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Was Hemingway Mentally Ill?

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message 1: by Monty J (last edited Jul 27, 2014 09:41AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Monty J Heying http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/connec...

Here's a PBS documentary on the relationship between mental illness and creativity. Several authors are featured, along with other artistic souls: Hemingway, Vonnegut, Irving, O'Neill, Woolf, Fitzgerald, Van Gogh.

Hemingway was diagnosed, postmortem, with hemochromatosis, which in later life can affect mental functioning. The brain and other organs get clogged with rust deposits. Misdiagnosis resulted in hundreds of shock treatments in his final months of misery.

But many also think he had a genius IQ and was bipolar.

The PBS segment goes into the relationship between mental illness and creativity.

Andy Rooney on Heminway: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=okQtr...

Orson Wells on Hemingway: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyTi9...

Mini-bio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JQDe...


Joanne Is egomania a mental illness?


message 3: by Monty J (last edited Jul 26, 2014 09:02PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Monty J Heying Joanne wrote: "Is egomania a mental illness?"

Perhaps. Hem could be a horse's ass.

Salinger spent a good bit of time with him during the war, several hours on at least two occasions. He concluded that Hemingway was putting on a show, that in private he was a much different, humbler person. He had a natural instinct for public relations, much like certain modern personalities we know and "love"--Lindsay Lohan, Kim Kardasian, Joan Rivers, Charlie Sheen, et. al.

It sold books, and I suspect he understood that.


message 4: by Gary (last edited Jul 26, 2014 11:06PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary Her data looks pretty much like anecdotal evidence backed up with some unrelated MRI brainscans to give it credibility. Her assertion that 30% of people have family members with a mood disorder in them, while 80% of creative people do seems to be based on a very small selection, and I have a lot of doubts about the methodology for either of those numbers.

The whole "creativity = mental disorder" thing is one of those long-standing, commonly held ideas that doesn't really bear up to a lot of scrutiny. It's like strange things happening on nights with a full moon, or that there are more cases of domestic violence on Super Bowl Sunday. In truth, there's probably a lot more mental disorders amongst those looking for mental disorders than amongst those who express themselves creatively.


message 5: by Text (new)

Text Addict Gary wrote: "Her data looks pretty much like anecdotal evidence backed up with some unrelated MRI brainscans to give it credibility. ... The whole "creativity = mental disorder" thing is one of those long-standing, commonly held ideas that doesn't really bear up to a lot of scrutiny."

I agree, Gary. It's more likely a form of observational bias. And also of definitions of "creativity": how many woodcarvers or quilters or unpublished fanfiction writers do these studies look at, I'd like to know?

Regarding Hemingway in particular, though, he did commit suicide, which is not a sign of great mental health.


Steve Hemingway was an alcoholic. So were many other famous writers. There have been discussions addressing the link between the two.


Annemarie Donahue I've never been a big fan of diagnosing someone after they have died, except for autopsy's. But I have to agree that it's clear something was wrong, whether it be depression or possibly PTSD (he drove an ambulance during WWI) or obsessive compulsive disorder (nobody needs to own that many cats. His suicide was really violent, and as @Text points out, not a sign of mental health.


message 8: by Monty J (last edited Jul 27, 2014 12:28PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Monty J Heying Text wrote: "...likely a form of observational bias."

It is a human trait to find what we are looking for, but scientists are trained to engineer that out of their studies. Their peers would eat them alive. Still, it happens and until her study is published and scrutinized it stands as just what it was presented to be--preliminary.

She makes it clear that her findings are preliminary but significant enough to publicize. This is a common practice among scientists. It gets people thinking and lined up to attack or defend her results.

At any rate, anecdotal observations are dismissed at one's peril. Where there's smoke, there tends to be fire.

Hemingway's mother was a piece of work, as was Harper Lee's. Counting Hemingway's father there have been seven suicides in that family.


Silverpiper I think it's a romantic notion that mental illness breeds creativity. In many circumstances creativity is stifled by mental illness, nothing like a psychotic episode to bring a creative life to a screaming halt.

