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For Whom the Bell Tollsby Ernest Hemingway
Synopses & Reviews
Hemingway's classic novel of the Spanish Civil War
In 1937 Ernest Hemingway traveled to Spain to cover the civil war; three years later he completed the greatest novel to emerge from "the good fight," For Whom the Bell Tolls. The story of Robert Jordan, a young American in the International Brigades, it tells of loyalty and courage, love and defeat, and the tragic death of an ideal. Surpassing his achievement in The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms, Hemingway creates a work at once rare and beautiful, strong and brutal, compassionate, moving and wise. "If the function of a writer is to reveal reality," Maxwell Perkins wrote to Hemingway after reading the manuscript, "no one ever so completely performed it." For Whom the Bell Tolls stands as one of the best war novels of all time.
Ernest Hemingway did more to change the style of English prose than any other writer in the twentieth century, and for his efforts he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1954. Hemingway wrote in short, declarative sentences and was known for his tough, terse prose. Publication of The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms immediately established Ernest Hemingway as one of the greatest literary lights of the twentieth century. As part of the expatriate community in 1920s Paris, the former journalist and World War I ambulance driver began a career that lead to international fame. Hemingway was an aficionado of bullfighting and big-game hunting, and his main protagonists were always men and women of courage and conviction, who suffered unseen scars, both physical and emotional. He covered the Spanish Civil War, portraying it in fiction in his brilliant novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, and he subsequently covered World War II. His classic novella The Old Man and the Sea won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953. He died in 1961.
This novel captures the tragedy of a nation fighting itself and sets against this background one of the most memorable love stories of modern fiction.
About the Author
Ernest Hemingway ranks as the most famous of twentieth-century American writers; like Mark Twain, Hemingway is one of those rare authors most people know about, whether they have read him or not. The difference is that Twain, with his white suit, ubiquitous cigar, and easy wit, survives in the public imagination as a basically, lovable figure, while the deeply imprinted image of Hemingway as rugged and macho has been much less universally admired, for all his fame. Hemingway has been regarded less as a writer dedicated to his craft than as a man of action who happened to be afflicted with genius. When he won the Nobel Prize in 1954, Time magazine reported the news under Heroes rather than Books and went on to describe the author as "a globe-trotting expert on bullfights, booze, women, wars, big game hunting, deep sea fishing, and courage." Hemingway did in fact address all those subjects in his books, and he acquired his expertise through well-reported acts of participation as well as of observation; by going to all the wars of his time, hunting and fishing for great beasts, marrying four times, occasionally getting into fistfights, drinking too much, and becoming, in the end, a worldwide celebrity recognizable for his signature beard and challenging physical pursuits.
To a considerable degree, Hemingway was complicit in the formation of his public persona. As a young man living in Chicago and bored by pretentious drawing room talk about art and artists, he rejected out of band the role of the epicene indoor aesthete. If he were to become a writer, it was going to be at the opposite pole from Proust and his cork-lined room. Hemingway had grown up in close touch with the outdoors, and throughout his life he pursued the sports afield and astream that he had learned from his father. In doing so, Hemingway undoubtedly took some pleasure in confounding public expectations about how a writer should look and behave. The Papa Hemingway persona actually served him as a defense, protecting the more complicated person behind that mask. But once the persona took hold, it did not let go, and as a consequence Hemingway dwindled into a celebrity, which is to say a person who is famous for being famous, whose personality has been narrowed down to a few instantly recognizable trademarks. The process had the unfortunate effect of confusing Hemingway's work with his life, or rather with those parts of his life that were lived in open view; it subordinated his literary accomplishment to his personal renown.
Many readers, or would-be readers, think they dislike Hemingway before they have read a word he's written, simply because of his personal reputation. These people include those opposed to killing, whether on the battlefield or in the Gulf Stream or in the bullring. They include many women who mistrust masculine bravado. Although Hemingway is "unquestionably an artist of the first rank." Kurt Vonnegut remarked in 1990, he is also "a little hard to read nowadays," following the ascendancy of the conservation and feminist movements. Yet there is nothing new about the tendency to disparage Hemingway on the grounds of his subject matter and his style. The tendency has been there from the beginning.
Virginia Woolf, in her 1927 review of Hemingway's early work, found fault with the "self-conscious virility" of his fiction and with what struck her as his excessive use of dialogue. Wyndham Lewis, another British writer, took Woolf's reservations further in a 1934 diatribe called "The Dumb Ox," in which he accused Hemingway of creating stupid and insensitive characters and of presenting them in a kind of baby talk borrowed from Gertrude Stein. Both Woolf and Lewis acknowledged Hemingway's considerable skill, but both also assumed that in writing about such violent topics as war, boxing, and bullfighting — and doing so in the most basic English — Hemingway was adopting an unrealistically muscular pose. Woolf, in particular, objected to the title of Men Without Women (1927) and to the remark included in the jacket copy that "the softening feminine influence (was] almost wholly absent" from the book. When you warned a reader that this was a man's book or a woman's book, she argued, you "brought into play sympathies and antipathies" that had nothing to do with art. Actually, Hemingway's title was a misnomer, for although most of the stories in Men Without Women concentrate on death and brutality, four of the thirteen deal directly or indirectly with love and marriage gone wrong, including "A Canary for One," about the breakup of Hemingway's first marriage, and the brilliant "Hills Like White Elephants," in which the narrator's sentiments manifestly lie with a woman being coerced by her male companion into having an abortion.
In fact, in several of his stories about men and women Hemingway comes down on the side of the woman. Perhaps the most notable exception is his presentation of the difficult and demanding mother of Hemingway's character Nick Adams, a boy who grows into manhood through a series of psychic shocks recounted in In Our Time (1925), Men Without Women, and Winner Take Nothing (1933). But to assume that Hemingway's fiction is hostile to women generally is to misread his work on the basis of preconceptions about the author and the way his fiction was construed by his earliest, interpreters.
As for his supposedly narrow and limited prose style, here again Hemingway's reputation has suffered from false comparisons between the hairy chested celebrity and the virtually anonymous writer-craftsman laboring in solitude at his desk. Something of that confusion pervades the declaration, on the cover of a 1995 edition of his collected stories, that "Hemingway wrote in short, declarative sentences and was known for his tough, terse prose." Well, yes and no. Here is Nick Adams after setting up camp during his solitary fishing trip in "Big Two-Hearted River," the long concluding story of In Our Time:
Now things were done. There had been this to do. Now it was done. It had been a hard trip. He was very tired. That was done. He had made his camp. He was settled. Nothing could touch him. It was a good place to camp. He was there, in the good place. He was in his home where he had made it. Now he was hungry.
