I don’t know why I love Ernest Hemingway as I do. Maybe I found him at just the right moment in my life to fall in love with his writing and grow attached before learning too much about his faults. Maybe that’s the way it was for all the women who both loved and despised him.
Whatever the case, I was immediately drawn to my library’s copy of Autumn in Venice (2018) and recently finished this biographical sketch of his later years, when he was bouncing between Venice, Paris, and Cuba (among other places), on his fourth marriage and obsessed with a young Venetian woman he could neither have nor let go, and continually oscillating between being lionized and demoralized by a public and press that wanted both all and nothing from him at the same time.
Summary: “In the fall of 1948 Hemingway and his fourth wife traveled for the first time to Venice, which Hemingway called ‘absolutely god-damned wonderful.’ He was a year shy of his fiftieth birthday and hadn’t published a novel in nearly a decade. At a duck shoot in the lagoon he met and fell in love with Adriana Ivancich, a striking Venetian girl just out of finishing school. Andrea di Robilant – whose great-uncle moved in Hemingway’s revolving circle of bon vivants, aristocrats, and artists – re-creates with sparkling clarity this surprising, years-long relationship. Hemingway used Adriana as the model for Renata in Across the River and into the Trees, and continued to visit Venice to see her; when the Ivanciches traveled to Cuba, Adriana was there as he wrote The Old Man and the Sea. This illuminating story of writer and muse – which also examines the cost to a young woman of her association with a larger-than-life literary celebrity – is an intimate look at the fractured heart and changing art of Hemingway in his fifties.”
Reaction: Hemingway biographies typically shine considerable light on his womanizing, drinking, and all-around bullish behavior, and Di Robilant’s look at the last decade of Hemingway’s life is certainly no different on that count. The biographer is clear in his disapproval of Hemingway’s shenanigans and, in particular, the way he held onto Adriana despite the irreparable harm he was doing to her future. Still, di Robilant’s treatment of Hemingway’s final years seems to me to offer an overall more rounded – and thus more human – view of the man who left this world as his autumnal reemergence slid into the bitterest beginnings of winter.
Readers with more than a passing interest in Hemingway will likely know the high points of this period of his life already, but di Robilant’s diligent research and skillfully woven narrative create a more vivid picture – and a real page-turner of a read.
Some people will always love Hemingway. Others will always detest him. There is much in this book for both to enjoy. Highly recommend.
I reread Hemingway fairly regularly and could write about him most anytime, but am doing so today, because it’s the first day of autumn, a season ever-present in this particular biography, and because it is Banned Books Week. Several of Hemingway’s novels have been banned or challenged in the United States and elsewhere.
Hemingway was a special target of censorship in the twenties and thirties, during Mussolini’s regime. His books were banned, even as the works of other American writers, such as Sinclair Lewis, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and John Dos Passos, were translated and published with success. The blacklisting started as early as 1923, when Hemingway, still a young reporter for the Toronto Star, described Mussolini as ‘the biggest bluff in Europe’ in his dispatch from the Peace Conference in Lausanne, only weeks after the dictator had seized power. In 1927, he wrote a few sardonic sketches on Fascist Italy for The New Republic after the ten-day road trip he took with his friend Guy Hickok. But it was the publication of A Farewell to Arms (1929), with its anti-militarism and its powerful description of the rout of the Italian Army after Caporetto, that finally made him persona non grata with the regime. His later support for the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War sealed his reputation as an enemy of Fascist Italy.pp. 21-22