“Why not make the Jew a bounder in literature as well as in life? Do Jews always have to be so splendid in writing?”
Ernest Hemingway to Max Perkins, Dec. 21, 1926.
Having previously written about the early twentieth-century writers T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and Robinson Jeffers, I felt it was high time that I addressed the work and thought of an altogether more controversial and ambiguous literary figure of the same period — the inimitable Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway may seem an odd choice to profile for a White advocacy site and, moreover, in his last and only appearance at The Occidental Observer, now some three years ago, he proved very controversial and divisive indeed. He was a supporter of the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, and, in For Whom the Bell Tolls, the novel based on his experiences in Spain, one senses that Hemingway is ventriloquizing when one of his characters responds to the question “Are you a Communist?” with the reply “No, I am an anti-fascist.” Most sensationally however, at least one 2017 text written by a former CIA officer has made the claim that Hemingway was recruited as a Soviet agent in 1940 by two of the top NKVD agents then operational in the United States — the Jew Jacob Golos and the Soviet Jewish spy king Abram Osipovich Einhorn. Both men had in turn provided leadership and support to the notorious spying cell run by Julius Rosenberg. Returning to the title of the last TOO article on the man, we have to once more ask who is the “real” Ernest Hemingway? Was he, as one critic responded to the last piece, “not a great White man”? Or is he, as Robert S. Griffin insists, “an exemplary white historical figure”?
The ambiguity, and even hostility, surrounding Hemingway is not without reason. Even setting aside the “enemy agent” accusations, Hemingway was, in several respects, intellectually of what might be termed ‘the Old Left,’ in the sense that he tended towards support for economic socialism, pursued ideological comradeship with blue collar workers and veterans, and had many friends with similar political tastes. His alcoholism, confrontational character, philandering, and final descent into mental illness and suicide could lead some to perceive the author as little more than a debauched degenerate. This behavior was in all likelihood rooted in genetic causes — and almost certainly reverberated flamboyantly in his son Gregory, an alcoholic transvestite who occasionally called himself Gloria, had surgery to create one “breast,” and finally died in the Miami-Dade Women’s Detention Center a day after being arrested for indecent exposure.
In other respects, however, before his final decline, Hemingway was perhaps the quintessential, unreformed White rogue, a kind of throwback to the ancient, uncivilised Indo-European who defies strictly moralistic explanations. He was a rank individualist, antagonistic to all forms of authority and authoritarian government, Stalin’s included. Of course, his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, was Jewish, and yet he publicly explained his decision not to have children with her as being due to his aversion to having children with Jewish genes.1 He embraced the lifestyle of the masculine bon vivant, had a strong distaste for what he called “queers” “fairies” and “faggots,” enjoyed his experience observing colonialism in Africa, and loved nature and outdoor pursuits. On a more personal level, he wrote one of my favourite short novels, The Old Man and the Sea, a literary masterpiece on the themes of masculine endurance and stoicism, and influenced two of my favourite twentieth-century modernist writers, William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy. Hemingway remains, if nothing else, as enigmatic as ever. As we are now just couple of years away from the 60th anniversary of his death, is there anything in Hemingway’s life and work that retains value for the White man of today?
