Academic journal article The Hemingway Review

Carlos Baker and the "True gen."(Ernest Hemingway's Biographer and Biographical Truth in Hemingway's Writing)

Academic journal article The Hemingway Review

Carlos Baker and the "True gen."(Ernest Hemingway's Biographer and Biographical Truth in Hemingway's Writing)

Article excerpt

It is not unnatural that the best writers are liars: A major part of their

trade is to lie or invent and they will lie when they are drunk, or to

themselves, or to strangers. They often lie unconsciously and then remember

their lies with deep remorse. If they knew all other writers were liars too

it would cheer them.... Lying to themselves is harmful but this is

cleansed away by the writing of a true book which in its invention is

truer than any true thing that ever happened.

Ernest Hemingway (qtd. in Scafella 4-5)

IN THE 1972 EDITION of his Hemingway: The Writer as Artist Carlos Baker wrote that "In providing an account of Hemingway's career for the period 1951-1961, the emphasis must fall far more upon what he did than upon what he wrote" (328). Now, twenty-four years later, that comment is more appropriate to the entire span of Hemingway's life than to just its final decade. Indeed, in a word, Hemingway has become an American icon. His life has assumed an importance which now threatens to overshadow that of his work.

As the first of Hemingway's biographers Baker faced the arduous and exhausting job of collecting the disparate materials of his subject's life--the data every subsequent biographer has made the core of his own interpretation of Hemingway--and the task of establishing the basic organization of that material for the first time. In doing so, Baker's Ernest Hemingway: A Life Story fixed the chronological axis upon which his and all other biographies of Hemingway turn. Baker was also the first to deal with Hemingway's "pre-figuration"(2) of himself in his novels and short stories, in his letters and communiques, and in his autobiographical musings on life in Paris in the 1920s, A Moveable Feast. The more complex part of the problem Baker faced in his role as the initial narrator of Hemingway's life was coordinating the seemingly autonomous vitalities possessed by the contradictory personae Hemingway maintained at different times during his life:

the shy and diffident man and the incredible braggart; the sentimentalist

quick to tears and the bully who used his anger like a club; the warm

and generous friend and the ruthless and overbearing enemy; ... the

non-hero longing for heroic status and sometimes achieving it, the man

of action harnessed to the same chariot as the man of words. (Life viii)

Baker's strategy was simply to present each and every persona as it came his way in the chronological flow of Hemingway's life and to do so with as little overt commentary as possible. He thus laid the groundwork which implicitly established these personae as expressions of a single, unified, and representative American self, an aspect of Hemingway's significance as a cultural phenomenon seized upon and developed by subsequent biographers.

Baker's expressed intention, however, was to represent not Hemingway's self but his personality through the cataloging of incident:

If Ernest Hemingway is to be made to live again, it must be by virtue of

a thousand pictures, both still and moving, a thousand scenes in which

he was involved, a thousand instances when he wrote or spoke both

publicly and privately of those matters that most concerned him. (vii)

There was no interest on Baker's part in presenting a psychological interpretation of his subject. His is not, as he puts it,

a `thesis' biography. Even though certain patterns of attitude and behavior

emerge clearly from the mosaic of Hemingway's life, no one of

them in itself exclusively dominates his psychological outlook or fully

explains the nature and direction of his career as a man and artist. (x)

Baker here avoids the taint of subjectivism by eschewing the psychological and by emphasizing that his own feelings and perspective on his subject have been excluded as much as possible, even to the point of refusing to supply any controlling direction, momentum, or pattern other than that supplied by the chronology of the facts themselves and by the logical relationship existing among them. …

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