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Ernest Hemingway is the stupidest great writer who ever lived, and perhaps the meanest.

I reread “A Moveable Feast,” over the weekend because I was in bed with a cold and I needed something that wasn’t mentally challenging. I had not read the book in 40 years. It is a memoir of Hemingway’s life in Paris in the 1920s and it is a mean-spirited book. He writes nasty things about people who thought they were his friends, people who helped him  – Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, John Dos Passos, Sara and Gerald Murphy. He belittles Ford Madox Ford, a better writer than Hemingway could hope to be. He heaps praise on the character of Ezra Pound, the notorious anti-semite.

I came away from the book feeling sullied. He wrote one good novel (certainly not as good as Gatsby) and a few good short stories and novellas. He is vastly overrated and his manly-man “philosophy” is laughable. I don’t like Hemingway

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29 Comments

  1. Barbara

    I don’t like Hemingway, either. I do like Lowell Cohn, though, and now like him better than ever.

    August 27th, 2012 12:12 pm

  2. Stan

    Time has proven him to be anachronistic. In his day what he wrote wasn’t for the future..only the then present. And,if he had lived longer..I think he might have regretted the animal slaughter of great creatures for no reason but a blood thrill. History has shown that many hunters have become conservationists..years of seeing wild animals in dwindling numbers and with animal life knowledge does that.
    I used to fish..almost a passion…then I gave it up as I became learned. I do wish I could give up meat,but I can’t,too weak for that kind of dedication. Maybe one day.

    August 27th, 2012 12:14 pm

  3. Jonathan

    Agree with your assessment of Hemingway. I am curious, though. What do you think was his one good book? I thought “For Whom The Bells Tolls” was ok, and “The Sun Also Rises” was good–although it has been 30 years since I read either of these books. I detest “The Old Man and The Sea,” which I re-read last year–slap me over the head with Christian symbolism, why don’t you, Papa. Most of the short stories are pathetic.

    August 27th, 2012 12:23 pm

  4. Dr. Feelgood

    Not a big Hemingway fan, BUT, if you get time to read For-Whom-The Bells-Toll, I’m betting you soften your view. I consider it one of the best books I’ve read.

    August 27th, 2012 12:27 pm

  5. CohnZohn

    Jonathan, I meant the Sun Also Rises.

    August 27th, 2012 12:30 pm

  6. Streetglide

    He wrote some of the cleanest prose in the English language. Guy must have either been a genuis or had a hell of an editor.
    .
    Elmore Leonard. Guy is 87 and still writing great stuff; he’s the Doc Watson of crime novels. You need a good read see Elmore. Tell ‘em Jackie Brown sent ya…

    August 27th, 2012 1:32 pm

  7. Stan

    Funny because streetglide,Hemingway had a terrible spelling problem and did need a editor. He and Sam Clemens(also a bad speller) would never win a spelling bee.

    August 27th, 2012 2:46 pm

  8. Jack Orion

    The Fitzgerald bashing is obnoxious and humiliating. I don’t believe it happened.

    But in Hemingway’s defense, he didn’t publish Moveable Feast, his heirs did.

    August 27th, 2012 2:53 pm

  9. CohnZohn

    Jack Orion, You make an important point, Hemingway’s fourth wife published A Moveable Feast, so in a sense, his awfulness in this book was private.

    August 27th, 2012 3:33 pm

  10. Kommon Senze

    I don’t really have the same negative opinion of Hemingway, as a writer, although I would agree he’s overrated and some of his world views have proven to become outdated over time. I would also agree that, as a person, he is not terribly likable nor is he someone I would ever pattern myself after. I do think there’s a separation between the two (the writer or the writings, themselves, vs. the person behind the writing).

    I think writers like Dos Passos (the one-time friend of Hemingway, who had a falling out over political differences on the Spanish Civil War) were far more creative in the way they captured the conflicting sentiments of that generation, but that doesn’t make Hemingway’s more linear and headstrong style any less insightful.

    I definitely don’t look to Hemingway as a source of enlightened thinking. But as a reflection of a mindset that was prevalent at the time, his writing is informative. If F. Scott Fitzgerald captured the sense of the dark shadows that hid beneath the opulence of the post-War ‘roaring 20′s,’ Hemingway cast a light directly on those shadows in a far more personal manner. The prose may not be as eloquent, but the imagery is clear.

    One of the ironies is that, nowadays, it’s actually his persona more than his writing that is played up. Just look at “the Most Interesting Man in the World” (of Dos Equis fame). A clear homage to Hemingway and his uber-macho persona, that charicature, sadly, may be better recognized by many younger audiences than the stories he wrote.

    Bottom line, if I’m going to read a book for leisure or pleasure, I’ll probably not pick out a Hemingway novel. But I do think those wanting to sort of capture a sense of that era he dominated, his stories provide insight that not every writer does. I’d recommend the US trilogy by Dos Passos before most of Hemingway’s writing, but ‘The Sun Also Rises’ and ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ deserve to be part of that era’s canon.

    August 27th, 2012 3:38 pm

  11. Mark M

    Different times. You can’t judge him by today’s times. The very definitions of good vs evil are completely different. It always bothers me when modern writers, critics attempt to apply today’s morality to yesterday’s writers. It’s similar to the whole revisionist history folks whom want to condemn Columbus for his antics and wipe out his historical accomplishments because modern men and women view him differently now. Just don’t read him. I never thought he was a great writer but certainly not for moral reasons.

    August 27th, 2012 4:26 pm

  12. CohnZohn

    Mark M, I think he’s overrated, but wrote some good things. I don’t like him as a guy — as he portrayed himself in A Moveable Feast. Those are two different considerations, writer, person.

