I’m responding to Ben Hohenstatt’s August 11 column titles Phrases That Need Some Clarification where he unkindly portrays Earnest Hemingway as not much more than a drunk who happened to write, using phrases that imply writing was one of the only things that Hemingway did sober.
He goes on to refer to Hemingway’s “crippling alcoholism” as causing unpredictable behavior that drove a wedge between him and many of his friends and refers to “a spiral of self-destruction and addiction.”
Those sort of comments, in the absence of anything positive are an insult to an American icon whose writing style and adventurous lifestyle have influence subsequent generations of writers.
Perhaps Mr. Hohenstatt does not realize Hemingway was a hero in WWI where he was awarded the Italian Silver Medal of bravery after assisting Italian soldiers to safety after having, himself, been seriously injured. Or that he was awarded the Bronze Star after WW II for bravery exercised in the pursuit of excellent reporting in the face of combat.
Hopefully, Mr. Hohenstatt knows that Hemingway’s writings were awarded both a Pulitzer Prize and a Nobel Prize.
While admittedly he was a heavy drinker, his use of alcohol to dull pain accelerated after a series of life threatening injuries that included two plane crashes, serious burns from a brush fire, and a severe head injury from an automobile accident. In total he suffered cracked discs, kidney and liver ruptures, a dislocated shoulder, and a cracked skull, all within a brief time span.
In his later years Hemingway succumbed to overwhelming depression and was admitted repeatedly to Mayo Clinic where he received medication and many, many electroconvulsive therapies. Sadly, two days following his last hospital discharge he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Hemingway’s depression and suicide weren’t the result of his drinking so much as a genetic condition called hemochromatosis where the body is unable to metabolize iron, resulting in mental and physical deterioration. His father, brother, and sister also committed suicide and were thought to suffer from the same condition.
In fairness to a great literary figure I’m adding the preceding to fairly balance Mr. Hohenstatt’s comments.
Lawrence G. Haynes