This could hardly be said more simply, or in Lewis' terms, in a more dull-witted and infantile way. All day long Nick has been occupied in reaching his destination and preparing for the next day's fishing. The meticulous process of doing one thing after another has kept him from thinking about whatever it is in his past that has been troubling him — the trauma of World War I, Hemingway told us in a 1959 essay. The radical plainness of the language of "Big Two-Hearted River" precisely suits the first-this, then-that ritual Nick has been going through to shut down "the need for thinking," just as the staccato sentences reflect the jumpiness of Nick's mind.
But neither Nick Adams nor his creator is a simpleton incapable of lyrical description. At the beginning of the story, Nick gets off the train to begin his hike, and from a bridge he watches some "very satisfactory" trout in the river below, as a kingfisher flies overhead:
As the shadow of the kingfisher moved up the stream, a big trout shot upstream in a long angle, only his shadow marking the angle, then lost his shadow as he came through the surface of the water, caught the sun, and then, as he went back into the stream under the surface, his shadow seemed to float down the stream with the current, unresisting, to his post under the bridge where he tightened facing up into the current.
This passage and the one previously quoted could hardly be more different in sentence structure or length. In the first, there are thirteen sentences averaging just over five words per sentence. In the second, one sentence meanders for seventy-nine words. Moreover, in the camp passage, Hemingway relies on the verb "to be" almost exclusively, so that when a verb with some suggestive value appears (as in the sentence "Nothing could touch him"), it takes on extraordinary significance. The trout passage is far more sophisticated, full of active verbs — "moved," "shot," "marking," "lost," "caught," "float," "tightened" — that dramatize the upstream progress of the trout. But both passages employ common adjectives and both are full of repetition: the unashamed reiteration of such nouns as "stream" and "shadow" in the second passage is particularly striking, and the verb "tightened" is powerfully echoed in the brief paragraph that follows that passage:
Nick's heart tightened as the trout moved. He felt all the old feeling.
Watching the trout evokes real happiness in Nick. He shares a certain kinship with the fish: to keep his mind straight, he too must hold against the current.
When critics write about a monolithic Hemingway style, they usually have his early fiction in mind — the first three books of stories and the novels The Sun Also Rises (1926) and A Farewell to Arms (1929). Yet even within "Big, Two-Hearted River," written during his most experimental period (the Paris years from 1921 through 1924). Hemingway hardly wrote in one discrete fashion. What he wanted to convey dictated the way he wrote: style and content had to work together. Then, his prose changed, as he grew older. Sentences in A Moveable Feast, written in the late 1950s and published posthumously in 1964, average twice as long as those in "Big Two-Hearted River," and many more of them are complex in form. What remained constant throughout his career was a predilection for everyday language. In both "Big Two-Hearted River" and A Moveable Feast, nearly three out of four nouns are monosyllabic.
Hemingway's limited diction represented a rebellion against the high-minded but essentially empty rhetoric he had been brought up on. His reaction was very much like that of other modernist writers such as T. S. Eliot, advocate of "the objective correlative" (Eliot believed that emotion could be expressed in art only by letting "a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events" stand for the unnamed emotion), and Ezra Pound, who deprecated emotional "slither" and advised one to avoid all abstractions. In a famous passage in A Farewell to Arms, the protagonist, Frederic Henry, reflects on the grandiloquence of patriotic speech:
I was always embarrassed by the words sacred, glorious, and sacrifice and the expression in vain. We had heard them, sometimes standing in the rain almost out of earshot, so that only the shouted words came through, and had read them, on proclamations that were slipped up by billposters over other proclamations, now for a long time, and I had seen nothing sacred, and the things that were glorious had no glory and the sacrifices were like the stockyards at Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it. There were many words that you could not stand to hear....Abstract words such as glory, honor, courage, or hallow were obscene beside the concrete names of villages, the numbers of roads, the names of rivers, the numbers of regiments and the dates.
Hemingway's Frederic Henry repudiates chauvinistic catchphrases as false to experience: only words of concrete specification will serve.
By Scott Donaldson, Louise G.T. Cooley Professor English, emeritus, University of Virginia, in American Writers Retrospective Supplement 1 Copyright 1998 by Charles Scribner's Sons. Used by permission of Charles Scribner's Sons, 1633 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
Copyright 1998 by Charles Scribner's Sons.
Used by permission of Charles Scribner's Sons, 1633 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
1. Papa Hemingway
2. The Making of a Writer
3. Writing of the 1940sand1950s
THE MAKING OF A WRITER
Lieutenant Henry comes by his disillusionment naturally enough, for like his creator, he is badly a wounded in World War I. Hemingway went to Italy as a Red Cross ambulance driver in the summer of 1918, and a few weeks later, in order to get closer to the front, volunteered to serve in a canteen at Fossalta on the Piave River. He was passing out cigarettes and chocolates to the troops trench when, shortly after midnight in a forward on July 8, an Austrian Minenwerfer canister exploded, lodging 237 metal fragments in his feet and legs, and a heavy machine-gun bullet ripped through his right knee. The effects of the wounding were traumatic to the young Hemingway, who was two weeks shy of his nineteenth birthday. "I died then," he was later to write, and for a long time he found it difficult to sleep without a light against the darkness. He was to revisit the site at least once himself, in 1923, and oftener, the memory of it, in his fiction. Colonel Richard Cantwell, in Across the River and into the Trees (1950), defecates on the spot where he was wounded.
In 1966, in what became an extremely influential critical interpretation. Philip Young argued that Hemingway's near fatal injury on the Italian front was a traumatic event that lay at the source of most of Hemingway's writing. According to this psychoanalytical "wound theory." Hemingway's frequent fictional accounts of confrontation with death and danger were manifestations of a "repetition compulsion" to confront and eventually master the trauma he went through at Fossalta. The same compulsion, Young believed, accounted for Hemingway's repeatedly testing his courage by climbing into bullrings, hunting wild game, and facing enemy fire during subsequent wars. He put himself at risk and paid the consequences, suffering an astounding series of blows to the head and limbs.
The wound theory provided a persuasive way of reading Hemingway, but like all single-cause theories it oversimplified the case and over time has proved too limited to a nurse named Agnes von Kurowsky, seven years his senior. When he came back to the United States early in 1919, it was understood that she would follow and they would marry. Instead, she became romantically entangled with an Italian officer and broke off the relationship with a "Dear Ernest" letter to the effect that she expected much of him in the future but that really he was just "a kid," too young for her. This jilting, one of the strongest emotional blows of his life, plunged Hemingway into the depths of depression. Two years later he married Hadley Richardson, who was — probably not accidentally — slightly older than Agnes. It would be four years, however, before he could work off the pain in "A Very Short Story," which appeared in In Our Times, where Agnes is portrayed as the faithless Luz. The rejection had its long-term impact, too, as shown in Hemingway's practice of breaking off friendships — sometimes brutally — before he could be hurt, and in his serial marriages: invariably he had a new wife in the wings as the final act in an existing union played out.
