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Tuesday, 21 July, 1998, 14:32 GMT 15:32 UK
Hemingway's 100th anniversary reveals the truth about the man
Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway went from international acclaim to utter despair
Americans are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of one of their greatest authors, Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway's life and books were both filled with the same ingredients: war, sports, drinking and brawling. And as the BBC's David Edmonds explains, the confusion between fact and fiction even extends to the anniversary itself.

The family lived in Chicago. The father, a doctor, was called Clarence. The mother was called Grace. She had a fine singing voice. Their son, Ernest, was the eldest boy and had four sisters and a brother.

So might Hemingway have written about his early life, with his famous staccato style, stripped of all inessentials and verbosity.

According to Professor Diane Roberts, an expert on American 20th century literature at the University of Alabama, it is Hemingway's spartan prose that makes him such an influential figure in the history of American literature.

She says: "I don't think he's in the first rank of American writing. He's stylistically very important, because he freed up the journalistic style for American prose writers.

Heminway's literary style set him apart
"He certainly wrote very fine journalistic prose. But I don't think he's up there with the big grand visionaries like Herman Melville or William Faulkner," Professor Roberts says.

Hemingway's style owed something, no doubt, to his training as a journalist. After graduating from school he skipped college and took a job for the Kansas City Star.

Pursuing conflict

But war was raging in Europe and Hemingway had begun his life-long fascination with conflict. Hemingway was actually born on 21 July 1899, but to fight in the war he had to lie about his age by one year, hence this year's commemorations.

Men of action: the D-Day landings
Throughout his life, Hemingway was a man of action. Decorated for bravery in the first world war, he also saw fighting in Spain during the civil war in the late 1930s and he crossed the English channel on D-Day with the American troops.

He spent many of the war years in Paris, but he travelled widely around the world in search of the bullfighting, fishing and hunting which by then had become an integral part of his life.

One of his friends in Paris was the Canadian writer, Morley Callaghan. He remembers one telling incident which says as much about Hemingway the man as it does his drinking capacity.

He says: "I drink beer very slowly, and Hemingway was drinking beer with me, in the saucers you get in those Paris cafes. And the saucers began to pile up.

"And when I had two saucers in front of me, he had four, and when I had a third saucer, he had six. Well at this point I quit, I let him go on. He had eight saucers in front of him, whilst I had the three.

"Hemingway somehow or other had to be champion. This was a man's world, and he was the drinker, and he was the champion," Mr Callaghan says.

Stories of war

Winner of the Pulitzer prize and the Nobel prize for literature, Hemingway's six novels and 50 short stories brought him international acclaim.

Much of his work was loosely autobiographical. A Farewell to Arms centres on a young American disillusioned with World War I, and For Whom the Bells Toll, perhaps his greatest work, was set in the Spanish Civil War.

The Old Man And The Sea chronicles the adventures of a Cuban fishermen; Hemingway had himself settled in Cuba, attracted by the deep sea fishing.

And he has certainly not been forgotten in the countries in which he became so involved.

Hemingway was fascinated by Spain's culture
In honour of the 100th anniversary, a new exhibition of photographs and memorabilia is currently on show in the Spanish capital, Madrid, to revive Hemingway's legacy.

The exhibition credits him with countering the isolation brought about by General Franco's rightwing dictatorship, by opening the country to an international audience through his novels.

But there are those in Spain who think of Hemingway as no more than an archetypal guiri - a perjorative term for a foreigner fascinated by Spanish cliches, bullfights, castanets and macho behaviour.

Self-made man

But Professor Roberts says that although Hemingway did indeed live an amazingly active existence, the image we have of him as a macho man, getting into brawls in bars, shooting big game, fighting in European battle fields, and so on, was one he himself was keen to cultivate.

She says: "He was very good at creating this image of himself. To be a writer was a very hard thing for a man in America. It wasn't seen to be a manly profession. So Hemingway recreated it as a manly profession.

"One minute he's sitting at his typewriter in a bar, and the next minute he's running with the bulls. And he was very good at nurturing this image of himself as an adventurer, as an action hero."

Hemingway's four wives included the war correspondent Martha Gellhorn, and love and romance were central themes in his work.

But in 1961, alone, depressed, in poor health, and now living in Idaho, he took his life with a shotgun. By then his style was already being widely imitated.

The now-deceased English writer Graham Greene, was one of many who acknowledged a debt to Ernest Hemingway. He paid tribute to Hemingway by saying: "It was as though Hemingway had put words into a sieve and shaken the sieve, and from the sieve fell all the unnecessary adjectives and adverbs!"

BBC News
Professor Roberts on Hemingway's literary style
BBC News
Mr Callaghan describes meeting Hemingway in Paris
BBC News
Professor Roberts says Hemingway's image was deliberate
BBC News
Graham Greene's words of tribute
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