I. Hemingway on Jews
Hemingway’s thoughts and writings on Jews, despite being rare and sometimes inconsistent, are extremely telling both in terms of his own attitudes and about the real nature of anti-Semitism; they are ultimately difficult to square with Nicholas Reynolds’s allegations of participation in Jewish-led Soviet activism in the early 1940s. Some enlightenment might be gleaned from his posthumous legacy on the Left, where he is either claimed with great unease or, in a rapidly growing trend, totally rejected.2 It’s now common knowledge, both from depictions of Jews in his fiction, and his discussions of Jews in letters and private papers,3 that Ernest Hemingway was highly suspicious of Jews, and frequently hostile to them. Most of this antagonism appears to have been based not on irrational or inherited prejudice, but on a series of exploitative relationships in which Hemingway’s work was pirated by Jewish publishers, situations where Hemingway was not adequately renumerated for his work by Jewish employers, or simply the fact that almost every Jew Hemingway met was in possession of an insufferable personality. In a letter written in Paris in November 1926 to Scribner editor Maxwell Perkins, Hemingway describes how his work and that of James Joyce was being systematically pirated by Jewish publisher and pornographer Samuel Roth:
Everything I publish over here is stolen by Samuel Roth who has never had my permission to publish one word and pirates everything that appears here as fast as it comes out and has never paid me a cent. … Joyce is all broken up about it. Roth has stolen his Ulysses without permission, never paid Joyce a cent, is publishing Ulysses in monthly installments and expurgating it. … Joyce is in absolute despair. … It is a horrible and discouraging business, and does not make one love the Jews any better. … Isn’t there some national organization that can blacklist the advertising of crooks? Life seems quite complicated today.4
Hemingway was also rather astute regarding the manner in which Jews protect themselves from criticism by using accusations of anti-Semitism against critics. Writing to one friend on the Bronx-born Jewish playwright Irwin Shaw, Hemingway explained that he felt Shaw was “a jerk and a good short-story writer. But if I’d say he was a bad playwright (which he is), he would say I was anti-Semitic.”
The majority of allegations of anti-Semitism against Hemingway concern his depiction of the character Robert Cohn in his Roman à clef The Sun Also Rises, with Cohn now widely acknowledged to have been based on the American Jewish writer Harold Loeb, with whom Hemingway spent some time in Paris in the 1920s. In a previous discussion of Jewish criticism of English literature I remarked that Jewish intellectual activists frequently direct “their antagonism towards anything but positive reflections of Jews in literature. … Their efforts have the dual function of staining the legacy of the English literary past, and shackling authors in the present, who would feel constrained to avoid having a negatively portrayed Jewish character in their works.” I argue that Hemingway, much like T. S. Eliot in Gerontion and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Meyer Wolfsheim in The Great Gatsby, provides an important late example of a top-level writer who not only continued to depict Jews in his work, but was bold enough to include negative Jewish characters. In fact, Hemingway’s 1926 retort to criticism of his depiction of Cohn/Loeb should be regarded as a classic: “Why not make the Jew a bounder in literature as well as in life? Do Jews always have to be so splendid in writing?”5 Loeb, whom Hemingway observed having a number of affairs with European women, appears to have left such an impression on Hemingway that the former became the benchmark for intolerable Jewishness. Writing to Perkins in 1932 from Key West on a new mutual associate named “Klein,” Hemingway remarks: “Only thing about Klein is that name — Does Clark say if he’s one of those Kleins — Germans are swell — kikes not so good — We don’t want him to turn out to be Harold Loeb.”6
Whether or not Hemingway’s depiction of Cohn/Loeb was meant to refer to Jews as a group, the narrative is damning enough. Cohn, who is one of a group of several Americans in Spain for the running of the bulls, is described as a talentless failed novelist who nevertheless acquires considerable influence in literary circles due to inherited Jewish wealth. According to the introductory pages of the text, Cohn became race-conscious for the first time when he arrived to study at Princeton: “No one had ever made him feel he was a Jew, and hence any different from anybody else, until he went to Princeton.” While Princeton gives Cohn a chip on his shoulder (“it made him bitter”), it also provides him with his first method of crypsis when a bout at the college boxing club flattens his nose — an event described by Hemingway as an “improvement” on its earlier state. Thereafter, Cohn awkwardly embraces an identity as a kind of crypto-Jewish almost-WASP, a highly aggressive ethnic outsider who pursues his own ends under an altered face that acts, we surmise, as a mask.
