Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Negative Word in Favor of Hemingway

According to Borges, the problem with Hemingway was that he admired bullies; Paul Theroux quotes him to this effect in The Old Patagonian Express. I was primed by a reviewer to note and perhaps admire it when I read the book. Yet, with my limited reading of Hemingway, I wonder. He bullied, and he admired himself. But in the novels and stories I remember, he admires the man of action and the brawler; these are not necessarily bullies.

At the time, any favorable impression of this insight was lost in a page or two, when Theroux read Borges Kipling's story "The Church That Was at Antioch." To complain of Hemingway's fondness for bullies, and then to read Kipling without remark is odd enough--think how many of Kipling's heroes are bullies. But to express admiration for "The Church That Was at Antioch"! William McKinley might have have thought the likening of colonial administration to the apostolate of Peter and Paul overdone.


  1. The odd thing is that, of the three - Hemingway, Kipling and Theroux - the only one whose character has ever drawn attention to itself when I've been reading what they wrote is Theroux. It's never occurred to me to wonder whether Kipling or Hemingway was a bully, but I barely ever read more than a paragraph of Theroux without wondering what has made him so peculiarly grumpy, bitter and inclined to see the worst in everything and everyone.

  2. A censorious attitude is one possible approach to travel writing--think of Smollett's Travels Through France and Italy. It does wear on the reader, eventually.