Portrait of Hemingway
By:Lillian Ross

Portrait of Hemingway

Lillian Ross's two-day expedition with Ernest Hemingway ventures into the personality of a literary genius who has touched many hearts and minds with his pen. Ross's profile, which originated in The New Yorker in 1950, does not necessarily delve into Hemingway's most private thoughts, actions, or beliefs. The profile, rather, explores in detail a pair of days Hemingway spent with his wife in New York City before they took off for Europe. It is however, in those two seemingly boring days where Ross captures the persona of the legendary author.

In this two-day account of Hemingway's life, his ego, daily habits, propensity for alcohol, mood swings, conversation patterns, and all around aura are relinquished through Ross's writing. According to Colin Campbell of the Christian Science Monitor, the piece immediately conveys to the reader the kind of man Hemingway was-hard-hitting, and alive. For Campbell, reading the piece is like having a conversation with the author himself.

According to Milton Hindus of The New York Times Book Review, kindness and candor are rare traits in this profile and it is to Hemingway's credit that he approved of Ross's vivid unflattering sketch of him, which caused quite a stir when it was first published. The effect of her "Portrait" was to create an egotist, a 'celebrity' who, to a pathetic extent, had identified himself with his own public image. An image that Hemingway felt he had to uphold through his writing and "defend the title again against all the young new ones," as he is quoted in the profile.

Ross, doing nothing but exposing the image of the writer, becomes the eyes and ears of the reader. The envisioned Hemingway rising to breakfast with a bottle of champagne, drinking alcohol through a flask at a museum, and expressing his dislike for the city of New York. Ross exposes Hemingway's impatience and his urges for liquor in this passage when they are at the museum.

When we drew up at the museum entrance, a line of school children was moving slowly. Hemingway impatiently led us past them. In the lobby, he paused, pulled a silver flask from one of his coat pockets, unscrewed its top, and took a long drink.

It should not be confused that Ross, in some strange manner, is pursuing this image in Hemingway. Ross, rather, is merely reporting what she heard and saw. In some cases, she even quoted Hemingway for a full page in the text. Ross's Portrait of Hemingway is nothing less than a descriptive first hand account of journalistic literature. Unlike Gay Talese's The Silent Season of a Hero, which has been labeled to be a second hand account of Joe DiMaggio, Ross's profile was strengthened by the fact that she was there for it all.

According to William Hogan of the San Francisco Chronicle Hemingway talked freely to Ross about writing, hunting, boxing, painters, Paris, Venice and other things dear to him. Ross then put it all down in a concise and shining report. Ross, not enticed by an opportunity to formulate opinion, stayed out of the way and let Hemingway virtually tell his own story.

Ernest Hemingway was quite a writer himself.

By the middle of January I had a beard and the winter had settled into cold days and hard nights (A Farewell To Arms, p.302).

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