Was Ernest Hemingway the greatest writer in English of the 20th century? Fortunately we don’t have to choose. We can read Hemingway, and Faulkner (with whom he had a few bones to pick), and Hammett, and Parker, and Feynman, and Vonnegut, Bellow, Morrison, dos Passos, Shaw, Kipling, Ford, Conrad and a dozen more, enjoying each for the gifts she or he demonstrated so well on a page.
Any way you stack it, though, Hemingway was a great one.
In an interview with George Plimpton, published in the Paris Review in 1958, Hemingway talked about what it takes to be a great writer. Maybe it’s something one needs to be born with:
The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof, shit detector. This is the writer’s radar and all great writers have had it.
If we could make a machine to substitute for that, a solid-gold, built-in, shock-proof [excrement] detector, we could improve writing, politics, government, business, and a hundred other fields of endeavor.
If we had a just and appropriately skeptical world, everyone would have one, a “solid gold, built-in, shock-proof [excrement] detector.”
What an enormous If.
Also at Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub:
[…] Oh, yeah, and the Hemingway™ Brand Solid Gold, Shock-proof Sh** Detector started clanging away. […]
Can’t tell much about the mechanics from this picture, but here’s what looks like a prototype for commercial production, non-gold-plated, but shock-resistant Hemingway.
[…] if your Hemingway Brand™ solid gold Sh** Detector didn’t start clanging at the headline, you need new batteries — maybe better get the thing calibrated, […]
[…] Hemingway [Excrement] Detector probably clanged as soon as you pulled the poster up. Patrick Henry was a powerful opponent to […]
Quick count, I figured at least two dozen others might be listed as candidates. I left out Mailer, Heller, and a couple dozen whose works were published first in other languages but might be considered English language. I left out most of the great mystery writers. Heck, I left out Hemingway’s buddy, Fitzgerald.
Who else did we leave out?
You left out Nabokov.