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Ernest Hemingway: A Biography Hardcover – Deckle Edge, May 16, 2017
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Acclaim for Mary V. Dearborn’s ERNEST HEMINGWAY
“The most fully faceted portrait of Hemingway now available.” —The Washington Post
“A fresh perspective. . . . Keenly dispassionate, coolly discerning. . . . A kind of extended autopsy, not only of Hemingway’s life, but his reputations as a model of American virility and as an enduring literary figure.” —USA Today
“Perceptive and tough-minded. . . . Dearborn skillfully covers an enormous range of rich material.” —The New York Times Book Review
“Fresh. . . . Impeccably researched. . . . Hemingway fans will find something interesting on almost every page.” —Houston Chronicle
“A compelling portrait. . . . Dearborn captures Hemingway in all of his extremes, the story of a hugely flawed and endlessly compelling human being producing enduring art.” —Star Tribune
About the Author
MARY V. DEARBORN received a doctorate in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University, where she was a Mellon Fellow in the Humanities.
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Of course in the nearly 50 years since the first edition of Baker's work was published there has been much new scholarly research on Hemingway, especially on subjects such as his mother and her romantic relationship with another woman, his hair fetish and and gender fluidity role-playing with his wives and lovers. Mary V. Dearborn, who earned her doctorate at Columbia (Baker's was from Princeton, where he taught for many years) has incorporated this new research, while adding some significant findings of her own.
Dr. Dearborn is the first woman to write a full biography of Hemingway, and without making too much of this, I think that Dearborn brings some perspective on Hemingway that his male biographers didn't have. In his 20s, 30s and into his 40s, Hemingway's image as a sportsman, outdoorsman, warrior and lover of life including good food and drink was admired by many men, including his male biographers. Dearborn doesn't seem quite so easily impressed. She is more willing to explore his many personality faults than did Dr. Baker, though Baker didn't shy away from them. She is also ruthless in presenting his psychological decline in his 50s and how he lost his way as a writer.
Dearborn also seems much more willing to admit than Baker and other biographers that many things we thought we knew about Hemingway are at the very least subject to interpretation and debate. Quite often she present several different versions of what may have happened and simply lets the reader judge what might, or might not, be the truth. Sometimes, she's blunt about mistakes that others have made: For example, she states categorically that Hemingway's "famous" six-toed cats in Key West are a myth, that he didn't keep cats in large numbers until he moved to Cuba.
For me, where the new biography most falls short is in Dearborn's literary judgments on both some of his individual works and on why he was, and will always be, such an important figure in 20th century literature. Without going into detail, essentially Dearborn seems to conclude that Hemingway's reputations relies mainly on his first major work, The Sun Also Rises, and a number of his short stories. Not only does she agree with others that books like The Torrents of Spring, Across the River and Into the Trees, Death in the Afternoon and almost all of his posthumously published work (except in some ways The Moveable Feast) are second-rate, or worse, she also emphasizes the flawed nature of A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea, among other works. If you had never heard of Hemingway and came across this biography, you might be excused for not understanding why he was such an important figure in modern literature.
Having said that, Dearborn's Ernest Hemingway: A Biography, is an important new contribution to the immense amount of work on Hemingway and his canon. It's clearly and, for the most part, gracefully written. It is full of new insights, and it will occupy a prominent place next to Carlos Baker's biography on my bookshelves.
To one who has read nearly everything written by and about Ernst Hemingway, this reviewer found the latest biography both informative and entertaining.
Mary V. Dearborn has done extensive research into both Hemingway the man and Hemingway the writer including information recently released from Cuba. The 627 page full biography uses his writings, life, and psyche to develop an in-depth profile of the complex Hemingway personality. Switching voices, Dearborn is both biographer and narrator.
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Mary Dearborn''s book is the best.Read more