In my twenties (in the Precambrian era, sometime in the last century), Hemingway was one of my idols. In 1968 I spent the summer in Freiburg in the Black Forest training with the great German running coach Waldemar Gerschler. I ran three times a day beginning with a morning amble along the Driesam which flowed in front of the sports guest house where I lived. Between workouts I’d go to the American Library in town and read, mostly Hemingway. One day I stayed in my room and wrote a story called “Hail” about a storm that had destroyed the entire crop of tobacco on our southern Ontario farm. I was 19. Five years later I found that story and typed it up and sent it to the venerable Canadian literary magazine The Tamarack Review and got it published (this writing thing was easy, I thought). The next story I published was also a Hemingway pastiche, consciously begun with “Three Day Blow” in mind. In my story “The Mad River” I crafted the grammar of my action sequences on Hemingway’s participial phrases in “Downhill Snow.” Now I can barely read his stories; they seem mannered, sentimental and precious. But it was a great friendship while it lasted.
This article in The Independent is a fair rehearsal of the two-Hemingway theory and the multiply-determined (over-determined) suicide. But it leaves out one piece of the puzzle. Hemingway was being treated from time to time at the Mayo Clinic, and the story is that he was being given new drugs for depression, the sort that, as an unintentional side-effect (these were the early days of such medications) sometimes caused people to get even more depressed and kill themselves. I think I have seen this written about, but I heard it first hand from a girlfriend whose father had been a doctor at the Mayo Clinic at the time. She even remembered looking out her window and seeing Hemingway who took walks by their house for exercise. Of course, the drugs would not have caused his suicide, which was, as I say, already over-determined. But it’s an interesting sidelight.
Fifty years ago, in the early hours of Sunday 2 July, 1961, Ernest Hemingway, America’s most celebrated writer and a titan of 20th-century letters, awoke in his house in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho, rose from his bed, taking care not to wake his wife Mary, unlocked the door of the storage room where he kept his firearms, and selected a double-barrelled shotgun with which he liked to shoot pigeons. He took it to the front of the house and, in the foyer, put the twin barrels against his forehead, reached down, pushed his thumb against the trigger and blew his brains out.