Ketchum, Idaho, he took his own life with a shotgun blast. Hemingway was 61 years old.
His writing style was understated, economical; and his work became a major influence on 20th century fiction. He wrote a dozen or so excellent short stories ("Big Two-Hearted River"), and what was once the definitive book on bullfighting (Death In The Afternoon). Three good novels added to his reputation; and one book, The Old Man And The Sea, is as good as a piece of writing can be. In 1954, Hemingway won the Nobel Prize for literature.
Curiously, the man's lifestyle went counter to his writing style. His adventurous life---shooting big game on safari in Africa, fishing the Gulf Stream for marlin, the bullfight, his escapades during WWII, his four marriages, becoming 'Papa'---was just as influential as his writing.
One of his credo's was this: Man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed, but not defeated.
In For Whom The Bell Tolls, a novel set during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, Hemingway's protagonist (and alter ego), Robert Jordan, lay beside a tree looking downslope waiting for the soldiers to find him. Shot in the leg, dying, he had decided to stay behind and let his band of rebels escape:
His leg was hurting very badly now ... You're not so good at this, Jordan, he said. Not so good at this. And who is so good at this? I don't know and I don't really care right now. But you are not. That's right. You're not at all. I think it would be all right to do it now? Don't you?
No, it isn't. Because there is something you can do yet ... As long as you remeber what it is you have to wait for that. Come on. Let them come. Let them come! Let them come!2
Next week I'll continue with Papa Hemingway.
1 Kansas City Star Copy Style PDF, www.kansascity.com
2Ernest Hemingway, For Whom The Bell Tolls (Scribner's and Sons, New York, 1943). p470
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