coverLIFE.com Hemingway in Cuba, 1952 
and an interesting story behind Alfred Eisenstaedt’s photos.

In 1950, Ernest Hemingway had been working on a long novel tentatively titled The Sea Book. The writing was difficult and he felt his abilities were diminished. He only published a section of the manuscript during his life as The Old Man and the Sea (1952).

Despite the fact that the book was well reviewed and won the Pulitzer Prize, he was disappointed with himself for only being able to finish that short novella.

In 1953, while in Africa, a plane he was in collided with a flock of birds and crash landed on the shore of the Nile River. Hemingway sprained his shoulder but boarded another plane which also crashed, fracturing his skull and cracking two discs in his spine, and causing internal bleeding.

The crashed plane wasn’t immediately located and Hemingway was reported dead by the press. He later said that he strangely enjoyed reading the obituaries in a Tom Sawyer-ish way and saved them in scrapbooks.

The injuries never fully healed and he increased his alcohol consumption as a way to self-medicate.

He wrote a lot, but published none of it.

A trunk of old manuscripts and notebooks from his days in Paris gave him the rough materials to write his memoir A Movable Feast  but that was published posthumously in 1964. It is usually considered his best book of non-fiction. Still, he was disappointed in it when he finished the manuscript because he was not writing fiction and the book was the result  of reworking old material. He was a harsher critic of his writing than others.

He battled insomnia, pain, depression, failing eyesight, and the vanity of losing his hair and general old age. He became very paranoid and was convinced that he was under FBI surveillance. His wife thought he was losing his mind.  It was revealed later that he actually was under surveillance.

He entered the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and was given electroshock therapy which did not help and probably made things worse as it affected his memory and made writing even more difficult. He believed that he was alive to write and that if he could not write, there was no point in living. He talked about suicide.

Back in 1928, he had received a cable telling him that his father had committed suicide by shooting himself. He was devastated, particularly because he had earlier sent a letter to his father telling him not to worry about his financial difficulties. That letter arrived minutes after the suicide. He commented at the time that “I’ll probably go the same way.”[*]

Ernest Hemingway’s behavior during his last decade was similar to his father’s final years and it has been suggested that his father may have had the genetic disease hemochromatosis, in which the inability to metabolize iron culminates in mental and physical deterioration. Medical records made available in 1991 confirm that Ernest’s own hemochromatosis had been diagnosed in early 1961.[*] His sister Ursula and his brother Leicester also committed suicide.

On this day, July 2, in 1961, he got up early, loaded his favorite shotgun, and shot himself.

 

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