restricted access Hemingway (review)
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Reviewed by
Fernanda Pivano. Hemingway. Milano: Rusconi, 1985. 232 pp. Lire 20,000.

Fernanda Pivano, a distinguished Italian critic, journalist, and translator of modern American literature, has produced an introduction to Hemingway's life for Italian readers. Her interpretation is based on her meetings with Hemingway in 1948-49, 1954, and 1956. The narrative, divided into highly condensed chapters, is not chronological. She relies heavily on printed sources and thus repeats some myths and makes a few errors. The Hemingway she knew had film star status in Italy. Pivano notes the quantity of his luggage; the lavishness of his hospitality in grand hotels, where he loved to preside over large tables of friends and hangers-on; the scale and pace of his travels on ocean liners, on trains, and in the big black Buick that appears in one of the excellent photographs taken by Pivano's husband, Ettore Sottsass.

They met for the first time in October, 1948, when Hemingway invited Fernanda to visit him in Cortina during his first trip to Italy since 1923. He had heard that she had been arrested in a Nazi raid on the Einaudi publishers in Torino after a contract for her translation of A Farewell To Arms was found. (The book was banned by Mussolini because of its depiction of the Italian retreat from Caporetto.) Hemingway greeted her warmly; he valued her work, wrote to her often about her translations, and took an interest in her career. She translated A Farewell to Arms, to replace previous pirated versions, as well as Across the River and into the Trees and The Old Man and the Sea. Young, warm-hearted, and intellectual, Fernanda esteemed him as a writer and found him sympathetic as a man.

Hemingway boasted of his Indian blood and demonstrated how he could walk silently; but when he showed her a photograph of his Indian grandmother in a book called Fighting Indians of the West and subsequently chose another grandmother [End Page 735] from the same book, she enjoyed the joke. Pivano conveys a lively sense of his physical presence: his shyness and vulnerability under the confident mask; his tendency to talk almost in a whisper, as if communicating secret information; his capacity to invest ordinary activity with wonder. She stresses the magnetism of the man in his prime and registers the decline in his physical and mental health after the plane crashes of 1954.

Pivano notes the contradictions in Hemingway: his obsessiveness about money and his extreme generosity; his resentment of and sense of obligation to journalists. She describes how he spoke his own mixture of European languages. (It is doubtful that Hemingway spoke any foreign language well but made up for his lack of grammar with force of personality.)

Pivano is interesting on Hemingway's life in Italy. She wisely discounts Cecchin's absurd theory that he was in love with a Torinese nurse in 1918, though she believes the unlikely story that he was baptized a Catholic while wounded. She observed the progress and repercussions of his infatuation with Adriana Ivancich and makes it clear that Hemingway cut a sorry figure. He allowed a knowing and flirtatious girl to hurt his marriage and himself and was doubly humiliated when the novel she had inspired, Across the River and into the Trees, was attacked by the critics. Adriana's La Torre Bianca (1980) describes how Hemingway vented his misery and frustration on Mary and maintains that the unconsummated affair irreparably damaged Adriana's own life (she committed suicide in 1982).

Mary emerges as the stoic heroine of Hemingway's last years, though Pivano illuminates the psychological cost of their life together. She notes how, after Hemingway's amusing notes to friends had been read, Mary collected them and said she had to take care of his boys—conserving everything he wrote for its potential cash value. This habit explains Hemingway's brutal accusation, which Mary records without explanation in How It Was, that she is a "scavenger." Pivano admires the skillful way in which Mary ignores Hemingway tiptoeing into the kitchen to feed prime bits of fish to a circle of cats. These authentic observations reveal the painful...


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