When I was sixteen, I harbored a secret schoolgirl crush on Ernest Hemingway. While my classmates were decorating their 3-ring binders with pictures of N’Sync, I kept the literature book open to page 366 where a black and white snapshot of a young, gawky Hemingway grinned out from behind the glossy page.
He was no more than eighteen, awkwardly dressed in WWI conscription uniform, and casually leaning on a pair of crutches. Yet there was something haunting about him, something that made him infinitely more appealing than N’Sync. Of course, I wasn’t about to paste internet print-outs of young Hemingway on my 3-ring binder in the midsts of Timberlake-mania.
The picture dated 1918. This Hemingway was the pride of Illinois, not yet the bull-fighting, hard-drinking, lion-taming, Old Man and the Sea. There was always something a little bit sad about this early picture; even then, he seemed doomed somehow.
Years later, with A Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms under his belt, the expatriate Hemingway went to a photographer’s studio to get his author portrait taken. What emerged from the darkroom was a black and white picture of a mustached matinée idol.
The portrait made women swoon and transformed Hemingway into the Rudolph Valentino of American literature. Women loved Hemingway so much that he was forced to build a brick wall around his Key West home to keep the ladies out…or so legend says.
Many candid pictures of Hemingway’s international adventures would follow: safaris in Africa, marlin fishing in Cuba, stag hunting with Gary Cooper in Idaho. Outside of writing, these photos transformed the boy from Illinois into an icon.
As for me, I prefer the pictures of the young Hemingway, not yet a man of the world and the father of the declarative sentence, but perched on the eve of literary greatness. Six years later, the same could not be said for N’Sync.