Unquestionably the most important woman in Ernest Hemingway's life was his mother. Grace Hall Hemingway. The parents of almost all major male American writers run to a strikingly consistent pattern- a dominant mother and a relatively weak (or absent or dead) father, and this was true of Hemingway's parents as well. Grace Hall had begun a career as an opera singer before coming home to Oak Park, Illinois, to marry Clarence Edmonds Hemingway, a young general practitioner. Ernest Miller Hemingway, the second of their six children, was born July 21. 1899, about eighteen months after the arrival of his older sister Marcelline. Like most people in Oak Park — a suburb of Chicago at the borders of which the saloons stopped and the churches began — the Hemingways were pious Christians. They assembled for family prayers daily after breakfast and on Sundays attended the First Congregational Church. During the summers they traveled to Windemere, their cabin at Walloon Lake in northern Michigan, where Dr. Hemingway instructed his children in nature lore and taught them to fish and hunt. The marriage seemed wholesome enough, but there was trouble beneath the facade. A strong person sure of herself and her opinions, Grace Hemingway was unusual among women of her time in that she took no interest in the domestic arts. Instead of cooking and cleaning, she devoted much of her time to giving music lessons, which supplemented the family income and paid for household help. She was also used to getting her own way. In the spring of 1919 she undertook to build a cottage of her own up in Michigan at some distance from Windemere, where she could rest and be by herself. Clarence opposed this project and went so far as to write to the builder announcing that he would not be responsible for any debts during the construction, but to no effect. Grace had made up her mind and the cottage was built.
A more important problem, carefully concealed from public view, was Dr. Hemingway's mental illness. Both in 1903 and 1908 he took trips away from home to ameliorate his "nervous condition." "Just make a business of eating and sleeping and forgetting." Grace advised him on the second occasion — advice much like that Nick Adams attempts to follow on his solitary fishing trip. In 1909 Dr. Hemingway wrote his wife a letter itemizing his several life insurance policies and advising her in the event of his passing not to tell all she knew "should there be any doubt at all as to the cause of death." The letter apparently signaled a contemplated suicide, nineteen years later, in December 1928, he killed himself with a bullet to his right temple. The family attributed the suicide to financial reversals and to the onset of diabetes and angina, with no mention of depression. Ernest himself did not acknowledge Clarence Hemingway's mental problems as a contributing cause. He blamed his father's death on his mother: as he saw it, she had emasculated his father and driven him to suicide. After his father's death Ernest provided some financial support to his mother, but he rarely spoke of her thereafter except in the most derogatory terms. Late in life he insisted that he hated her.
From boyhood on, there had been a measure of discord between the forceful mother and the headstrong son. The disaffection reached its worst stage during the summer of 1920, shortly after Ernest's twenty-first birthday. It had been eighteen months since he had come back from Italy, yet he had not taken a full-time job, and both his parents were worried about his future. He and a friend were staying at Walloon Lake, and Grace believed they were not pulling their weight in terms of performing the necessary chores around the place. Worse yet, Ernest was openly rebellious when Grace tried to tell him what to do. Matters boiled over when Ernest and his friend took his younger sisters Ursula and Sunny, along with two thirteen-year-old girlfriends of theirs, on a clandestine post-midnight picnic. The escapade might have gone undiscovered had not the mother of one of the thirteen-year-olds knocked on the door of the Hemingway cabin at three in the morning, demanding to know the whereabouts of her daughter.
The next day Grace banished her son from Windemere with a scathing letter. In sending Ernest away, she had the full support of her husband, who had been at the lake and observed his son's disobedient ways. Even before the picnic episode Dr. Hemingway had twice written Ernest advising him to leave the cabin, to find a job that paid decent wages, and to stay away until invited back. Nonetheless Ernest focused his resentment on his mother, who in her letter of dismissal suggested that emotional and economic debts were interchangeable. Her children were born, she began, "with a large and prosperous bank account, seemingly inexhaustible." But the persistent and unavoidable withdrawals made during childhood and adolescence made the balance of her mother's love account "perilously low." Now it was time for Ernest to repay her with gratitude and appreciation and small gestures of recognition, not with open defiance. She concluded her letter with at passage that, in effect, accused her son of intentionally immoral behavior:
Unless you, my son Ernest, come to yourself, cease your lazy loafing, and pleasure seeking. — borrowing with no thought of returning: — Stop trying to graft a living off anybody and everybody, spending all your earnings lavishly and wastefully on luxuries for yourself. Stop trading on your handsome face, to fool gullable (sic] little girls, and neglecting your duties to God and your Saviour Jesus Christ, unless, in other words, you come into your manhood. — there is nothing before you but bankruptcy.
For Ernest Hemingway, who like his parents was brought up on the principles of the Protestant ethic, it was a message he could neither forgive nor forget.
An unhappy childhood was the best possible training, for a writer, Hemingway once commented, and he obviously felt that he qualified as well-trained on those grounds, to which were added the adult traumas of his wartime wound, his jilting by Agnes, his mother's rejection, and his father's suicide. The character in his fiction who most closely resembles him is Nick Adams, the protagonist of fifteen stories published in his lifetime, and of still others published posthumously, all of which are collected in The Nick Adams Stories (1972). In the stories Nick progresses from a young boy growing up on a lake in the north country to an adolescent vagabond on the road to a soldier victimized by a terrifying wound. In the manuscript versions of the stories about Nick, Hemingway sometimes substituted his own name, or his nickname, Wemedge, for that of Nick, and the temptation is to regard the fictional character as a thinly disguised version of his creator. But Nick Adams goes through a number of experiences that Hemingway did not, and in contradiction both to Hemingway's public image and the critical stereotype of his heroes, Nick is distinctly not someone who seeks out challenges to his courage. It is true that he is, to employ another phrase often applied to Hemingway protagonists, very much a youth whom things happen to, but he neither invites nor welcomes the blows that life delivers. Instead he does his best to shy away from trouble.
In "Indian Camp" and "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife" — the first two stories of In Our Time — Nick goes through a process of disillusionment, with both of his parents, especially his father. At the beginning of "Indian Camp," Nick's father answers a late-night emergency call to the Indian settlement down at the lake, and since father and son have been camping out together, he takes Nick along. An Indian woman has been in labor for two days. while her husband — immobilized by an accident — lies confined in the bunk overhead listening to her agonized cries. Working without anesthetic or his usual instruments, Dr. Adams delivers the baby by cesarean section while keeping up a running commentary for the benefit of his son. He does not hear the woman's screams, he tells the boy, because the screams "are not important." But Nick cannot ignore them, and neither can the woman's husband. With the baby successfully delivered. Nick's father feels as "exalted and talkative as football players...after a game." "Ought to have a look at the proud father," he remarks expansively. "They're usually the worst sufferers, in these little affairs." But when he pulls back the blanket, he discovers that the Indian has cut his throat. Nick, who has wished to be somewhere else for a long time, is standing a good distance away but has a good view of the upper bunk when Dr. Adams, lamp in one hand, tips the dead Indian's head back with the other.
