Ernest Hemingway typing at a lodge where he wrote. (Handout )
Boozy, boorish and self-besotted, the world-famous writer in Woody Allen's current hit film, "Midnight in Paris," is kind of a clown. And, as played by actor Corey Stoll, he's an instantly recognizable replica of the author of "The Sun Also Rises" and "The Old Man and the Sea."
He is, of course, Ernest Hemingway. Or rather, he's the Hemingway caricature handed down to posterity: a hard-drinking, womanizing, big-game trophy-hunting, fame-craving blowhard who pushed his obsession about writing in a lean, mean prose style to the point of self-parody.
But exactly 50 years after the Nobel Prize-winning writer committed suicide at his home in Ketchum, Idaho, on July 2, 1961, there's another, more serious and respectable Hemingway still duking it out with this comic imposter in the ring of public perception. Marty Beckerman says that he had both Hemingways in mind while writing his just-published book, "The Heming Way," a combination of loving tribute and tongue-in-cheek how-to guide for what Beckerman, 28, sees as today's Facebook generation of timid metrosexual males.
"I think that everybody knows the Hemingway cartoon character, even guys who've never read 'For Whom the Bell Tolls' and 'Farewell to Arms,' " says Beckerman, a writer for Esquire magazine whose book is subtitled, "How to Unleash the Booze-Inhaling, Animal-Slaughtering, War-Glorifying, Hairy-Chested, Retro-Sexual Legend Within... Just Like Papa!"
But Beckerman also wanted his book to remind people of the other Hemingway: intrepid war correspondent, colorful bohemian and virile man of action, whose muscular short stories and novels define modern writing the way Picasso's paintings define modern art.
"I think there's a lot of lessons that Hemingway taught that definitely could apply to modern guys," Beckerman says. "I think that guys today aren't really living on our own terms and have lost a certain passion. Everything we know comes from Wikipedia, and everything Hemingway knew came from adventure. Get off your iPad and get off your smartphone and go slaughter some bulls and some lions!"
With this year's anniversary of Hemingway's death, the latest round of reappraisals is underway. Paula McLain's novel "The Paris Wife," published earlier this year, offers a fictionalized portrait of Hadley Richardson, the long-suffering first of Hemingway's four spouses. A new HBO film, "Hemingway & Gellhorn," starring Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman as Hemingway's third wife, the writer Martha Gellhorn, is scheduled to air in coming months.
But the tussle over Hemingway's reputation, which has divided generations of academics, critics and general readers, is nothing new. The two dueling Ernests have been present practically from the moment Hemingway published his first novel, "The Sun Also Rises," in 1926. While some hailed the work as a masterpiece, others denounced its narcissistic characters, laconic attitude and casually blunt depictions of sexual relationships. Hemingway's own mother called it "one of the filthiest books of the year."
Whether your impulse is to shower Hemingway with flowers or punch him in the jaw, both are ways of acknowledging his status”
Yet as Susan F. Beegel, editor of the Hemingway Review, has written, "whether your impulse is to shower Hemingway with flowers or punch him in the jaw, both are ways of acknowledging his status."
Nancy R. Comley, a Hemingway scholar and English professor at Queens College, City University of New York, says that Hemingway bears much responsibility for engendering the comic-book version of his macho-celebrity persona, which he carefully cultivated and tried to cash in on.
"I don't think that's going to go away soon. I think we're pretty much stuck with that," Comley says. "Because he did try to create this kind of persona, consciously. … He was trying to sell himself."
Even during Hemingway's lifetime, some American men who'd previously worshipped him began turning against his brawling, outdoorsy values. The birth of Playboy magazine, in 1953, posited a space-age bachelor-pad "philosophy" in which the male archetype of the sweaty sportsman like Hemingway gave way to the new ideal of the dapper urban sophisticate. With the advent of the sexual revolution and the women's liberation movement in the 1960s, Hemingway's manly posturing seemed increasingly passé.
In a dialogue published in the June 1986 edition of Esquire, the writers Ken Kesey and Robert Stone cited Hemingway's suicide as a critical blow to the American male psyche, which led some men to embrace an alternative ideal of masculinity. "He tricked us into following his mode, and then he conked out and shot himself," Kesey says of Hemingway.
Suddenly, African safaris and Parisian bistros were out. Beat poetry, experimental drugs, Eastern mysticism and the sexual ambiguity personified by rock 'n' roll idols like Mick Jagger was in.