“Pursuit as Happiness” by Ernest Hemingway

In June of 2020, The New Yorker published a previously unpublished Hemingway short story, “Pursuit as Happiness,” here. “That year we had planned to fish for marlin off the Cuban coast for a month,” it begins. The narrator is a writer named Ernest Hemingway, but the author’s grandson (who unearthed the manuscript) reads it as a work of closely autobiographical fiction, and certainly for Hem the line was well blurred; I am comfortable with this classification.

The New Yorker‘s illustration

Similarities in subject matter with The Old Man and the Sea are obvious, but it’s a very different story in its events. The Hemingway voice is clearly recognizable. This narrator/protagonist/version-of-Hemingway is in search of really big marlin, and he and his friend/charter boat captain, Mr. Josie (whose boat is the Anita, but I think we recognize the Pilar) are doing some fine fishing, but they haven’t found the big ones. They keep extending their trip, even though they’re on credit; Mr. Josie encourages Hemingway to write for a little income. He drinks. They get a truly big fish on the line, but it doesn’t go as it should. Again, you see the parallels, but this is a story of its own.

There is less finality here than in The Old Man and the Sea, more optimism. The other is the more masterful story (and longer), but this one has a lot to offer. Even the title nods at something my fisherman friends say: we call it fishing, not catching; pursuit as happiness. This sanguinity is uncharacteristic for Hemingway, and I’m not surprised he followed Old Man rather than this one. But this one is awfully rewarding, too. And it was (of course) an absolute pleasure to find a new Hemingway story to fall into. Familiar but new.

Rating: 8 fathoms of line.

2 Responses

  1. I read the story when it was published, but this sent me back to it again, so thanks. 🙂

    What a story. I read The Old Man and the Sea a long time ago, and it’s not my favorite Hemingway, but maybe I should read it again.

    I think “closely autobiographical fiction” is probably accurate. I believe I read somewhere that Hemingway often used people’s real names in early drafts, and then changed the names later on in the process.

    I’m reading Across the River and Into the Trees now, which is interesting. It’s taking some work, but I think I’m beginning to understand what he was going after. As he said to A.E. Hotchner (talking about this book, and critics), “In this book I have moved into calculus, having started with straight math, then moved to geometry, then algebra; and the next time out it it will be trigonometry. If they don’t understand that, to hell with them.”

    I talked about it on my blog:

  2. […] As I said in a comment on another blog: […]

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