Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Sort of another advertisement ....

Among the lessons of history ....

Sort of a riddle: What can be old and new in the same instant of time?

How many answers exist to such a question, I have no idea, but one answer is an author or a book from years past being read for the first time by an individual. In that light, here are two authors, one long dead and the other very much alive while writing in a historical context: Sinclair Lewis and Diane Wilson.

Lewis, as every English major born and raised in Minnesota presumably knows, arrived on earth in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, and wrote a number of stories including "Main Street,” which is 100 years old this year. He was here from 1885 to 1951, when he died in Rome. There is a new exhibit at the Minnesota History Center designed to make his life and work more recognizable. It is something I believe everyone would benefit from seeing ....

 Lewis was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for his novels "Main Street," "Babbit" and "Arrowsmith." He won for "Arrowsmith," but turned down the prize. In 1930, he became the first American to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Lewis lived in a number of places in Minnesota including Summit Avenue in Saint Paul, Minneapolis, Duluth, Mankato and Lake Minnetonka. Nine of his novels and six of his short stories were turned into films, three of the novels twice. His second wife, Dorothy Thompson, was a well-respected journalist who interviewed Adolph Hitler and was the first reporter expelled from Germany for anti-Nazi commentary.

Diane Wilson grew up in Golden Valley, Minnesota, and is a member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Ojibwe. "The Seed Keeper," is her second novel and third book. She currently lives on 10 acres near Shafer. Wilson's great-great-grandmother, Rosalie Marpiya Mase, was a full-blood Dakota who married a French-Canadian fur trader, Louis LaCroix.

In short (more-or-less), the story evolves from how Native American women sewed seeds into the hems of their dresses and hid more in their pockets to be able to plan corn and other food in their new homes when they were forcibly marched from the Lower Sioux Agency to Fort Snelling after the Dakota War of 1862.

According to a quote from Wilson in a Saint Paul Pioneer Press article by Mary Ann Grossmann .... "Their actions in protecting seeds to be sure there was food for their family teaches me what we need to do today to protect seeds for future generations. That story wanted to be told."

 "The Seed Keeper" begins in 2002 when Rosalie Iron Wing returns to the cabin where she was raised by her father, who taught her to hunt and to prepare dry meat and fish. She finds carefully-stored old seeds in the cabin and plants them. From there, the story moves between her contemporary struggles to grow crops from the old seeds and 1862. Other characters enter the book and start telling the story in traditional teachings of how we have relationships with food and the effects of assimilation.

"It took about 10 years for me to get at that magical, mystical part of seed that gets people to fall in love with them. I am awed by the brilliance in that single seed that holds the spark of life. It knows when to be dormant, when to come to life. It knows what to do. It's beyond comprehension."

The unnamed author of Ecclesiastes may have been correct when he wrote: " .... there is no new thing under the sun."

But, we do not know what we do not know and we all need occasional reminders about things we already should know. As someone who is in awe of the complexity of life, I plan to read Wilson's book and hope many others will, as well ....

Friday, April 9, 2021

Ken Burns & Lynn Novick explore Hemingway

Ernest Miller Hemingway with his four wives, clockwise from top left: Elizabeth Hadley Richardson  / Pauline Marie Pfeiffer / Mary Welsh / Martha Ellis Gellhorn ....

Some after-the-documentary thoughts

Episode 1: Thought it was well done and I enjoyed watching it, but no new data and I learned nothing I did not already know. 

Episode 2: Repeat of last night in that I enjoyed watching it, but learned nothing I did not already know about "Old Man" Hemingway. 

On the other side of the coin, from my point of view Martha Gellhorn has been the least interesting of Hemingway's four wives and I never really paid any attention to her. Listening to excerpts from her letters and other commentary about their relationship as presented in the film has lifted her considerably higher in my opinion. I liked being able "to see more inside" Martha and, consequently, learning more. I think "old Ernie" apparently (more than) met his match in her .... I always had sort of ignored her as the least relevant of his wives because of her reputation, but now, probably, will try to find some of "her stuff" to read.

Episode 3: Still another repeat. I enjoyed watching the film, but learned nothing I did not already know about Ernest Miller Hemingway.