The story presents Nick's father in ambivalent terms. Although skillful in performing his obstetrical duties, he betrays an unattractive egotism.
Other stories demonstrate other shortcomings. In "The Doctor and the Doctor's Wife." Nick's father backs down from a fight with an Indian bully who openly provokes him, then suffers the further indignity of a lecture from his wife on controlling his anger. In "Now I Lay Me," Nick's mother burns her husband's prized collection of arrowheads while he is away hunting. When the doctor returns, he utters no word of remonstrance to her. Instead, in an attempt to restore his authority, he issues a series of commands to Nick: to fetch a rake, to take his gun and game bags into the house, to bring a newspaper on which he can lay out any arrowheads that have not broken into pieces in the fire.
The most thorough portrait of Nick's father comes in "Fathers and Sons," written after Dr. Hemingway's suicide and printed as the concluding story of Winner Take Nothing. "Nicholas Adams," now a father himself, is on a driving trip with his son when the landscape brings back memories of hunting with his father. He recalls among other things his father's extraordinary eyesight and his wonderful shooting ability. But he also remembers his father's prudery where sex was concerned, summed up in the advice "that the things to do was to keep your hands off of people." And he remembers, too, the day his father aroused him into a murderous rage. Presumably to save money, Nick was required to wear a hand-me-down suit of his father's underwear. "Nick loved his father but hated the smell of him," and even though freshly washed, the underwear still carried the smell. To avoid having to wear it, Nick goes fishing and conveniently "loses" the underwear. Whipped for lying when he comes home, Nick sits inside the woodshed with his shotgun loaded looking across at his father on the screen porch and thinking, "I can blow him to hell," before the anger passes. That Nick's father later committed suicide is implied but not stated in the story. Nick thinks about his father's death, about the handsome job the undertaker did on his father's face; Nick's son wonders why he has never been taken to see his grandfather's "tomb."
Considered as a group, the stories about Nick Adams and his parents clearly come from autobiographical sources, but this is not to say that Hemingway's fiction simply recounts what happened in his life. There is no evidence, for example, that Dr. Hemingway took young Ernest to watch him perform a cesarean or that Ernest ever ran away from home, rode the rails, and got beaten up, as Nick does in "The Battler." Hemingway wrote out of his experience, not about it. At the same time, however, the similarities between the doctors Adams and Hemingway are very close indeed. Clarence Hemingway, like his fictional counterpart, had the eyes of an eagle, taught his son how to fish and shoot, held puritanical views about sex, was strict with money, was dominated by his wife, and, finally, killed himself. In that respect, the end of "Indian Camp" has more to do with Nick's introduction to death — and its disturbingly close relationship to birth — than with the character of Nick's father. In the rowboat going home, the boy seeks his father's counsel on the subject. Why did the Indian husband kill himself? "He couldn't stand things. I guess." Do many people kill themselves? "Not very many, Nick." Was dying hard? "No, I think it's pretty easy, Nick. It all depends."
A FASCINATION WITH DEATH
From boyhood on, Hemingway was fascinated by death and particularly by suicide. Five of his seven completed novels end with the death of a male protagonist, a sixth ends with the death of the heroine. A number of his stories take a macabre approach to the subject. In "An Alpine Idyll," published in Men Without Women, an Austrian peasant whose wife has died props up his wife's frozen corpse and hangs a lantern from her jaw all one winter. "A Natural History of the Dead," published in Winner Take Nothing, reports in detail the disconcerting changes unburied corpses undergo when exposed to the weather. At bullfights, when a torero fails to kill a bull properly, the bull is dispatched with a short knife, or puntillo. Hemingway liked to see the puntillo do its swift work, "exactly like turning off an electric light bulb." The very first story he published in high school ends with a suicide, and so does another take he sketched out in a boyhood notebook but never wrote: "Mancelona. Rainy night. Tough looking lumberjack. Young Indian girl. Kills self and girl." His adolescent preoccupation with suicide was brought close to home during the 1920s, when he began to be victimized by attacks of depression, or "black ass," as he called it. He could imagine how a man could be so weighed down by obligations as to commit suicide, he wrote Gertrude Stein in 1923. When he broke off his marriage to Hadley in 1926 in order to marry Pauline Pfeiffer, he and Pauline agreed to stay apart for a hundred days as a test of their resolve. During this separation the black ass descended; he did not recover from what he called "the general bumping-off phase" until he and Pauline were reunited.
Yet two years later, when his father killed himself, Ernest chose to reject melancholia as a precipitating cause. "We are the generation whose fathers shot themselves," one of his manuscript fragments reads. "It is a very American thing to do and it is done, usually, when they lose their money, although their wives are almost always a contributing cause." Much as he was disposed to blame his mother, though, Hemingway could not condone what his father had done. According to Freud, the death of a father is the most important event in a man's life, and the suicide of a father a still more troubling experience. In taking his own life, Dr. Hemingway had granted his son tacit permission to do the same thing, but in his writing thereafter Ernest repeatedly distanced himself from that inheritance. He even considered writing a novel based on his father "killing himself and why," and though he never did so — too many people were still alive, he said — he had Robert Jordan in For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) explicitly repudiate the example of his own father's suicide.
An American professor who fights for the Loyalists during the Spanish Civil War, Jordan lies painfully wounded at the end of the novel but refuses to take the easy way out. To steel himself against self-destruction, he thinks of his father and grandfather, who closely parallel Hemingway's own. Jordan's grandfather, like Anson T. Hemingway, was a Civil War veteran who distinguished himself under fire. His father, like Clarence Edmonds Hemingway, shot himself with a Smith and Wesson revolver because he was a coward and would not stand up to his wife's bullying. Jordan "understood his father and he forgave him everything and he pitied him but he was ashamed of him." His father's contrary example keeps Jordan from killing himself as the pain becomes excruciating and the fascist troops approach. Let them come, he thinks. "I don't want to do that business my father did."
That Nick's confrontation with death is the principal theme of "Indian Camp" would have been more obvious — perhaps too obvious — if Hemingway had not decided to discard the original beginning of that story. In the omitted fragment Nick, his father, and his Uncle George are camping out together. When the two men decide to do some night fishing, they leave Nick behind in his tent, with instructions to fire three shots if there is an emergency. The boy, who is perhaps ten years old, has only recently become aware of his own mortality. Lying alone in the dark, he is overcome by a fear of dying, and so he fires the three shots. When his father and uncle hurry back, Nick invents a yarn about a fox or a wolf nosing around the tent, Uncle George is annoyed about having his fishing interrupted by such foolishness, but Nick's father is more understanding. "I know he's an awful coward," he says of his son. "but we're all yellow at that age." At that point the original beginning breaks off, to give way to the story as we know it with its curiously abrupt opening paragraph: "At the lake shore there was another rowboat drawn up. The two Indians stood waiting."