Are we to consider that people become mentally ill because they are artists, or that they become artists because they are mentally ill?


message 10: by George (new)

George Clark Was Hemingway mentally ill? Of course. He suffered from major depression which also afflicted many other members of his family. Hemingway's father shot himself. Hemingway shot himself and so did his brother. One of his sisters committed suicide with an overdose of prescription medication. Have you ever known a family in which three siblings committed suicide? That's rare. Also, Hemingway statuesque granddaughter Margeaux committed suicide. So that's five suicides in four generations. And in the third generation, that of his children, Hemingway had a son who suffered from schizophrenia and, years later, died in police custody after being arrested for lewd behavior in a public bathroom. During this incarceration, it was determined he was undergoing transsexual therapy. The Hemingway family has a devastating history of mental illness.


Jason Holloway The short answer is yes, he was a deeply troubled man who, at a minimum, abused alcohol if he wasn't a full-blown alcoholic. His family is riddled with mental illness and suicide (his father ate a bullet or hanged himself when Hem was in his early adulthood) which he passed on to his sons in various degrees. Even if we take the understandable insecurities, narcissism, self-destruction, paranoia, schizophrenia, childhood trauma, blah, blah, blah that are almost unavoidable for a writer of his immense talents coupled with the stress of maintaining a celebrity on par with any public figure of that era, even if we take all that insanity off the table, Papa would still have been batshit. It was simply in his genetic code. I love him. I would have loved to hangout with him, but he eventually drove everyone away with his insanity. Dos Passos was probably the most tolerant of his wild mood swings, but even John knew when to walk away from him.

If you're interested in gaining a deeper insight into how truly unwell he was, I recommend "Hemingway's Boat: Everything He Loved In Life, And Lost, 1934 1961". I can't recall the author's name offhand, but he's a former Washington Post reporter and it shows in the research he conducted for the biography. He even tracked down one of the few (maybe only) living close acquaintances of Papa. It's a fascinating read both for Papa devotees and lovers of biographies.

Still, Papa's prose is some of the most beautifully written in the modern era. I'll take him over most other writers with the exception of Twain.


message 12: by Jane (new) - rated it 2 stars

Jane As a short short, short answer, considering everyone appears to be a Doctor on this thread Yeah, it is very likely that he was. He committed suicide after suffering from years of depression and addiction. Like so many great minds of the time unfortunately.


Colleen Browne Monty J wrote: "Joanne wrote: "Is egomania a mental illness?"

Perhaps. Hem could be a horse's ass.

Salinger spent a good bit of time with him during the war, several hours on at least two occasions. He conclude..."


Joanne Are you really comparing Hemingway to the likes of Paris Hilton?


message 14: by Juliet (last edited Oct 03, 2014 06:07PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Juliet ^^ Jason, I agree on all points. So nice to see someone who can comment on an author's personal life while still admiring his prose. Because The Sun Also Rises is phenomenal. Every time I read it, I like it even more.

I'll have to check out Hemingway's Boat. Thanks for the suggestion.

P.S. I think killing yourself is the de facto proof of mental illness.


message 15: by Gary (last edited Oct 03, 2014 07:38PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Gary Suicidal depression is an example of acute mental illness, but the premise of the article is that Hemingway (and many other artists) suffered a long-standing, chronic mental illness, and that his professional life is an outcome of that essentially disturbed mind.

I don't think that holds up to a lot of scrutiny.


message 17: by Monty J (last edited Oct 06, 2014 07:53AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Monty J Heying Juliet wrote: "This just in from the NYT:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/03/opi......"


I think it is odd that the author of this article, in his long list of Hemingway's ailments, fails to mention the one that is most important--haemochromatosis, the accumulation of rust in his organs from the inability to properly regulate the iron in the blood. This congenital disease could account for all his family suicides, for as the organs, including the brain, accumulate rust they cannot function normally, resulting in a foggy, miserable malaise. The condition was undiagnosed at the time of his death. Maybe all he needed was to be bled instead of the hundreds of shock treatments he had the last year of his life.


Here's Wiki on haemaohromatosis: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_ove...


Joanne Colleen wrote: "Monty J wrote: "Joanne wrote: "Is egomania a mental illness?"

Perhaps. Hem could be a horse's ass.

Salinger spent a good bit of time with him during the war, several hours on at least two occasi..."

Yes. Yes, Hemingway was exactly like Paris Hilton only with a beard.


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