No Farewell to Hemingway

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 15, 1999 | Go to article overview

No Farewell to Hemingway


Ernest Hemingway has been called sexist. He's been called anti-Semitic. He's been called self-indulgent and sentimental. Some of it's true. All of it's an old story, the by-now predictable attacks of critics more faithful to their own political attitudes than to their capacities for literary appreciation. One simply lets them pass, only half-aware as each new wave of criticism washes over, leaving what is great in his body of work unchanged - most notably, the undimmed vibrance of the early novels ("The Sun Also Rises," "A Farewell to Arms"), and the impeccable short stories (for example, "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" and the Nick Adams stories). Even so, Hemingway's unstinting admirers may have felt a certain ambivalence as the centennial of his birth came and went last month. Like so many great artists, the man could be childish, perverse and, as the world has learned in this prurient age of explicit biography, disturbingly outre. It turns out, however, that this is no time to be lackadaisical. A renewed critical assault on the writer, gone almost 40 years now, has begun. Pushing a theory to trump all, Harper's magazine has declared that Ernest Hemingway, towering literary influence of the 20th century, was, in a word, stupid. And that means that any American in Paris who has ever trekked to Deux Magots even to peer inside can keep quiet no longer.

In an essay that rather mutedly trumpets a supposedly "quiet renaissance" of the American short story, Harper's contributing editor Vince Passaro uses what he presents as a celebratory occasion as an opportunity to dump on Papa. "Today's short fiction," he writes, "tends to be smart, and wit is an aspect of the literary art form that Hemingway couldn't master and that his followers, consciously or unconsciously, put aside. …

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