This full-length study of Hemingway’s writers is a keeper. It presents us with the most Hawthornian Hemingway yet-not only the Hemingway who wrote in the “darkness of blackness” tradition of Hawthorne (and Melville), but the one who felt to the full the writer’s searing guilt at his wish and need to penetrate the public and secret selves of other human beings for the sake of his trade. The Hemingway who emerges from Fleming’s analyses is a figure of self-contradictions, conflicting impulses, and lasting guilt over his own self-centered loyalty to his art. As Fleming sees it, “The root of the conflict was the division of his loyalties between devotion to his art and his need for ties to the rest of humanity.”
The “pivotal work” in Hemingway’s career, written in his mid-thirties, is “The Snows of Kilimanjaro,” the story of a writer’s eleventh-hour self-recriminations and, perhaps, redemption published in Esquire. The story is also a morality tale for the generation exemplified by the dueling duo of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. Something of just how close to home the story hit Fitzgerald is suggested by his deeply felt grievance against Hemingway over his reference in the story to “poor Scott Fitzgerald.”
“It’s a fine story-one of your best-,” Fitzgerald told Hemingway, [End Page 355] “even though the ‘Poor Scott Fitzgerald, etc.’ rather spoiled it for me.” What Fitzgerald did not (or would not) see was that, as Fleming points out, “‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ illustrates better than any other work of the 1930s just how seriously Hemingway was examining his art during that decade; it also serves to predict better than any other work the direction that his unfinished postwar novels would take” (emphasis added). Coming at the end of his life to see that he has not lived as truthfully to his calling and trade as he should have, Harry Walden undertakes a scrupulous spiritual examination worthy of a seventeenth-century American Puritan. The accounting he produces becomes a bill of particulars to be avoided in the future, not by the dying writer but by the author who would outlive him by a quarter of a century, and who would leave at his death (as did Hawthorne) novels that he had not been able to give viable shape to.
Somewhat surprisingly, given its obvious importance, the subject of Hemingway’s writers gets its first book-length treatment in The Face in the Mirror. Although he is everywhere interested in the surrogate authorial biography of the imagined writers with which Hemingway peopled his fictional gallery, Fleming excludes from his consideration (except in passing) Hemingway’s major presentations of himself in works such as Green Hills of Africa and Death in the Afternoon. He does include for major treatment A Moveable Feast, being fully consistent in his choice by insisting (rightly, I think) that Hemingway’s final piece of writing, despite his wife Mary’s and his Scribners editors’ insistence, is best read as a work of fiction in which the author has written an idealized portrait of the writer dedicated unswervingly to his work. This is an “Ernest,” frozen in his Parisian twenties, incapable (at least so far) of the moral and aesthetic slippages Harry Walden will chalk up against himself.
Fleming dutifully grants space to all of Hemingway’s writers, at least all of those that matter, including Scripps O’Neil, the incipiently Andersonian writer of Torrents of Spring. But one of the most appealing aspects of this excellent book is that the critic never violates the integrity of a given narrative by an imbalance of analysis or the distortion of an over-focus. Among its many sound and entirely sufficient readings of stories and novels, I would call attention to those of the curious story “A Sea Change,” the editorially constructed novel The Garden of Eden (in the context of the unused portions of the much larger manuscript [End Page 356] at the Kennedy Library), the...