I’ve never been a fan of Ernest Hemingway although some of the early writing is magnificent. I don’t like macho and sexist attitudes towards women and the glorification of violence that seems to go with being a ‘real man’. But John Walsh writing in the Independent makes me wish Hemingway had conquered some of those demons and managed to sober up.
Hemingway’s taste for chronic self-immolation was matched by his prodigious feats of drinking: “The manager of the Gritti Palace in Venice tells me,” wrote Anthony Burgess later, “that three bottles of Valpolicella first thing in the day were nothing to him, then there were the daquiris, Scotch, tequila, bourbon, vermouthless martinis. The physical punishment he took from alcohol was … actively courted; the other punishments were gratuitous – kidney trouble from fishing in chill Spanish waters, a torn, groin muscle from something unspecified when he was visiting Palencia, a finger gashed to the bone in a mishap with a punchbag…”
The drinking got worse after his father shot himself. Ernest went to a doctor in 1937, complaining of stomach pains; liver damage was diagnosed and he was told to give up alcohol. He refused. Seven years later, in 1944, when Martha Gellhorn visited him in hospital, she found empty liquor bottles under his bed. In 1957, his doctor friend AJ Monnier wrote urgently, “My dear Ernie, you must stop drinking alcohol. This is definitely of the utmost importance.” But even then, he couldn’t stop.