Once again, however, I was "enlightened" about another of his wives .... this time about the relationship between he and his fourth and final wife, Mary Welsh. It is one thing to read about people arguing and fighting and being verbally abusive to one another; it is another thing to hear and to watch the actual words of the abusers being read while photographs of them are being shown, and with additional commentary.

Going sideways now:

I read "Hemingway in Love .. His Own Story" by A.E. Hotchner when it was published in 2015. To refresh my memory, I picked it up after watching the first episode of the Burns/Novick film. At 172 pages, it is a relatively sparse book and I reread it sitting in a waiting room while some work was done on my car. It was helpful to read about the Hotchner/Hemingway conversations while EMH was receiving psychiatric treatment at the Mayo Clinic, including electric shock "therapy."

I did a brief background check on Hemingway's four wives to refresh my memory, including skimming through Mary Welsh's book, "How It Was." I had forgotten, for instance, that Mary had been born in Walker, Minnesota, and had loved exploring Leech Lake as a young girl .... and that Pauline Pfeiffer, like Mary and Martha Gellhorn, had been a journalist. Martha, in ill-health, apparently committed suicide at age 89. Nothing else really jumped out at me.

My opinions and beliefs regarding Hemingway have changed very little other than in the sense that I now think him to have been more "mentally disturbed" than I realized.  I knew that his father had killed himself with a revolver and that his mother had given EMH the gun; I knew that his three sons all had experienced "big-time" problems, Gregory AKA Gloria, the most severe; I knew that Hemingway "fell in love" often and intently; I knew that liquor and concussions were life-long problems; I understood that he turned into a near-pathological liar as he grew older ....

Flaws and sins aside, I still like Hemingway's writing and believe him to be the most talented and significant fiction writer, before or during or since his emergence. I think the primary reasons for that were an inconceivable natural talent coupled with a relentless work ethic and a fearless approach to push beyond existing literary and cultural boundaries.

It never has been necessary to like someone to appreciate their work and to accept the quality of it ....

Monday, April 5, 2021

This is a blatant advertisement ....

Ernest Hemingway and his fourth wife, Mary Welsh

"Liberated" word-for-word from the internet:

From the man who brought us Country Music and The Civil War comes a penetrating look at the complicated life of America's greatest novelist, Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway, a new three-part, six-hour documentary series from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, explores the life and work of the legendary writer largely through the lens of the women in his life: his mother, sisters, and four wives.

Meryl Streep shines as the voice of Hemingway's third wife, war correspondent Martha Gellhorn. The writer's other wives are given voice by Keri Russell, Mary-Louise Parker, and Patricia Clarkson. Hemingway himself is voiced by Emmy-winning actor Jeff Daniels.

Speaking at the PBS Winter Press Tour session in February, Burns told Deadline that the series deconstructs Hemingway's image as a "hyper-masculine" archetype.

"We were drawn at trying to get at a real Hemingway and I think the persona of the wild man, the drunk, the bar guy, the big game hunter, the big sea fisherman is sort of what we inherit, the baggage we carry," he explained. "But almost immediately we began to see how thin and frail that was, not just for him but in fact."

Episode one of Hemingway, titled "A Writer," premieres on PBS on Monday, April 5. The two-hour episode covers the first 30 years of Hemingway's life, including his childhood in Chicago and his work as a reporter at the Kansas City Star.

Episode two, "The Avatar," premieres on PBS the following day, Tuesday, April 6. It examines Hemingway's life between 1929 and 1944, as he becomes the most famous and successful author in America and takes up residence (and deep-sea fishing) in Key West, Florida.

The final episode, "The Blank Page," which airs on Wednesday, April 8, chronicles Hemingway's final two decades, marked by worsening alcoholism and severe depression.

All three episodes will be available to stream at PBS.org/Hemingway starting April 5 at 8 pm ET.

Now, a few words from me, myself and I:

Over the course of years since embarking on the sea of blogs, I have written some posts specific to Hemingway. My master's degree work largely centered on him and the naturalistic elements to his writing. I just might republish a couple of those posts and, possibly, after the PBS series has concluded, print a few more of my own words about it.

As I sometimes say: We shall see what we shall see ....

As maestro Hemingway wrote: "It will either happen or it won't" ....

Something special ....