Premium

Why did Ernest Hemingway sabotage his own happiness?

Petting a love sponge: Ernest Hemingway posing topless with two cats, a dog and the model Jean Patchett at his ranch in Cuba for a 1950 issue of Vogue
Petting a love sponge: Ernest Hemingway posing topless with two cats, a dog and the model Jean Patchett at his ranch in Cuba for a 1950 issue of Vogue Credit: conde nast via getty images

There are two problems that face the biographer of Ernest Hemingway. The first is the fact that he was, to borrow from the critic Allen Tate, a “complete son of a bitch”. The second is that this fact has been pretty well established.

Hemingway made up his life story as he was living it, freely embellishing, distorting, or inventing episodes as he saw fit. What begins with him taking shrapnel while working as an ambulance driver in the First World War (the truth) ends up with him taking bullets while storming up Mount Grappa with the elite Italian shock troops, the Arditi (the myth). He was an American Byron, exploiting – and resenting – the creation of his own brand, in which the success of the fiction he wrote was inextricably bound up with the life that he led. It is not a brand that has aged well.

Hemingway became an avatar for a kind of bluff masculinity that received its mortal wound...

To continue reading this Premium article

Register for free and access one Premium article per week

Enjoy unlimited access to Premium articles with a subscription

  • Subscriber-only events and experiences
  • Access Premium articles on our mobile app

30-day free trial

then only £2 per week

Unlock all Premium articles for 24 hours. Only £1.