Hemingway's Heroes

Daily Mail (London), January 27, 2012 | Go to article overview

Hemingway's Heroes


Byline: Compiled by Charles Legge

QUESTION My favourite author is Ernest Hemingway. Who was his?

NOBEL prize winning author Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) was a voracious reader who amassed a library of more than 7,000 books in his various homes.

In his own words: 'I'm always reading books -- as many as there are. I ration myself on them so that I'll always be in supply.'

His library was found to hold practically all the works of Dante Alighieri, Anton Chekhov, Stephen Crane, John Donne, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Henry Fielding, Gustave Flaubert, Nikolai Gogol, W. H. Hudson, Henry James, James Joyce, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Mann, Frederick Marryat, Andrew Marvell, Guy de Maupassant, George Moore, William Shakespeare, Stendhal, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Turgenev, Mark Twain, Virgil and W. B. Yeats.

However, in his memoirs, A Moveable Feast, we find that his first love was the great Russian authors -- Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Turgenev chiefly, but also Gogol and Chekhov.

Tolstoy's impact on Hemingway is apparent in his writings. No one has ever written on the subject of war with anything like the sweep, depth, power and drama of Tolstoy, and war was a subject Hemingway found endlessly fascinating.

This quote from Lillian Ross's short book Portrait Of Hemingway (1961) shows just how highly he rated Tolstoy (and himself):

'I started out very quiet and I beat Turgenev. Then I trained hard and I beat de Maupassant. I've fought two draws with Stendhal, and I think I had an edge in the last one. But nobody's going to get me in any ring with Tolstoy unless I'm crazy or I keep getting better.'

Despite the comment that 'he beat Turgenev', it's possible that despite Tolstoy's influence, Turgenev was his favourite, in particular the Russian author's A Sportsman's Sketches, which centre on a man who spends all his time indulging his -- and Hemingway's -- greatest passion, hunting.

In a letter to poet Archibald MacLeish, Hemingway clarified his appreciation: 'I've been reading all the time down here. Turgenev to me is the greatest writer there ever was. Didn't write the greatest books but was the greatest writer. That's only for me, of course.

'Did you ever read a short story of his called The Rattle Of Wheels? It's in the second volume of A Sportsman's Sketches. War And Peace is the best book I know, but imagine what a book it would have been if Turgenev had written it. Chekhov wrote about six good stories. But he was an amateur writer. Tolstoy was a prophet. Maupassant was a professional writer, Balzac was a professional writer, Turgenev was an artist.'

Keith Yeatman, Ripon, N Yorks.

QUESTION Why do so many people have such an irresistible urge to sing in the shower?

IT IS widely recognised that singing is physically and psychologically beneficial. According to London University professor of music education Graham Welch: 'Singing has physical benefits because it is an aerobic activity that increases oxygenation in the bloodstream and major muscle groups in the upper body, even when sitting. Singing has psychological benefits because of its normally positive effect in reducing stress levels through the action of the endocrine system, which is linked to our sense of emotional well-being.'

Tunisian historiographer Ibn Khaldun in his universal history Muqaddimah (1377) noted the benefits of singing in the bath and offers an explanation for it:

'Likewise, when those who enjoy a hot bath inhale the air of the bath, so that the heat of the air enters their spirits and makes them hot, they are found to experience joy. It often happens that they start singing, as singing has its origin in gladness.'

Aside from the fact that we are prone to singing when we feel good -- as one often does in the bath or shower -- bathroom acoustics are suited to the amateur singer. The dimensions and hard surfaces of the bathroom allow standing waves, echo and reverberation to flourish, giving the singer's voice a fullness it doesn't normally enjoy.

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