Ernest hemingway

Should we judge a work by the character of its creator?

‘Most of my heroes are monsters, unfortunately,’ Joni Mitchell once said, ‘and they are men.’ The singer-songwriter was able to detach the maker from the made. Should we do the same? Is it ethical? Even possible? These are the questions Claire Dederer deftly considers in Monsters, which puzzles through the problem of what we ought to do about great art by bad men. Ideally, nothing. Early on in her quest, Dederer longs for someone to invent an online calculator: The user would enter the name of an artist, whereupon the calculator would assess the heinousness of the crime versus the greatness of the art and spit out a verdict: you

Rupert Murdoch has nothing to fear from me

Harvard man Russell Seitz has sent me an extraordinary present as an object lesson in ‘what a magazine should be in case you start another one’. The paper has yellowed and is dog-eared, pages are falling out and the print is faint. But the Transatlantic Review, Vol. 1, No. 1, dated January 1924, is a joy to behold. Mind you, we were already almost 100 years old when Ford Madox Ford first edited TTR in Paris. And that’s what I told my friend Russell. Anyone who writes for or reads The Spectator is not likely to be impressed by other publications, but this does not include a posturing peacock from

In the footsteps of Hemingway

‘They were living at le Grau du Roi then and the hotel was on a canal that ran from the walled city of Aigues Mortes straight down to the sea.’ So begins Hemingway’s posthumously published transgender-themed novel The Garden of Eden. He began writing it in 1946 and kept at it intermittently through his long mental and physical decline. Yet it’s a marvellous novel, in parts as vivid as Hemingway’s miraculous early stuff, which, once read, susceptible people confuse with their own lived experience. In 1927 Hemingway and his second wife Pauline came to Grau-du-Roi on the Camargue coast for their honeymoon and the first three chapters of the novel

The books that made me who I am

Gstaad This is my last week in the Alps and I’m trying to get it all in – skiing, cross-country, kickboxing, even some nature walking along a stream. (I did my last downhill run with Geoffrey Moore, one that ended in a collision with a child at the bottom of the mountain, and I’m thinking of calling it quits on the downhill-skiing front.) The trouble with athletes is that we early on enact the destiny to which we are all subject, an early death. The death of sports talent is a subtle process. The eyes go first, then the step falters. Eventually you feel like an old man who is

Thoughtful and impeccable: Ken Burns’s Hemingway reviewed

Ken Burns made his name in 1990 with The Civil War, the justly celebrated 11-and-a-half-hour documentary series that gave America’s proudly niche PBS channel the biggest ratings in its history. Since then, he’s tackled several other big American subjects like jazz, Prohibition and Vietnam; and all without ever changing his style. In contrast to, say, Adam Curtis (another ambitious film-maker whose methods have remained unchanged for 30 years), Burns’s documentaries take an almost defiantly considered approach, forgoing anything resembling self-regarding flashiness in favour of such old-school techniques as knowledgeable talking heads, careful chronology and straightforwardly appropriate visuals. Hemingway, his new six-parter being shown on BBC4, duly fails to mark a

Remembering one of the last great Americans

It takes a very good writer to produce prose that provokes an emotional response in a reader, even when it deals with events long past with which he or she has no connection. It also takes a good writer to subtly tip off the reader about a change in the character of the American people, one that has seen toughness replaced by weakness. Talleyrand once remarked that no one who had been born after the French Revolution could know how sweet life could be. Larry McMurtry wrote about life in small American towns in the 1950s and the great American West in the late 19th century, and his writing evokes

Mother Nature is giving us her middle finger

Gstaad I have never experienced such a long, continuous blizzard, and I’ve been coming here for 63 years. The ski lifts are closed, as are the hotels, and it’s been coming down for a week non-stop. My Portuguese handyman Fernando now lives on his snow plough, clearing the private road that leads to the house, as useless a task as trying to bail out the Titanic. By now I should be in London, enjoying my new rented house in Glebe Place. Instead I’m housebound and snowed in, a modern Prisoner of Zenda without the Ruritanian uniforms. My only worries are the possibility of an avalanche, and my son’s insistence that

The healing power of sweat

Laikipia In one of Kenya farmer Karen Blixen’s short stories, a character says: ‘I know of a cure for everything: salt water… Sweat, or tears, or the salt sea’. After two months on the Indian Ocean shore since Mum left us, I set off on the two-day drive back to the farm. At dawn in Tsavo I had breakfast watching a young leopard, and passed a herd of 400 buffalo, many elephant, kudu, giraffe and buck. In four hours on the back roads I saw just one car. I reached the Nairobi highway, overtook scores of juggernauts and then diverted along the track following the Selengei river, where Ernest Hemingway

Raymond Chandler and his contrarian cat Taki

Gstaad That’s all we needed in a great year: copyright has expired on The Great Gatsby. Some Fitzgerald wannabe has already cashed in with a prequel, and I’m certain the worst is yet to come. I suppose that the insatiable hunger for fame and celebrity to impress a shallow and scatterbrained blonde across the water made Gatsby a very tragic hero. But he was not as tragic as Hemingway’s Jake Barnes, who had his you-know-what blown off in the war and could only flirt with Lady Brett from afar. Or Scott Fitzgerald’s other tragic hero, Dick Diver, whose talent wasted away while he amused his rich wife’s friends. At least

The fakery of Martha Gellhorn

Gstaad Martha Gellhorn was a long-legged blonde American writer and journalist who became Papa Hemingway’s third and penultimate wife. She got her start when H.G. Wells, then nearly 70, fell for her rather badly, advised her on her writing, and paid her a small retainer to keep him up to date on American trends. She was 27 at the time. Wells had met Martha at the White House during the Franklin Roosevelt years before the war, Eleanor having been a friend of Martha’s mother, who was known around St Louis for having a mad crush on the First Lady. Yes, dear readers, sex existed even back then, but people didn’t

How the International Brigades were ‘thrown into the heart of the fire’

During the Spanish civil war of 1936 to 1939, 35,000 men and women from around the world volunteered to fight against the forces of General Franco and his supporters from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. When the volunteers were withdrawn in September 1938 after two years of bitter fighting, more than a fifth of them had been killed and very few emerged unscathed. Conflicts are by definition binary affairs, so it’s inevitable that bitterly contrasting views of the role of the International Brigades have existed ever since the civil war itself. For the volunteers and their supporters, their sacrifices were a ‘heroic example of democracy’s solidarity and universality’. Conversely, Francoist

There’s no sign of apocalypse in East Finchley – yet

I was mansplaining to my wife earlier this week about why we ought to be very, very concerned by the coronavirus. It wasn’t the prospect of one person in 50 dying, I said — or not just that. It was more, I said sagely, the knock-on effects. You know, if everyone self-isolates, you’re only about two missed Ocado deliveries away from starvation, looting, cannibalism etc. ‘You’re always catastrophising,’ said my wife. ‘You were like this about Trump. And Brexit. I think it’s because you spend too much time reading the news.’ ‘But Trump is very bad,’ I said, because he is. ‘He could start a war.’ ‘He hasn’t started a