    August 27th, 2012 4:51 pm

  13. Eric Janssen

    ..” his awfulness in this book was private.”

    I really like this. It explains his alcoholism in a nutshell. (I’m one too but follow Bill W.)
    How come so many hate on you Mr.Cohn? You’re a pretty cool O.G. Count me as a fan.
    Go get ‘em amigo…

    August 28th, 2012 6:44 am

  14. Ralph

    Lowell,

    Ok so you’re not digging Hemingway. Who was the last author that took you by surprise. Or one that you feel is greatly under rated as you reflect back on all the books you’ve read.

    August 28th, 2012 9:03 am

  15. CohnZohn

    Eric, I don’t really think they hate me. In real life when I meet readers they are always nice. It’s something about the anonymity of blogs that brings out the tiger in people.

    August 28th, 2012 9:06 am

  16. CohnZohn

    Ralph, I love this question and I’ll try to answer it off the top of my head. The last author who took me by surprise was LP Hartley just last winter. He wrote the Go Between. The first time I read Lolita I couldn’t believe prose could be that beautiful. When I was done I was sad because I never could read it again for the first time. I love A River Runs Through It. I am wild about Graham Greene and like Brighton Rock, considered one of his minor works. The Adventures of Augie March hit me like Lolita. The first time I read The Castle (Kafka) I couldn’t believe someone could imagine that world. My favorite novelist is Jane Austen — any of her books — although I’m leaning toward Mansfield Park these days, but I don’t expect many readers to follow me to Jane Austen. I am crazy about Miss Lonelyhearts but no one reads Nathaniel West anymore. My favorite sports book is The Sweet Science by AJ Liebling — the best boxing essays. There’s more, much more but that’s a start. Thanks for asking.

    August 28th, 2012 9:15 am

  17. Pat

    John Steinbeck is the greatest American author.

    August 28th, 2012 9:40 am

  18. Bob In Portland

    I haven’t read Hemingway in forty years myself. I used to have a book of his short stories, but having lugged it around I may have lost it along the way. I don’t seem to have missed it.

    August 28th, 2012 9:40 am

  19. NeverWrong

    You’ll like him even less if you read Lillian Ross’s THE NEW YORKER Profile of him, upon which Tom Wolfe refers to Hemingway as a “fatuous ass.”

    August 28th, 2012 11:59 am

  20. MrSardonicus

    The Sun Also Rises has quite a few anti-Semitic passages, references.

    Brighton Rock is hardly considered a minor work of Graham Greene. It is one of his four Catholic novels (along with The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter and The End of the Affair) that made his reputation and remain his most esteemed work.

    August 28th, 2012 12:52 pm

  21. JohnJPDX

    Let me stick my neck out and say Hemingway has been one of my favorite, if not the favorite, authors for close to 50 years. The Complete Short Stories have moved with me from Coast to Coast. Lowell you make the important point to never confuse the Artist and the Art. One thing I’m sure of after all these years on Earth is, there is no relationship between talent and personality.

    By the way – H could do more with sentence than most can do in a book – “For sale, Baby Shoes, never worn”.

    August 28th, 2012 12:56 pm

  22. CohnZohn

    Thanks, MrSardonicus for setting me straight. I really love Brighton Rock, have probably read it five or six times.

    August 28th, 2012 2:34 pm

  23. MrSardonicus

    Sure. And agree that Greene and Brighton Rock are great.

    By the way, judging from these occasional literary excursions of yours, I think you need to add the occasional pulp to your reading — Hammett or Chandler or Bradbury or Philip Dick or Lovecraft or Wodehouse or any of all manner of masters who chose to slum in genre writing — besides all that Serious Stuff.

    August 28th, 2012 3:45 pm

  24. Stan

    This post is not relevant..beep…This post is not relevant..beep..My winter of discontent…beep…disconnect,disconnect…beep..

    What a Harbaugh presscon sounds like to my ears nowadays..

    August 28th, 2012 5:02 pm

  25. CohnZohn

    MrSardonicus, I have read a million books by Wodehouse — he wrote about a million. He kills me. I’ve read Hammett and Chandler and Colin Dexter and John Mortimer and am currently reading Elmore Leonard — Get Shorty — thanks to streetglide.

    August 28th, 2012 5:18 pm

  26. Lo Sbandato

    Speaking of anachronisms, almost every author mentioned is a dead white male, and all are Anglophone. How about Eduardo Galeano, Kobo Abe, Albert Camus, Wole Soyinka (not strictly a novelist, granted), or, if it’s has to be American, Henry Dumas or even William Gass.

    August 29th, 2012 4:37 am

  27. Ralph

    Lowell,

    Whow thanks for the reading list. I’m off to the library as soon as it opens. And thanks for including your favorite sports book.
    And I totalty understand the sense of regret that you get from finishing a book for the first time.

    August 29th, 2012 8:01 am

  28. Fritz Q "Pepe" Newman Jr, PhD

    I agree he’s overrated and something of a buffoon but on the other hand he was fairly prolfic. Writing novels, even ‘bad’ ones, is hard work.

    August 29th, 2012 11:25 am

  29. kapadukka

    Thomas pynchon is undeniably the greatest Ameriacan author of all time. Gravity’s Rainbow is the work that all artists should aspire to. The only one who could hope to unseat him is Poe.

    Hemingway (and Fitzgerald and Faulkner) are each great writers, but to appreciate their work one needs to understand that it was written somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 years ago. Does anyone these days seriously decry William Shakespeare as a racist or sexist?

    Writing is an art and needs to be viewed in context, not through some self righteous 20th century looking glass.

    February 2nd, 2013 11:54 pm

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