Friday, July 8, 2011

Hemingway Fifty Years On

I sat writing in a cafe today in a picturesque, tree shaded square and I couldn't help but think of Ernest Hemingway.  He's been in the news a bit lately, on the 50th anniversary of his death on July 2, 1961.  Apparently it's a good time to think back about his legacy and his influence.  The truth is, I actually think about him quite often.  No doubt there is no other writer who had as much influence on both my writing style and my lifestyle as Hemingway.  Sure, Melville inspired me to run off to sea in the Merchant Marines, but that was a much more temporary endeavor. 

As far as influencing my lifestyle goes, I never would have ended up hanging out and writing in European cafes if it weren't for Hemingway.  He's the one who made that life sound so romantic, and sometimes when I'm sitting in a particular cafe that I think he might like, I feel as though I am communing with his ghost.  I've spent time living in capitals all over Europe, and a bit of time in Paris as well, trying to find that same inspiration that he did.  And for the most part, I have found it.  I owe him for that.

As far as influencing my writing style, I know he has done so as well.  My style is not as spare or pared down as his was.  In fact, sometimes when I read his work I feel strangely insulted, as though I were being talked down to.  It can feel as though he has so little respect for his readers that he doesn't think they will understand anything more than the most basic, simple sentence.  As though he doesn't trust us.  Yet at the same time, when I go through and edit my work, I do find myself paring my sentences down and cutting out anything superfluous.  That, no doubt, is Hemingway looking over my shoulder.

As an American writer in Europe, of course I feel a connection to this icon who came before me.  While his place in the canon of American literature may be debated by literary scholars, his influence is indisputable, both in the larger sense, and for me, quite personally.

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