Ernest Hemingway won the Nobel Prize in 1954. Unfortunately, he was unable to attend the award ceremony because he was recuperating from injuries sustained as a result of an airplane accident. This, in and of itself, is Hemingwayesque, and the irony was certainly not lost on the U.S. Ambassador who read the acceptance speech that the prize-winning author prepared.
What follows is the most oft quoted part of the acceptance speech.
Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.
For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.
How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him.
There is, of course, a great deal of truth in this statement. The words themselves are even more surprising in light of the fact that Hemingway himself hardly seemed like a solitary guy and was known to fill up his time with friends and colleagues. And Hemingway certainly courted celebrity and fame, which makes his statement about the possible deterioration of creative output even more curious. Then again, perhaps he realized the possibility that his own late career output wasn’t as good as his early work. By the time the prize was announced many critics felt Hemingway’s early work was his best work.
The sad thing is that Hemingway did create a new way of writing in a terse, simple style that was immediately copied by many other lesser writers. What had once been deemed as a stylistic achievement sixty years ago began to seem rather common and demotic. And it’s for this reason that he has lost some of his luster and become less popular — unlike a writer like Fitzgerald who has written many great lines and who is nearly impossibly to emulate.