It’s very interesting that Jews seized on Cohn very early on as a metaphor for the Jewish people as a whole, something that may of course reveal more about Jewish psychologies and sensitivities than Hemingway’s actual intentions. Jewish literary scholars Phyllis Lassner and Lara Trubowitz have described The Sun Also Rises quite sensationally as a “nasal study in exile and alienation” in which Hemingway warns that “Cohn — and other outsiders — will seduce, impregnate, and therefore pollute the Anglo-Saxon stream, while the pure-bred Anglo-Saxon protagonist, Jake Barnes, is wounded, impotent, and incapable of reproducing his stock.”7
While such an observation could be linked to Hemingway’s strong distaste for the sexual dalliances of the real-life Harold Loeb among English and American women in Spain, Lassner and Trubowitz ultimately perceive a much grander, even political, indictment of the Jews. They conclude that: “The Sun Also Rises suggests then, that letting Jews go to college is indeed a dangerous business. Once Robert Cohn [and other Jews] gain entry to the Ivy institution, they pose a collective threat not only to the character of the American university, but to the very purity of the American family.”8 If such an allegory was indeed intentional, it represents an important contribution from Hemingway to one of the more simmering political debates current at the time of the book’s publication (1926). Between the 1910s and the mid-1930s, Jewish representation at Ivy League colleges tumbled as successive elite colleges imposed a numerus clausus, and a large number of subtle tests designed to weed out Jews from the admissions process, limiting the vast majority of places to White Anglo-Saxon Protestants.
Allegations of bigotry and anti-Semitism have played a prominent role in attempts to have Hemingway censored, the earliest example being the efforts of Bantam Press in 1949 to remove all uses of the terms “kike,” “Jewish,” “Jew,” and “Jews,” from The Sun Also Rises, effectively deleting all references to the ethnic background of Robert Cohn and the role played by this background in forming the personality of that character. Moreover, the edition was shamelessly advertised as “the complete text of the original edition — not one word has been changed or omitted.”9 And yet, this being a production of the ambiguous and enigmatic Hemingway, the book was also banned by reactionary and traditional elements for its cruder and more sensual aspects. It was banned in Boston by conservative elements in 1930; burned by the German National Socialists in 1933; and outlawed in Ireland in 1953. In 1960 it was banned from schools in San Jose and Riverside, California. With its wide capacity to offend, it remains today at number 18 on the American Library Association’s banned classics list.
II. Hemingway on Masculinity.
Aside from accusations of anti-Semitism, Hemingway’s most enduring legacy on the Left has been as an exemplar of “toxic masculinity.” I was first drawn into material on this aspect of Hemingway criticism, while conducting research on Jewish activism in postwar literature, especially the Jewish promotion of pluralism in fiction. A major text for anyone interested in this subject is Leah Garrett’s Young Lions: How Jewish Authors Reinvented the American War Novel (2015). Garrett’s thesis is that prior to the 1940s, American heroes in fiction were “Hemingwayesque” in that they were “stoic, tough, laconic,” with Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms (1929) providing a classic example. To use Garrett’s own terminology, Hemingway’s depiction of the ideal American male was “subverted” by a series of Jewish writers who presented new heroes with weaknesses and self-doubts, and introduced a slew of new themes. Garrett, an academic at Monash University, explains:
Racism and anti-Semitism were also major themes of the Jewish war novels. … What most of these authors tried to do was assert the idea that a basic American value was pluralism, and that all communities, including blacks, Jews, homosexuals and Mexicans, needed to be valued in postwar life. Jewish war novels shaped the understanding of postwar America about the events that had just happened in the conflict, along with suggesting how the country should treat Jews and others in the coming era. [emphasis added]