In deciding to delete the original opening passage, Hemingway was putting into practice his famous "iceberg principle." According to that principle, the dignity of a work of fiction depends on keeping seven-eighths of its base beneath the surface. If a writer leaves something out because he does not know it, there will be a hole in the story. But "anything you know you can eliminate and it will only strengthen your iceberg." Careful reading of Hemingway manuscripts shows that he did not invariably follow this procedure, but there are several notable deletions of beginnings, in addition to the three shots episode of "Indian Camp." Two beginnings — of "Fifty Grand" and of The Sun Also Rises — he lopped off at the behest of F. Scott Fitzgerald.
THE SUN ALSO RISES
Fitzgerald and Hemingway met in Paris late in April 1925 and immediately formed a friendship that did not begin to unravel until Fitzgerald went back to the United States at the end of the following year. At the time they met, Fitzgerald was a well-established writer who had published half a dozen books, while Hemingway, three years his junior, was only beginning to make a literary reputation. Hemingway brought to the relationship his considerable talent, the experience he had accumulated during the war and several subsequent years in Europe, and his remarkable charisma. He and Hadley had come to Paris in the fall of 1921 and lived there inexpensively on the proceeds of her trust fund and the money Ernest earned as a foreign correspondent. His real vocation, though, was fiction, and he was struggling to write, first, "one true sentence" and then the early stories and, in time, a novel. In those years on the Left Bank, as Hadley recalled, men loved him, and so did women, children, and dogs. "It was something."
Hemingway arrived with an almost embarrassingly laudatory letter of introduction from Sherwood Anderson, whom he had befriended in Chicago. This introduction brought him into contact with major figures in the Parisian artistic community, and almost everyone Hemingway met became his enthusiastic supporter. Gertrude Stein advised him to get out of journalism and to write with greater discipline. "Begin over again and concentrate," she instructed him after reading one overly descriptive work. She also became a family friend, serving as godmother to the Hemingways' son Bumby. (Bumby's real name was John; Hemingway had two other sons, Patrick and Gregory, with his second wife, Pauline.) Ezra Pound sang Hemingway's praises to Ford Madox Ford, who took him on as an associate editor of the Transatlantic Review, Hemingway was "the finest prose stylist in the world," Pound maintained of the twenty-four-year-old writer. Hemingway's sentences struck the reader, Ford said, like pebbles fetched fresh from a brook.
Hemingway did not lack for supporters in Paris then, but he wanted to reach a wider audience than that of the little magazines and limited editions and, if possible, make a living into the bargain. Fitzgerald, a successful popular writer, was ideally situated to serve as a mentor in this regard. He encouraged Hemingway to leave the firm of BoniandLiveright, which published In Our Time, in order to join him at Scribners under the editorship of Maxwell Perkins. Fitzgerald wrote a laudatory review of In Our Time when it came out in the fall of 1925 and acted as Hemingway's agent in sending out stories to magazines. He loaned his friend money and offered sympathy and support as Hemingway's marriage to Hadley collapsed. Perhaps most important of all, Fitzgerald advised Hemingway to scrap the beginning of The Sun Also Rises.
The manuscript as Fitzgerald read it in the summer of 1926 started with a self-conscious and chatty introduction containing inside information on the Left Bank and its habitues. The opening paragraph read:
This is a novel about a lady. Her name is Lady Ashley and when the story begins she is living in Paris and it is Spring. That should be a good setting for a romantic but highly moral story. As every one knows, Paris is a very romantic place. Spring in Paris is a very happy and romantic time. Autumn in Paris, although very beautiful, might give a note of sadness or melancholy that we shall try to keep out of this story.
Fitzgerald, who had more or less delivered Hemingway to Scribners on the basis of the promise of his first novel, was appalled. His written critique called attention to "about 24 sneers, superiorities, and nose-thumbing-at-nothing" in the opening chapters, accused Hemingway of "elephantine facetiousness," and recommended that he cut twenty-five hundred words. This was harsh criticism, but Hemingway was too dedicated a craftsman not to learn from it. He not only took Fitzgerald's advice but also went one step further. Instead of reducing the original section in length, he severed the first four thousand words entirely and began with "Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton."
In so doing, Hemingway was operating on the iceberg principle, since if The Sun Also Rises is not strictly speaking a novel about Lady Ashley, nonetheless Brett Ashley is the central figure in the book, the one around whom all the principal male characters revolve. Brett is sexually promiscuous, but she has reasons. Like Catherine Barkley in A Farewell to Arms and Maria in For Whom The Bell Tolls, Brett is a victim of the war. Her "true love" died of dysentery at the front. The man she married on the rebound — and acquired her title from — came back from the war so disturbed that he slept with a loaded revolver and threatened to kill her. During wartime service as a volunteer she met and fell in love with Jake Barnes, but his war injury left him incapable of sexual intercourse. When the novel begins, she is engaged to Mike Campbell, a charming ne'er-do-well with a history of not paying his debts. She spends a weekend at San Sebastian with Robert Cohn, thinking it will be "good for him," but it has the opposite effect. Jake, Mike, and Robert are all on the scene at the fiesta in Pamplona, interacting in various stages of jealousy and anger when Brett further complicates the situation by becoming enraptured by the nineteen-year-old bullfighter Pedro Romero. She calls on Jake, who can refuse her nothing, to introduce her to Romero, At the end of the novel she summons Jake to Madrid: "AM RATHER IN TROUBLE," her telegram reads, but what Brett really wants is someone to talk to about her affair with Romero. He had wanted to marry her, she tells Jake, but she could not do that; at thirty-four, she will not be "one of these bitches that ruins children." Jake says nothing to encourage these revelations. When they go out to dinner afterwards, he eats an enormous dinner and drinks enough to stun an ox.
Excessive drinking is commonplace among the expatriates depicted in The Sun Also Rises. The world of this novel, generally immersed in alcohol as well as promiscuity, prostitution, and homosexuality, strikes many readers as one of self-indulgent immorality. Yet Hemingway insisted that it was a "very moral" book. That Brett has certain standards, for example, is reflected in her decision to send Romero away. She will not take money from him, just as she will not accept Count Mippipopolous' offer of ten thousand dollars to accompany him to Biarritz. This financial scrupulousness, along with her observation that she is "paying" for the hell she has "put chaps through," fits into a morality of compensation that runs through the novel and is explicitly articulated by Jake Barnes. Lying awake in Pamplona, he thinks that in having Brett for a friend, he "had been getting something for nothing" and that sooner or later the bill will arrive.
