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The story was splashed on the front page of all American newspapers. Successive biographers – AE Hochtner, Carlos Baker, KS Lynn, AJ Monnier, Anthony Burgess – have chewed over the available facts, his restless travelling, his many amours, the peaks and troughs of his writing career.It took Mary Welsh Hemingway several months to admit that her husband's death was suicide; and it's taken nearly 50 years to piece together the reasons why this giant personality, this rumbustious man of action, this bullfighter, deep-sea fisherman, great white hunter, war hero, gunslinger and four-times-married, all-round tough guy, whom every red-blooded American male hero-worshipped, should do himself in. But eventually it took a psychiatrist from Houston, Texas, to hold up all the evidence to the light and announce his disturbing conclusions.He looked the part of a hunky warrior, but he was a lucky dilettante, who could have left Spain any time he liked.He wrote a play about Madrid in 1936 called The Fifth Column, about Dorothy, a plucky female journalist, who falls for Philip, a tough, intrepid, hard-drinking spy masquerading as a war correspondent. When America entered the Second World War in 1944, Hemingway got himself to England on "priority war business" – writing pieces about the RAF for Collier's magazine. He took a room at the Dorchester, where he held court as the Great American Writer and went to parties, receiving compliments on his beardy, macho wonderfulness.Between 19, he seemed to spend months posing beside up-ended fish trophies, the self-burnished image of the muscular man of action, handsome, tanned, drinking with the sailors in Sloppy Joe's bar.He went to Spain during the civil war, not to fight, like George Orwell, but because he was commissioned to report on it for the North American Newspaper Alliance – and because his new love, Martha Gellhorn, was going there.Though his dalliance with Sister Agnew von Kurovsky was unconsummated, he fell in love with European culture and manners, swanned about in an Italian cloak, drank wine and affected a clipped delivery borrowed from a British officer, Eric Dorman-Smith.In Paris, where he enjoyed a temporary idyll with his first wife Hadley and their baby John (or "Bumby"), Hemingway started to make his name as a writer – but also to display dangerous mood swings, irascibility, spite and a compulsion to turn against those who helped him.

The critic Max Eastman complained that his prose style had become the equivalent of "false hair on the chest".In the 1920s, he was at the forefront of American writers and artists who hung out in Paris, "being geniuses together".They included F Scott Fitzgerald, who (according to A Moveable Feast) once showed Hemingway his penis and confessed his worry that it was too small to satisfy his wife Zelda; Hemingway kindly reassured him it was OK.He was a so-so war correspondent who was simultaneously a sort-of-warrior.At the liberation of Paris, he was found in a hotel with a small private army.When he was concussed in a car accident that followed a drunken party with Robert Capa the photographer, Martha Gellhorn – who'd travelled to England in a ship packed with high explosives – visited him in hospital and laughed at his footling mock-heroics.

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