In summary, depictions of warfare in literature became less about masculine qualities that had been the focus of the Western canon since The Iliad, and more about how sensitive troops should be to the diversity in their platoon. The Jewish novelists included Norman Mailer (The Naked and the Dead), Irwin Shaw (The Young Lions), Ira Wolfert (An Act of Love), Merle Miller (That Winter) and Stefan Heym (The Crusaders). It’s particularly interesting that while all of these books received middling to poor reviews from serious critics, they all sold extremely well due to advertising and promotion, with the result that all five of these Jewish war novels, and thus their ideas, “dominated the New York Times bestseller list of 1948.” A sixth book about a Jewish soldier that also sold very well that year was, ironically, Point of No Return, written by Hemingway’s wife Martha Gellhorn. A further feature of these works was their unanimous effort as Holocaust propaganda. Garrett writes that these “Jewish writers argued in their novels that the Holocaust was the central, rather than an ancillary aspect of the war experience.”10
Reading about the Jewish subversion of the ‘Hemingwayesque’ hero, now some several months ago, I was led to ponder what exactly the substance of this term might mean on a deep level, beyond the caricature that was Hemingway’s own lifestyle. Perhaps the most valuable and lasting legacy of Hemingway’s contribution to masculinity was not his personal bravado but in fact one of his most sensitive texts, The Old Man and the Sea. This remarkable short fable (less than 100 pages) tells the story of Santiago, an old fisherman of unstated but very advanced age, who has gone 84 days without taking a fish. Santiago depends on his catch for his existence, and the novel opens with him half-starved and living, bare-footed, in squalor. He has gone so long without taking a fish that others in the village have declared him salao, “which is the worst form of unlucky.” No-one will help him or accompany him while fishing. His only occasional companion is a young man he trained many years ago, who visits sporadically with old newspapers and a little food.
The Old Man and the Sea is ultimately, a strongly anti-socialist and fiercely masculine novel, and Santiago, despite his decrepitude, is a true hero. Despite his circumstances, the old man never engages in self-pity. He never asks for charity. Having failed on 84 successive attempts, the story begins on the day he starts his 85th. He is resilient, and he is relentless, operating on will and instinct alone. On this day, with meagre resources, Santiago sets sail, going further from shore than any other vessels in search of prey. And he finds it in the form of the largest Marlin he has ever seen. The novel comes into its own when Santiago finds and then battles against the fish and his own failing body. As he battles the gigantic marlin, his chest hurts, he sees spots in his vision, his hands bleed, and one of them seizes. He succeeds in catching the Marlin, using every last gasp of his body, collapsing finally in victory. The victory, however, is short-lived, as successive waves of sharks attack the great dead fish tied to the side of Santiago’s boat, stripping away more of the precious, valuable, and hard-won flesh in each ferocious raid. The old man’s war with the sharks as he makes his return to shore is both moving and inspiring. Despite the overwhelming personal tragedy of the situation, the old man is neither self-pitying nor bitter. He acknowledges that he is, in the end, not all that different from the sharks, and that there is nothing moral or unjust in the struggle for survival. I won’t spoil the ending of the book for those who haven’t read it, but it should suffice to state that we are left with the impression that Santiago remains unbroken, and perhaps unbreakable.
Art and the artist are intimately linked but never identical. Hemingway was himself unable to become a Santiago, ending his own life with a shotgun at the age of 61. And yet his ideal remains, the age-old concept that masculinity is achieved, heightened and perfected through trial and tribulation. It is this concept that is nowadays declared “toxic,” and discussions of “toxic masculinity” invariably invoke the “Hemingwayesque” while lauding new types of “heroes” such as that offered by the Jewish novelists mentioned above. None of this is surprising, of course, since the current downward trajectory of Western civilisation can only continue in the absence of White men who persist, who endure, and who are unbreakable. One Leftist essay on Hemingway and masculinity ends with deadly sincerity on the note that “the most destructive words someone can say to a young boy are ‘be a man’,” presumably because it is more empowering to a young boy to tell him to “be a girl,” “be a homosexual,” or “be a unicorn.”
