Ernest Hemingway, still a teenager, as he was upon his return to Oak Park, Illinois in late 1918 or early 1919. Note the cane. He had just spent the previous six months recuperating in a Milanese hospital from injuries incurred in Italy in July 1918. It was there that Hemingway fell in love with the nurse Agnes von Kurowsky, his muse for A Farewell to Arms and several short stories.

I am sorry for the lack of posts in recent days. With the semester in full swing things have been hectic. Enjoyable and busy. Yesterday the English professor and I wrapped up with one class the World War One module in which students watched our film and then read passages from the Library of America WW1 anthology edited by A. Scott Berg. Next week we continue and conclude in the other English 101 section. I will talk more about the readings after we totally finish. On the first day for each English section students read Ernest Hemingway’s “Soldier’s Home.” Hemingway has proved to be a strong thread running through the module. It worked out neatly that the class sessions ran concurrently with the writer’s stint at the Kansas City Star in 1917-18. Students were duly impressed by Hemingway’s conviction that all he needed to know as a writer he learned from the Kansas City Star style sheet. I always stress to students the importance of keeping one’s writing as simple as possible. The irony is that the reader does not see the hard work that goes into making it look effortless. Duke Ellington often spoke about this very thing as a composer. The listener doesn’t see the effort. A student came up to me after class and said she was going to read The Star Copy Style and incorporate its ideas into her own writing. I warned that, while it still has much to offer, the writing guide was written a century ago and so is a bit dated. Still, there is still much there to go on.

Earlier in October I was doing a bibliographic session for another English class with a different instructor that was also studying Hemingway. The instructor mentioned in the class that the Hemingway scholarship used to emphasize Hemingway as a masculine figure. The drinking, boxing, womanizing, war corresponding, hunting, fishing, and the rest of it. Today it is the inverse. Hemingway scholars concentrate more on Hemingway as a vulnerable figure. The family suicides, including his own. The automobile and airplane accidents that damaged him physically. The drinking, now seen from a different perspective than half a century ago. The depression. The struggle with familial relationships. Messy divorces. And love both requited and unrequited. I came across a recent article the other day in which a doctor speculates that Hemingway may have suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), the degenerative brain disease increasingly found in football players due to repeated head trauma. I suppose the intellectual shift in the Hemgingway scholarship is indicative of how every generation must interpret its historical and cultural figures for its own needs and purposes.

(image/Hemingway collection, JFK Presidential Library)