The Mystery Behind Hemingway's Suicide

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I've read some Hemingway. It's the kind of literature that people describe as "muscular," which I think means "manly," which I think means it's hard to tell who's talking at any given point because he refused to attribute dialogue most of the time. I enjoyed the Hemingway I read, and I even read a collection of letters between Hemingway and his editor, though I can't say I got much out of it, aside from that this man seemed very muscular -- and by that, I mean of course he was very manly.

In this remarkable article, John Walsh reviews the history surrounding Hemingway's 1961 suicide and attempts to explain it. It's a hell of a read -- not entirely muscular, but just enough to make you keep going. Here's a snippet from early in the article:

In the 1930s, he went to Spain to fight for the republic against Franco and wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls, in which a brave American hero falls in love with a peasant guerrilla called Maria. In the Second World War, he was at the Normandy landings and the liberation of Paris. After the war he retired with his fourth wife to Cuba, where he fished for marlins and wrote The Old Man and the Sea, won the Nobel Prize, was lionised wherever he went – but was killed in an unfortunate firearm accident.

That's the official story. In the years after his death, however, the jigsaw pieces of a counter-life gradually began to emerge. His war record, for instance. Hemingway was only 18 when he signed up for the First World War – but it was as a non-combatant. He had a defective left eye, inherited from his mother, which kept him out of battle. He went to Italy to man the Red Cross canteens and evacuate the wounded. Helping a wounded man to safety one evening, he was shot in the leg and hospitalised in Milan, with three other patients and 18 nurses. Though his dalliance with Sister Agnew von Kurovsky was unconsummated, he fell in love with European culture and manners, swanned about in an Italian cloak, drank wine and affected a clipped delivery borrowed from a British officer, Eric Dorman-Smith.

If that doesn't intrigue you, I don't know what will. Read the rest for an in-depth look at a mystery that has confounded biographers for fifty years.

(Via @brainpicker; photo via Wikipedia Commons circa 1950, public domain.)

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June 29, 2011 - 10:16am
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