So where does all this leave us in relation to the questions asked at the outset of the essay? I turn first to the issue of Hemingway and the Jews. Much as I am an admirer of Hemingway’s fiction, I do not perceive the author as possessing unusual prescience on Jewish matters. Hemingway’s antipathy for Jews was instinctive and natural, even jocular (he had occasionally gone by the nickname “Hemingstein” since youth), and quite common during the period. I am inclined to view some of the hysterical Jewish interpretations of his work as just that — hysterical products of highly ethnocentric minds. I do believe that the character of Robert Cohn was driven by Hemingway’s particular distaste for a particular Jew, and that the character probably came to embody some of the generally Jewish traits that Hemingway found most appalling. But there is simply not enough evidence within, or outside, the text of The Sun Also Rises to conclude that the novel is a riff on Jewish penetration of White society, or on the dangers of Jewish entry to elite colleges. These subjects appear nowhere in Hemingway’s papers, letters, or reported conversations. Moreover, if Hemingway truly believed, as he wrote of Cohn, that Jews possess no sense of ethnocentrism until White rejection provides them with racial consciousness, then this is a woefully naive and ultimately useless understanding of Jewish identity. I can only conclude in this respect that if Hemingway has any relevance or value to White identity today, it bears no relation to specific issues of race and ethnicity.
It is perhaps only in the area of what it means to be a White man that Hemingway has something to offer — both as embodied warning and as promoter of an ideal. Hemingway places us in a quandary because he portrayed measured, stoic heroes while living the life of a bar-room brawler. He showed us dignity in the suffering of age, and then shot himself to escape suffering at the age of 61. He wrote female characters debauched and degraded by feminism, while bedding successive real life examples of the same. His best work is essentially based on themes of self-reliance and perseverance, and yet he dallied with Communists in Cuba. One almost hears him screaming: “Do as I say, not as I do!”
In Under Kilimanjaro, published posthumously for the first time in 2005, Hemingway wrote that his ideal afterlife was the “Happy Hunting Grounds,” a Paradise in Africa where there would be “no white men … no … missionaries nor settlers.” His comment, as one academic has pointed out, suggests Hemingway’s “discomfort with white imperialism, in general, and the white man in Africa, in particular. After all, it is difficult, to say the least, not to acknowledge the politically subversive potential of Hemingway’s half-serious indictment that “it always seemed stupid to be white in Africa.”11 The comments certainly speak of a lack of ethnic feeling, even if I doubt that they were subversive in intent.
My conclusion is that I must respectfully disagree with Robert S. Griffin’s assertion that Ernest Hemingway was an “exemplary White historical figure,” and that I tend to agree with the contention that he was “not a great White man.” This does not, I feel, detract from the respect I have for him as a novelist, or the great love I have for The Old Man and the Sea. But this writer of heroes was no hero.
1 M. Reynolds, Hemingway: The Final Years, (New York: W. W. Norton, 1999), p. 208.
2 See, for example, C. Sigal “The Nasty Stuff,” in Hemingway Lives!: Why Reading Ernest Hemingway Matters Today (New York: OR Books, 2013), pp. 179-184.
3 See C. Baker, Ernest Hemingway: Selected Letters, 1917-1961 (New York: Scribner, 2003).
4 Ibid, p. 225.
5 Ibid, p. 240.
6 Ibid, p.353.
7 P. Lassner & L. Trubowitz Antisemitism and Philosemitism in the Twentieth and Twenty-first Centuries: Representing Jews, Jewishness, and Modern Culture (Cranbury: Associated University Presses, 2008), p. 142.
9 A. Waldhorn, A Reader’s Guide to Ernest Hemingway (Syracuse University Press, 2002), p.239.
10 L. Garrett, ‘Young Lions: Jewish American War Fiction of 1948,’ Jewish Social Studies, Vol. 18, No. 2, (Winter 2012), pp.70-99, (p.70).
11 J. M. Armengol-Carrera, (2011). ‘Race-ing Hemingway: Revisions of Masculinity and/as Whiteness in Ernest Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa and Under Kilimanjaro.’ The Hemingway Review, 31(1), 43–61, p.61.