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Chasing Ernest Hemingway

Bookish Bostonian

Asst. Metro Editor

Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 23:01

A favorite high school English teacher of mine once told me that Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises was responsible for inspiring her to spend a significant amount of time in Europe


    Perhaps not surprisingly, the novel also invigorated a passion in me to live in Paris, Milan, and anywhere else Hemingway happened to set foot. For a man that travelled as much as Hemingway did, however, I find it ironic that his legacy ultimately lives in Boston, a town to which he had no known connection.

    Boston’s John F. Kennedy Memorial Presidential Library and Museum houses the Ernest Hemingway Collection, a dynamic gathering of manuscripts, letters, and photographs, including 44 hand-written drafts to the ending of A Farewell to Arms.

    The online information regarding the contents of this collection is exhaustive; including a potentially irritating stipulation stating that one needs an appointment before viewing the archive. This, however, will not deter me.

    I always thought I would have to travel to Europe to feel any kind of closeness to Hemingway, but the presence of the Hemingway Collection in Boston has removed the “one day” attitude I formerly had to hold towards seeing a slice of his life. No longer do I have to talk to my friends about traveling to France and Spain to feel his life—though I probably still will. No longer will I be forced to say to my friends—when I am feeling particularly manic and bad about my own life—that I just want to move to Paris, grow a perfect white beard, and become Hemingway. When I catch their dubious and frightened glances, I stroke my clean-shaven face and say, “You’ll see! You’ll all see!”

    But they will not see. I cannot grow facial hair like Hemingway’s to save my life.

    And more importantly, I can’t have his life.

    Traveling to the places he has lived and letting my facial hair follicles give it their best effort will not allow me to live a piece of his life. Taking the trek to view Boston’s Ernest Hemingway Collection and reading all of his works will bring me no closer to being the man that wrote the words.

    I am the type of person that cannot transmit what I do not have. I have to live it to write it.

    I like to think that Hemingway may have been a similar type of man, that if he had never been in World War I or lived in Paris or suffered losses that he could have never written the words he wrote.

    I am only a 19-year-old boy. There is more for me to see, more for me to live. I find it interesting that this chapter in my life, my time in Boston, takes place in a city towards which Hemingway doled out no literary affection. My path starts in a place that my idol’s footsteps and words never graced.

    Because of this, I have decided that where one lives a life is far inferior to what one lives.

    Perhaps I have not lived long enough to identify with the disillusionment of Lieutenant Frederick Henry in A Farewell to Arms, and in a way I hope I never feel that variety of loss, just as I hope to never live long enough to understand Hemingway’s alcoholism and suicidal demise.

    But I have lived long enough now to know how it feels when Jake Barnes turns to the woman he loves in The Sun Also Rises, thinking about the life they cannot have, saying, “Yes. Isn’t it pretty to think so?” And I have lived long enough to know how it feels when Hemingway himself expunges his first wife of blame in his incomplete, largely autobiographical A Moveable Feast.

    My chase to live Hemingway’s life, therefore, will never be complete, because the only way to find an understanding of someone’s life is to chase one’s own.

    Might take a while.


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