It’s Ultimately This That They Judge You On

There’s no question Hemingway was a great writer. He was the voice of a generation—The Lost Generation. He redefined prose style in the English language. His books have sold millions of copies. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

He wrote beautifully on love and family (A Farewell to Arms). He wrote beautifully on struggle and perseverance (The Old Man and the Sea). He was also a pretty awful husband and father. As one of his sons said, to Hemingway “family life [was] the enemy of accomplishment.” It was a thing that interfered with his greatness, his craft, his books. “On several occasions,” Patrick Hemingway recounted that Hemingway “said being a a good husband, being a good father…all of [these things were] not recognized by a reviewer when he reviewed his book.”

And that may be partially true. Maybe for each individual work of art or deal, what really counts is if you get the job done—if the thing works. But this quote from Patrick Hemingway appears in Lesley M. M. Blume’s biography of Hemingway. She, and the reader today, judge Hemingway in a larger context. As does his family. We see him not just for his career, but for his life—we see him as a success yes, but also a shameful failure. We see him as a flawed human being, a tragic figure…a man who made tradeoffs that seem unnecessary in retrospect, horribly cruel in fact.

You can accomplish plenty in life without being a so-called ‘art monster.’ In the end, you’ll be judged on your whole life, not just your successes. In fact, you’ll be judged most on how you treated other people…most of all your own family.

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