I thought I had paid for everything. Not like the woman pays and pays and pays. No idea of retribution or punishment. Just exchange of values. You gave up something and got something else. Or you worked for something. You paid some way for everything that was any good. Either you paid by learning about them, or by experience, or by taking chances, or by money.
This axiom resonates closely with the sermons about "clean money" and the sanctity of work that the Rev. William E. Barton — the brother of the founder of the Red Cross, Clara Barton, and the father of the adman Bruce Barton, whose bestselling book The Man Nobody Knows celebrated Jesus Christ as a capitalist in disguise — used to preach to the Hemingways back in Oak Park.
Despite his participation in the revels of the fiesta, Jake Barnes possesses a basically religious sensibility. "Some people have God....Quite a lot," he tells Brett during their final confrontation, and though he refers to himself as "a rotten Catholic" be is repeatedly drawn to cathedrals. Once, in church, Jake prays to "make a lot of money," but the operative word is the verb. He does not pray to have a lot of money, or simply to have it descend upon him without effort. According to Jake's ethical system, you have to earn your way.
Jake Barnes is hardly a paragon of virtue, of course. His narration throughout is colored by his jealousy of Cohn, and he substantially demeans himself by procuring Pedro Romero for Lady Ashley. He does not insist on the universal applicability of his "exchange of values" principle. In five years time, he thinks, it might seem "just as silly as all the other fine philosophies" be has had. But, he immediately adds, perhaps that is not true. "Perhaps as you went along you did learn something." In fact, as applied to the novel, Jake's philosophy provides an accurate standard for measuring character. The Sun Also Rises is full of examples of the financially corrupt, among them greedy French waiters, bike riders who fix races, and even "pilgrims" from Dayton, Ohio, who use bribery to commandeer all the seats in a train dining car.
Jake is differentiated from his immediate companions, Robert Cohn and Mike Campbell, by virtue of being a working newsman: Cohn and Campbell have both been damaged by inherited wealth, or the promise of it. Cohn uses money from home to buy his way into the editorship of a literary magazine and out of romantic entanglements with women. He also persistently misunderstands people and situations. Turning a deaf ear to the world around him, he foolishly imagines himself a kind of chivalric knight defending the honor of his lady fair. He does not even act Brett's name right, persistently calling her "Lady Brett" in spite of Jake's pointed remark that "her name's Lady Ashley." Mike Campbell, unlike Cohn, can be genuinely funny in a self-deprecatory way. He will inherit a great deal of money one day, which brings him hell's own amount of credit, but Mike is not to be trusted in financial matters. Back in England he is "an undischarged bankrupt": he typically sponges off the other characters. Jake more closely resembles his friend Bill Gorton, who is sometimes inebriated but is a successful practicing writer. But whereas both Jake and Bill work to pay for the good things in life, neither achieves the moral stature of the bullfighter Romero, who puts himself at great risk through the meticulous performance of his craft.
Much critical attention has been paid to the distinctions between characters like Jake Barnes and Pedro Romero. According to the stereotypical view, Barnes is an example of the "Hemingway hero," who remains basically the same from book to book. Supposedly Hemingway's protagonists — including Nick Adams, Jake Barnes, Frederic Henry, Robert Jordan, and Richard Cantwell — resemble each other so much that they can be lumped into one generic category. Moreover, the so-called Hemingway hero is modeled closely upon the author himself. He is an outdoorsman but no primitive. He is extremely sensitive to the disordered world he inhabits and the pain it inflicts. He wishes he were more courageous or more principled in the conduct of his life, but he does the best he can under stress. If one accepts this construct, as many interpreters of Hemingway have done, virtually all his fiction can be read as one ongoing work.
Standing in contrast to the Hemingway hero, according to this critical theory, is the "code hero," so-called because he is able to live up to standards beyond the reach of ordinary humans. He is honorable and courageous and will fight to the bitter end against overwhelming odds. He exhibits, in short, that quality of "grace under pressure" Hemingway first apotheosized in a letter to Fitzgerald. Often the code hero is of Hispanic origins, like Romero or the equally brave but less skillful Spanish bullfighter in "The Undefeated," published in In Our Time, or Santiago in The 0ld Man and the Sea (1952). Characteristically the code hero cannot overcome the forces he confronts, but by facing death or terrible danger directly and with dignity he provides an example for the rest of us of how to behave. As a way of looking at much of Hemingway's fiction, the antithesis between Hemingway hero and code hero has a certain usefulness. Yet it does not take adequate notice of Hemingway's accomplishment in creating sharply differentiated characters. His protagonists do not really resemble each other, or Hemingway himself, tghat closely. Frederic Henry, in A Farewell to Arms, provides a case in point.
A FAREWELL TO ARMS
The title of this 1929 book which with The Sun Also Rises constitutes Hemingway's finest work as a novelist, has a double meaning. It tells the story of both the war, with which Frederic makes his separate peace, and of a love affair between Frederic and Catherine Barkley, which ends tragically with Catherine's death. There are certain unmistakable parallels between Frederic Henry's experience and that of his creator. Frederic Henry, like Ernest Hemingway, is severely wounded during World War I, and he falls in love with a woman who helps nurse him back to health. As a consequence many readers have assumed that Frederic's experience more or less mirrors Hemingway's. Yet A Farewell to Arms is very much an invented novel, and Hemingway goes to considerable lengths to distinguish his protagonist from himself. For one thing, Frederic, who had been a student of architecture in Italy when World War I broke out, is considerably older and more knowledgeable than Hemingway was. He serves on the Austro-Italian front from 1915 to 1917, when Ernest Hemingway was still in high school. Catherine Barkley dies in the spring of 1918, when Hemingway was working as a cub reporter at the Kansas City Star. Hemingway did not see any of the action he writes about in the novel, yet through books and maps and the power of his imagination, he makes it seem, as he put it in a 1935 article. "that the things he relates all really happened and that he is just reporting" them.
Hemingway further separates himself from his protagonist by making Frederic a less than admirable character, at least at the beginning of the novel. When he and Catherine meet, it is clear that she has been rendered emotionally vulnerable because of the death of her fiancee. Nonetheless Frederic takes advantage of the situation, pretending to emotions he does not feel in order to win the same of courtship. Even after they become lovers, he does not give much of himself to the relationship. "When you love," the priest in the officers' mess tells Frederic, "you wish to do things for. You wish to sacrifice for. You wish to serve." Both Catherine and Frederic fail to live up to this ideal, but for different reasons. Catherine goes too far: she lets Frederic become her "religion" and she seeks to obliterate her own personality by merging with him. (In her selfless devotion, she stands at the opposite extreme from the real-life nurse Agnes von Kurowsky.) Frederic does not go far enough, at least until near the end. He is called "boy" or "baby" by practically everyone who knows him, and it takes him a long time to grow up.
