Sunday, June 18, 2017

The impact of Catholic culture on Hemingway


Hemingway rejected the sentimental piety of his mother and the liberal 'social gospel' of the Methodism in which he was raised in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park. After witnessing the brutalities of war in Europe, he could no longer accept the conceits about the 'perfectibility of man' found in his erstwhile suburban Methodist religious culture.

Hemingway was not, however, insensitive to religious ideas and practices -- particularly those found in Catholic cultures -- as is abundantly clear from Matthew Nickel's "Young Hemingway's Wound and Conversion" (Pilgrim: A Journal of Catholic Experience, 2013), excerpted and adapted from the first chapter of his recent work, Hemingway’s Dark Night: Catholic Influences and Intertextualities in the Work of Ernest Hemingway (Wickford, RI: New Street Communications, 2013).

One of the most striking early remarks by Hemingway is in a letter to Ernest Walsh, dated January 2, 1926, in which he refers to himself a Catholic in connection with the Sacrament of extreme unction given to him on the battlefield:
If I am anything I am a Catholic. Had extreme unction administered to me as such in July 1918 and recovered. So guess I am a super-catholic.... Am not what is called a ‘good’ catholic.... But cannot imagine taking any other religion seriously.
Nickel then observes:
It is impossible to know exactly what occurred on the battlefield between Hemingway and the priest, but regardless, there is ample evidence that Hemingway practiced Catholic rituals and that he talked and wrote to others about being a Catholic after World War I. Also, the results of a canonical inquest into Hemingway’s standing in the Catholic Church by the Archdiocese of Paris – which on April 25, 1927 reported he was “certified a Catholic in good standing” -- are telling.
One cannot, of course, sidestep the brute fact of his subsequent depression and suicide in Idaho in 1961. But there is clearly more than meets the eye in the standard secular accounts of Hemingway's life and work.

[Hat tip to Christopher Blosser]


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