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Not just any bad writing

January 17, 2012

Bad writing about Ernest Hemingway

Forgive me, this is going to be cruel. Here is the first paragraph of the foreword to Vol. I of The Letters of Ernest Heminway, ed. S Spanier & RW Trogdon, by Linda Patterson Miller, Professor of English at Penn State University.

Ernest Hemingway the writer changed the way people saw and thought about their world.  But even as his works continue to command scholarly attention and global acclaim, the interplay between his artistry and the life that shaped it remains only half understood. A fuller understanding is needed, and the complete letters of Ernest Hemingway, which promise to challenge shop-worn myths, and assumptions about Hemingway and his transformative art will help make that possible.

It’s not just the verbosity – “Ernest Hemingway the writer”, “scholarly attention and global acclaim“, “saw and thought about their world” – that should upset you.  Nor the clichés – “A fuller understanding is needed”, “transformative art”, “shop-worn myths”.  Nor the tortured sentences. We could ignore all that.

But this is the forward to Ernest Hemingway’s letters. The man who wrote tight declarative prose, avoided adjectives and adverbs, who never wasted a word. The man who wrote a whole story in six words. Here it is. “For sale: baby shoes, never used.”

Who is this Linda Patterson Miller? Has she read Hemingway?

Jim Thornton

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