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Portrait of Hemingway (Modern Library) Paperback – July 6, 1999


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New Yorker writer Lillian Ross made her reputation as a journalist on this 1950 profile of Ernest Hemingway. And she also made a lifelong friend of Hemingway on the head of it. Yet, strangely enough, despite her tremendous admiration for her subject--"the greatest American novelist and short-story writer of our day," she declares in the opening sentence--the piece was widely viewed as an assault. Some readers were "almost deliriously censorious," Ross writes of the book's original publication, "about the way Hemingway talked and the way he enjoyed himself and the way he was openly vulnerable."

Ross essentially made herself a fly on the wall during two days that Hemingway and his fourth wife, Mary, spent in New York City while en route to Venice, and she wrote down everything the great man said and did. Hemingway hit the airport bar within minutes of landing, proceeded (several shots of bourbon later) to his suite at the Sherry-Netherland, summoned his old friend Marlene Dietrich for caviar, champagne, and war stories, bought a winter coat at Abercrombie at his wife's insistence, looked at pictures in the Metropolitan Museum of Art while pulling on a flask, met with his publisher Charles Scribner, and ran into friends. And he talked ceaselessly, sometimes brilliantly, sometimes foolishly in a kind of pseudo-Native American dialect (dropping articles) about life and art, baseball and women, hunting and horseracing, writing and competing ("I beat Mr. Turgenev," he declares at one point. "Then I trained hard and I beat Mr. de Maupassant").

Whatever one feels about Hemingway, one has to admire Ross's extraordinary success in bringing the man to life in this slim volume. Her Portrait of Hemingway is worth any hundreds of chapters of standard, fact-filled biography in conveying a tangible, immediate sense of what "Papa" was really like. --David Laskin

Review

"Lillian Ross is the mistress of selectively listening and viewing, of capturing the one moment that entirely illumines the scene, of fastening on the one quote that tells all. She is a brilliant interpreter of what she hears and observes."
--Irving Wallace
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Product Details

  • Series: Modern Library
  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library; Modern Library Pbk. Ed edition (July 6, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375754385
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375754388
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,046,448 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

It is also quite readable and enjoyable.
D. Blankenship
I just read it for the second time in 15 years and find it even more re-readable than most other, longer bios.
peter cates
This book Portrait of Hemingway by Lillian Ross is a reprint of the articles and also contains her thoughts.
Dr. Wilson Trivino

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 11, 1999
Format: Paperback
This edition of Portrait of Hemingway by Lillian Ross starts with the 1950 Profile of Ernest Hemingway, one of the most famous articles ever to appear in The New Yorker, and ends with an Afterward by Miss Ross which she has now written, almost fifty years later. The profile became a classic, William Shawn wrote of it, "perhaps because, to a degree that has never been equalled in a factual portrait, it contains the very breath of life."
Miss Ross does not present us with hints or rumors of Hemingway, or with theories or suppositions about him, or with second or third or fourth hand "information" downloaded and culled over the years from the writings of would-be biographers. Instead, on page after page of "Portrait of Hemingway," Hemingway is simply there.
With the Profile, Miss Ross made several litarary innovations, one of which was to compose a portrait entirely in terms of action. For example, as Hemingway walks through the Metropolitan Museum with his son Patrick, he talks --exuberantly, at times reflectively, always brilliantly-- about his work, his pleasures, his plans, his notions. Miss Ross quietly, sensitively, and affectionately, sets it all down, as much of it as is needed to record, on paper, a living man -- and since the man is Hemingway, a great man. William Shawn, who edited the profile for The New Yorker called it a masterpiece.
In the Afterword, Miss Ross tells about her friendship with Hemingway and his wife, Mary, that followed the publication of the profile and that continued until his death in 1961 and Mary's death in 1986. And again, Miss Ross gives us, not her own opinions or suppositions, but actual quotes from the letters the Hemingways wrote to her over the years.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By J. N. Siegman on July 25, 1999
Format: Paperback
It's a remarkable piece of work, both loving and accurate. If you don't like his kind of macho, I guess you could call the Portrait barbed; but she obviously loved it and him enough to win his trust. He opened up for her and, in the welcoming sense, took her in. I'm left full of wonder for the way she got his words, as well as his presence, down. You can see, too, how his early work, with its pared-down clarity, influenced her style. This is biography without conjecture -- biography at its best.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Anthony V Rainone on August 3, 1999
Format: Paperback
Portrait is a glimpse into the life of Hemingway over a two-day period. For fans of Hemingway, this is a fascinating snapshot of the famous Hemingway bravado and an offering of the vulnerability and sensitivity flowing immediately under the gruff and overly-confident exterior. Hemingway's passion for art and alcohol is found here, and one can't help but be reminded of his earlier devotion to, and inspiration from, painting rendered in A Moveable Feast. Sadly, one also anticipates the later disability compounded by the excessive drinking that finally extinguished such a brilliant career. This book caused a commotion when it was first published because Hemingway came across as insensitive, but it is only the lazy reader not willing to dig a little deeper, and only the reader who allows the powerful prose of Ross to lull them into mere observation, who fails to recognize the whole of Hemingway's character. If you are a Hemingway fan, or you want to scratch the surface of the life of a great writer who showed no fear in displaying his faults as readily as his virtues, and you don't mind a few character quirks along the way, read this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on July 8, 2008
Format: Paperback
The introduction to this book is written after Hemingway died. In it Lillian Ross explains that her fundamental attitude towards Hemingway was very positive. She saw him as an extremely generous person who was kind to those around him, and had an infectious joy in life. But the portrait she then reproduces, the one which originally appeared in 'The New Yorker' shows a slightly different Hemingway.
In this portrait which is simply Ross' coverage of a two -day New York visit Hemingway makes with his wife Mary , Hemingway comes out looking like an opinionated, somewhat silly, provincial. His baby- talk idiom in which he speaks without 'particles' sounds ridiculous. His stereotypical dismissal of New York sounds very much like a small- town boy intimidated by the Big City. His endless use of baseball and boxing analogies seems too schoolboyish. His way of insisting on seeing a prize- fight does create a certain nostalgic sense, for a time when an 'event' was an 'event' and was not readily broadcast and endlessly repeated on the Net. But it also makes him seem a bit archaic. After all , Boxing too is not what it used to be, and the stress on seeing a fight as if it were the most important thing in the world makes Hemingway again a bit ridiculous.
Ross says that Hemingway was amused by the brouhaha the portrait aroused. She says that she shows how Hemingway had a wonderful sense of humor and that he showed it in regard to his reaction to the Portrait. But the Portrait gives no sense of Hemingway's sense of humor. It rather has him beating old Turgenev again, and once again fighting two draws with Stendhal, and telling us that he will in no way get into the ring with old Tolstoy.
Hemingway is one of the great American writers, and one of the great story- writers of all time.
This Portrait does not give a sense of this.
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