That Frederic does finally learn to love gives the novel its poignancy. As Catherine suffers through the agony of her labor, he wants to be of service: he feels grateful when the doctor lets him administer the anesthetic. He realizes at last what he stands to lose should the loving, humorous, and intelligent Catherine die. In his confusion he thrashes about for explanations: they had broken the rules by sinning against conventional morality, or it was simply bad luck, or it was "Just nature giving her hell." In a desperate prayer he offers to "do anything" if God will only please make her not die. Finally, as in "Indian Camp," there is a cesarean, but this time both baby and mother die, and there is nothing to be done about it.
Hemingway maintained that he wrote thirty-nine different versions of the ending of A Farewell to Arms, and scholars who have followed the trail of his manuscripts confirm that figure, or something close to it. The variant endings fall into a number of different categories. In the original ending for the Scribner's Magazine serial, for instance, Frederic proceeds to relate what has happened to him and to his wartime companions since the night in April 1918 when Catherine Barkley died. But all the versions are alike in leaving behind the bitter aftertaste of negation. A Farewell to Arms is a novel about love irredeemably lost, and it is fitting that it should close with an emphasis on the "nada" that confronts Frederic as it does the bereft old man in Hemingway's "A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," which appeared in Winner Take Nothing. After the hemorrhaging kills Catherine, the doctor tries to reassure Frederic that they had done the right thing to operate, but he will not respond. There is "nothing to do," "nothing to say," he does not want to talk about it." It is not "any good" trying to say good-bye to Catherine either. Nothing is left but to walk back to the hotel in the rain.
A Farewell to Arms stimulated considerable controversy when it was first published, offending patriotic Italian-Americans, disturbing the queasy for its graphic and detailed portrayal of Catherine's passing, angering the fastidious for its barracks language, and earning banishment in Boston for its frank treatment of the extramarital affair between Frederic and Catherine. Despite such objections, most readers then as now were genuinely moved by the book. The beauty and power of its prose placed the thirty-year-old Hemingway in the front rank of American writers. The consensus is that Hemingway peaked early, and that after The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms he never again produced a novel that measured up to his capabilities. This emphatically does not mean that his subsequent work can or should be dismissed out of hand. Even very great writers cannot produce an unbroken string of masterpieces. Whatever they publish merits attention.
WRITINGS OF THE 1930s
In Hemingway's case, while the decade of the 1930s did not result in any one book that stands among his best, it was still a period of substantial productivity and development. In Death in the Afternoon (1932) and Green Hills of Africa (1935), he converted his interest in bullfighting and big game hunting into book-length studies. Many aficianados consider Death in the Afternoon the best book in English on the subject of bullfighting. Hemingway presents the world of toreo sympathetically, subordinating its brutality by creating it as a necessary pin of a basically cathartic ritual. He also candidly evaluates the performance of various bullfighters, criticizing those who demean their craft by faking danger or playing to the crowd. Assuming the mantle of the expert, Hemingway goes on to comment about such apparently extraneous matters as painting, writing, and sexuality in a series of hypothetical dialogues with an inquisitive and irreverent "Old Lady."
Green Hills of Africa is essentially an account of Hemingway's 1935 safari to Africa. As he expressed it in the foreword, his intention was "to write an absolutely true book to see whether the shape of a country and the pattern of a month's action (could,] if truly presented, compete with a work of the imagination." The answer, for most readers, is no. The African setting is effectively evoked, but the story line — which depends on a rivalry between Hemingway and his friend Charles Thompson over who can bag the bull kudu with the largest horns — remains very thin. To his credit, though, Hemingway not only records what happened (he was bested by Thompson) but also admits to his own foolish compulsion to turn the safari into an adversarial contest. "It's impossible not to be competitive," as white hunter Philip Percival told him at the end of the actual trip. "Spoils everything, though."
In Green Hills of Africa, as in Death in the Afternoon, Hemingway introduces an otherwise inessential character — a veteran Africa hand called Kandisky — who asks questions on several far-ranging topics. Among other things, he tells Kandisky why good writers go wrong. One problem is their perceived if not real need for enough money to lead conventional lives. "They have to write to keep up their establishments, their wives, and so on, and they write slop." Another was the danger of compromising their art by conforming to the political fashions of the day. Hemingway advocated instead a thoroughgoing individualism. "A writer if he is good should be against the state no matter what it is. There will always be plenty of bad writers who will work for the state. A good writer has something that is not for sale." These principles, and the African Trip, were very much on his mind as he turned to write his two wonderful long stories of 1936, "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" and "Me Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," and his 1937 novel, To Have and Have Not.
The marriages depicted in the stories have both been deeply compromised by the financial inequality of the partners. Margot Macomber may be regularly unfaithful to her husband Francis, but as the narrator sarcastically observes, "They had a sound basis of union. Margot was too beautiful for Macomber to divorce her and Macomber had too much money for Margot ever to leave him." The situation is transposed in the more autobiographical "Snows of Kilimanjaro," where the writer Harry is married to a rich woman and engaged in a life of idleness that "dull[s] his ability and soften[s] his will to work." As he lies dying of gangrene in Africa, Harry thinks of all the stories he has never written, he is inclined to blame his wife Helen for what he has left undone. But he knows that he himself has "destroyed his talent by not using it, by betrayals of himself and what he believed in, by drinking so much that he blunted the edge of his perceptions, by laziness, by sloth, and by snobbery, by pride and by prejudice, by hook and by crook." And it "was strange, too, wasn't it," he goes on in his continuing self-excoriation, "that when he fell in love with another woman, that woman should always have more money than the last one?" In Hemingway's own case, his second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer, was a wealthy woman, and it was through her generosity — and that of her doting Uncle Gus — that he was able to buy a house in Key West, go on safari in Africa, and otherwise indulge his enthusiasm for hunting, and fishing.
Like many American writers, Hemingway felt the pull to the left as the Depression worsened. "Country is all busted," he wrote a friend in October 1932. "...200,000 guys on the road like the wild kids in Russia." Something had gone wrong at the heart of the system, but Hemingway was distrustful of programmatic solutions. Through the mid-1930s Hemingway maintained his position that a writer was or at least should be "an outlyer like a gypsy" and stay independent of partisan politics. Thus the most contemptible figure in To Have and Have Not is the fellow-traveling novelist Richard Gordon, who corrupts his talent in order to gain cachet with the fashionable left. But Hemingway's doctrine of radical individualism also begins to give way in this poorly constructed novel. The hero is Harry Morgan, a boat captain who, in order to make a living, is forced to rent out his boat and himself for a series of illegal and dangerous activities. Morgan is Hemingway's most proletarian character, and in a politically charged section of the book, Hemingway contrasts Morgan's situation and that of the other have-not working stiffs with the bourgeois haves idling away their time on yachts off Key West. Among the haves is Henry Carpenter, an unemployed, unmarried thirty-six-year-old homosexual who commits suicide when his monthly income shrinks to two hundred dollars a month on account of imprudent investments. "The money on which it was not worth while for him to live," the novelist comments, "was one hundred and seventy dollars more a month than the fisherman Albert Tracy had been supporting his family on at the time of his death three days before."
