Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hemingway: the Atheist Trainwreck

Hemingway about age 50 - real man or real monster?
Ernest Hemingway is probably the most highly respected American author of the twentieth century. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1952 and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. Probably no American graduates high school without reading something written by him. Additionally Hemingway has represented for many Americans the ideal of manhood.

But who exactly was this ideal man whose words of wisdom every young person must study?

First of all, he was apparently an atheist or at least close to it. In his book A Farewell to Arms, chapter 11, the main character, Frederic Henry, who apparently represents Hemingway himself, states that he does not love God, but he is sometimes afraid of God at night. According to Kenneth S. Lynn in his biography of Hemingway, page 314, Hemingway believed that God did not care about man, that the universe was an eternal, meaningless automatic machine and that human life was hopeless.

In his personal life, Hemingway's callousness is repulsive.

He married Hadley Richardson in 1921. In 1923, she bore him a son, Jack Hemingway.

In March, 1926, Hemingway began having a sexual relationship with Pauline Pfeiffer. He divorced Richardson in January, 1927 and married Pfeiffer in May. She bore him two sons, Patrick Hemingway in 1928 and Gregory Hemingway in 1931.

In 1937, Hemingway began having a sexual relationship with Martha Gellhorn. In 1940, he divorced Pfeiffer and immediately married Gellhorn.

In 1944, Hemingway began having a sexual relationship with Mary Welsh, who was at the time married to another man. In 1945, Hemingway divorced Gellhorn and married Welsh in 1946, after she had divorced her husband.

Hemingway did not stop there however. In 1948, 49 years old and of course married, he desperately attempted to seduce a 19 year old girl. And in 1953, he apparently had a sexual relationship with an African girl named Debba. He remained married to the long suffering Welsh however until his death.

In addition, at least from about age 40, Hemingway was an alcoholic.

At age 60, Hemingway shot himself.

This brutally selfish man who gradually destroyed himself as he had others, is for some bizarre reason, considered to be an icon for American youth. This may be a symptom as well as a cause for some of society's problems.


Ironmistress said...

Compare to the life of J.R.R. Tolkien, whom I personally consider the most influential 20th century writer and also a remarkable linguist.

I personally would rate Tolkien over Hemingway as a writer.

Dave said...

A lot of geniuses (as well as celebs) have quirky personalities and screwed up personal lives. I'm not sure that this story is supposed to illustrate.

I'm not familiar with any kids who say, "Gee, I want my life to be like atheist Earnest Hemingway!". Some aspiring writers might want to be successful like him, just like a physicist might want to be successful like Einstein or Hawkings. So what?

jewish philosopher said...

"A lot of geniuses (as well as celebs) have quirky personalities and screwed up personal lives."

Could you cite a few who are respected and held up as icons in the ultra-orthodox world?

"Gee, I want my life to be like atheist Earnest Hemingway!"

You might be surprised how many people consider him to be an insperatiion in their personal lives.

Anonymous said...

Hemingway's family medical history might have been a major contributing factor to his troubles, as well as the debilitating accidents later in life--the treatment of which prevented him from being able to move or write.

Many artists are trainwrecks, and many of these profess to be very religious and spiritual.

Just curious, are there any ultra-orthodox heroes or icons in recent memory? Wat have the orthodox contributed to the world recently? Nothing.

jewish philosopher said...

"Hemingway's family medical history"

Suicide was certainly unusually common in his family, claiming his father and two of his siblings, however I don't think that absolves him of anything necessarily.

Lance Armstrong's father was apparently a very difficult, dishonest person, however I don't know if that excuses Lance.

"are there any ultra-orthodox heroes or icons in recent memory"

These are all approximately contemporary with Hemingway.

"Wat have the orthodox contributed to the world recently? Nothing."

We are bearing witness to the one true God. But I guess that can't compare to writing boring, smutty story books whose novelty wore off before 1950. 

natschuster said...

Anonymous at 12:01

"""Wat have the orthodox contributed to the world recently? Nothing."""

I happen to know Orthodox Jewish Doctors, Social Workers, Medical researchers who are working to make the world a better place. I teach first grade special education in a public school. I'm giving my students a can at a better life. My wife does the same for preschool children (not all Jewish) with special needs. An Ultra-0rhtodox man recently won the Nobel Prize for economics. There is a lot of chesed and tzedaka in the orthodox community. And it isn't nly Orthodox people who avail themselves of these services. But, being an atheist, you don't consider tzedaka and chesed important.

Dave said...

JP, the people you mention were influential among their followers in ultra-orthodox circles. It would be hard to imagine that their contribution or influence is comparable to a physicist, chemist or inventor who changed the lives of everybody.

And Nathan, Aumann is not ultra-orthodox.

Obviously, there are men and women of all persuasions, including ultra-orthodox, who have contributed in their own way to their communities or societies through their work. Perhaps Anon's challenge was a little too bold.

I now recall the case of Matisyahu, but I understand that he has become less religious recently. But he is certainly an icon among certain music lovers. In Israel there is a new generation of orthodox (some ultra) artists, who have become popular even among non-orthodox. Shuly Rand comes to mind.

jewish philosopher said...

It may be noted that the recent scientific discoveries are a two edged sword. We don't yet know if they will end in universal properity or global holocaust.

Dave said...

Well, where do you put the cutoff? All discoveries have been built upon previous ones. Without Newton, Pasteur and Galileo we wouldn't have had Einstein, Crick or Bohr. So would we have been better off without the former as well?

It obviously a moot point, because we can't intentionally "not discover" something.

jewish philosopher said...

I think only time will tell.

Ironmistress said...

I consider The Silmarillion as the most influential, most beautiful and most philosophical literary work of the 20th century.

You may call me a geek, but IMO J.R.R. Tolkien was a true genius.

Dave said...

I think that religion is a two edged sword as well. Can easily be used for evil, as well as good.

Ironmistress said...

Dave, exactly. You do not need to believe in God to see the good things a decent religion is able to achieve in the society. (If one does indeed exist, all the better!)

IMO religion is an excellent servant but a bad master. C.S. Lewis (the author of Narnia series and personal friend of Tolkien) wrote a lot of his conversion away from Atheism, but he also wrote strongly against theocracy and strongly advised to keep state and religion separated. According to him, theocracy is the worst government imaginable.