To Be Punched By Hemingway

If you were to think about any famous writer you knew, what would your impression of them as people be? Intellectual? Academic? Boring? Or, put it this way, if there was anyone you knew that wrote poetry, what would your ideas about their personality be? Sensitive? Emotional? Maybe just weird? We might try to be more broad minded than this, but it’s possibly true to say that these are the kind of preconceptions about writers that exist in our minds today, and to be fair, some of them are probably accurate. But Ernest Hemingway stands out as the shining example of a modern writer who was the definition of a true man. You certainly wouldn’t want to fight him.

Scewing via Wikimedia Commons

We know this from various accounts and biographies of his life, but it can be easily recognised in his writing; he opens his famous novel The Sun Also Rises with: “Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton. Do not think that I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title.” The book itself is the story of an American writer (Jake) living in Paris who is in love with a girl named Brett, and it is thought to be semi-autobiographical of Hemingway’s own time in the French capital. Sounds like a soppy love story, no? Well, not really; Ernest’s manly nature again emerges in chapter three when he describes Jake’s feelings towards a group of men in a club with: “I wanted to swing on one, anyone, anything to shatter that superior, simpering composure.”

Further examples of this can be found in his novels about World War One (A Farewell To Arms etc), which are also thought to be based around his own experiences of war. He signed up to be an ambulance driver at the front in Italy at the age of 18, but after a brief stint in Milan he was moved behind the action to a place called Schio, where he helped civilians. Being truly brave as he was, he became bored and wanted to be where they were fighting, so he changed to a job feeding the men on the front line, and was later injured by artillery. But that didn’t stop him; he returned to the front after just a few months recovery, and only left service because he had jaundice a couple of months after that.

It is well known that he loved to hunt, fish and watch bull fights, and was brought up by his father to fear nothing. It is even said that he challenged every man on an island in the Bahamas to a boxing match, and offered a prize for whoever lasted more than three rounds.

He’s been described as a “giant of a man” and his writings are renowned as some of the best in modern times. If you want to read great books by a man who could literally have knocked you out, I very much recommend you take a look at his work. For those of you who were forced to study him as a youngster (which I find always ruins literature) I can assure you his novels are far better when you don’t have to write a boring essay about them.