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Shared on February 27, 2010 at 6:55 am

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway

July 21, 2009 (all day)

NOTED AMERICAN WRITER WHOSE FICTION INCLUDED NEGATIVE AND ABUSIVE PORTRAYALS OF GAY MEN, 1899 -1961 Ernest Hemingway, himself sexually insecure, included negative, even abusive portrayals of gay men in his fiction. The hunting-shooting-fishing (and writing) life of Hemingway begins with a little boy who was dressed in girl's clothing by his mother during his early years, a point he would later avoid when mythologizing his youth. He preferred to concentrate on roaming teenage adventures (apparently invented) in which his only problems were the sexual advances of adult hoboes, which he bravely resisted by carrying a knife wherever he went. During his famous post-World War I sojourn in Paris (as recollected in the memoir A Moveable Feast, 1964), he encountered homosexual people of both sexes but always had greater difficulty dealing with the men than with the women. Lesbians with whom he was capable of being relatively charming included Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Stein, who had many conversations with him about homosexuality, seemed to think he was hiding something about himself. This belief has developed into a critical cliché that avers that Hemingway must have been repressing his own homosexuality because of the amount of time he spent abusing other people's. His favorite insults for other men were accusations of impotence, sterility, and homosexuality. He himself was often accused of being queer--notably by Zelda Fitzgerald, who said he and Scott Fitzgerald behaved like lovers--but such accusations were generally mischievous, made by people who knew how angrily Hemingway would defend his manly, heterosexual virtue. There are several homosexual characters in Hemingway's fiction; there are also frank homophobes. Jake Barnes, the castrated heterosexual narrator of The Sun Also Rises (1926), is severely affronted when a group of homosexual men clusters around the woman he desires but cannot have. His first inclination is to attack the lot of them with his fists, but it is part of his heroic restraint that he refrains from doing so. The short story "The Mother of a Queen" is about a rich homosexual bullfighter who begrudges the $20 he must spend on his mother's funeral. In "A Simple Enquiry," an Italian major unsuccessfully tries to seduce his young orderly. There is a "pederaste" painter in Across the River and into the Trees (1950) who paints in a saccharine style and hides his sexuality by keeping the company of women. A boy in Islands in the Stream (1932) has to give up his backgammon lessons with an older man when a discussion of André Gide's homosexuality comes too close to a practical proposition. All these representations are more or less negative, some virtually abusive. Although the most characteristic of Hemingway's book titles is that of the 1927 collection of stories, Men without Women, his fervent admiration for masculine pursuits and the men who pursued them strictly excluded any man who seemed even a little bit queer. Above all, Hemingway is known for his "masculine" voice which, at its best, shapes an exquisitely terse prose style. Underlying his portrayals of the men he respects is the concept of masculinity responding to all potential attacks, or resisting all potential signs of weakness, by exhibiting "grace under pressure." This is the central point of his books about bullfighting, and it is a point that he has to make with frequent homophobic utterances. Mixed in with all the bluster about bulls is the concept of cojones, or balls. His last book, The Garden of Eden, published posthumously in 1986, is an extraordinary rhapsody on male sexual passivity, with a central character who needs to be penetrated by a woman more boyish than himself. It offers a kind of solution to the conundrum of the macho man who wants to take the "passive role" in intercourse with another man, but without losing his own masculine status: Let the other boy be a girl.

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