Economic injustice is an important theme in To Have and Have Not, and it was welcomed by the communist establishment as evidence that Hemingway, like other leading writers, was "waking up to the historic necessity of joining the fight for a better life." At best, however, the novel makes only a qualified statement of that kind. It ends, to be sure, with the mortally wounded Harry Morgan making what seems to be a plea for collective action. "One man alone ain't got....No matter how a man alone ain't got no bloody fucking chance." To which the narrator adds, "It had taken him a long time to act it out and it had taken him all of his life to learn it." But this apparent embrace of collectivism is accompanied by a forceful disparagement of any governmental solutions. When Morgan is driven to rum-running to support his family, for example, "one bunch of Cuban government bastards" costs him an arm, and "another bunch of U.S, ones" takes away his only means of livelihood, his boat. The New Deal can only offer him a job at less pay than would feed his kids. Morgan is reduced to stealing his own boat back and hiring himself out on one last job for fire-breathing Cuban revolutionaries who manage to get him wed. To the extent that To Have and Have Not carries a message, it is that big government oppresses, revolution brutalizes, and politics and art do not mix.
By Scott Donaldson, Louise G.T. Cooley Professor English, emeritus, University of Virginia, in American Writers Retrospective Supplement 1 Copyright 1998 by Charles Scribner's Sons. Used by permission of Charles Scribner's Sons, 1633 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
Copyright 1998 by Charles Scribner's Sons.
Used by permission of Charles Scribner's Sons, 1633 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
1. Papa Hemingway
2. The Making of a Writer
3. Writing of the 1940sand1950s
WRITINGS OF THE 1940s AND 1950s
Not until the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War did Hemingway find a cause he could believe in, and then — characteristically — it was what he was against that aroused him. He became an ardent antifascist, who campaigned against Franco's forces in almost every possible way. He contributed money for ambulances. He reported on the war as a foreign correspondent with a decided bias in favor of the Loyalists. In collaboration with director Joris Ivens, a Dutch communist, he wrote and narrated the 1938 propaganda film The Spanish Earth, and showed it at fund-raising events in the United States. In his 1938 play, The Fifth Column, the protagonist Philip Rawlings is a counterespionage agent In Madrid who gives up his comfortable way of life and his romance with the attractive Dorothy Bridges (a character modeled after Hemingway's then-companion and wife-to-be Martha Gellhom), to devote himself totally to the cause. Rawlings remarks at the end, "Where I go now I go alone, or with others who go there for the same reason I go: to make sure that people will be able to live and work with dignity, not as slaves."
Hemingway's most overtly leftist work, The Fifth Column is little read or remembered. In the more important For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940). Hemingway's major novel about the Spanish war, the dedication of avowed communist Philip Rawlings is replaced by the more reasoned judgment of Robert Jordan. Jordan comes to Spain to fight for the Republic, but what he learns at the Hotel Gaylord about the attempt of Russian communists to appropriate the Spanish cause for their own ends tempers his idealism. In the novel Hemingway shows both sides as guilty of crimes of inhumanity; the most vicious figure of all is André Many, commander of the International Brigades. Still. Jordan resists a descent into cynicism. Disillusioned as he may be by the machinations of the communists, he remains a devout antifascist and fights to the end under that banner. He blows up a bridge and stays behind, wounded, so that the others in his guerrilla band may escape.
Jordan is motivated in this final act of self-sacrifice less by politics than by his love for the Spanish woman Maria and fellow feeling for the members of the guerrilla band he has joined. Much of the power of the novel derives from his relationships and from the depiction of two very different female figures. Pilar is the strongest woman Hemingway ever conceived. Physically powerful and sexually earthy, wise in the ways of the world yet mystically gifted, Pilar becomes the de facto leader of the guerrillas when her husband Pablo reveals his self-centered cowardice. She also promotes and supervises the love affair between Jordan and Maria. Another of the vulnerable warwounded women Hemingway invented in his novels, Maria has been repeatedly raped by the fascists. She is called "rabbit" for her closely cropped hair and understandably fearful manner, yet is nursed back to wholeness through the power of love.
To many critics, Maria is the embodiment of a male fantasy: a young, beautiful, compliant creature who — in a famous scene — acknowledges that the "earth moved" when she and Robert were making love. More justifiably criticized on feminist grounds is the heroine of Across the River and into the Trees, Hemingway's next novel. There was a ten-year crap between this novel and the previous one, much of it due to Hemingway's activities during World War II. From the Finca Vigi'a, his home in Cuba, he was involved initially in searching for German submarines aboard his yacht the Pilar. Later, attached as a correspondent to the 22d Infantry Regiment, he witnessed some of the fiercest fighting of the war in the battle of the Hurtgenwald and — contrary to his code as a journalist — formed his own group of irregulars to do reconnaissance work and participate in the liberation of Paris. During the war years, Hemingway and Martha Gellhorn went their separate ways. In spring 1944, Hemingway met and established a liaison with his fourth wife-to-be, Mary Welsh.
In any event, after so long an interim, much was expected of Across the River and into the Trees. The expectations were not realized. The book takes place over a span of three days in Venice, where Richard Cantwell, a fifty-year-old American colonel, eats, drinks, makes love to a nineteen- year-old Italian countess named Renata, and dies of a heart attack. Renata's name means "reborn", of course, and suggests how Hemingway intended the novel to function on a symbolic level. But whatever rebirth his protagonist may go through is imperfectly communicated. On the surface level not much happens. Cantwell holds forth to his adoring young lover on a variety of subjects, including his own long love affair with Venice, the lamentable decline of the military, and — more broadly — how to live and die. In earlier books Hemingway occasionally plays the expert, but in no other work of fiction does he let a protagonist make pronouncements on so extensive a scale. Based to some degree on Hemingway's infatuation with a real young Italian countess, the novel struck many readers as an unfortunate self-parody.
If Across the River and into the Trees was a disappointment, the triumph of The Old Man and the Sea (1952) more than made up for it. The simple and strangely moving saga of the fisherman Santiago and his battle with a giant marlin had been gestating in Hemingway's mind for fifteen years, and he produced the twenty-six-thousand word book in but six weeks at the beginning of 1951. Published first as the entire contents of a single issue of Life that sold more than 5 million copies and adopted, over a period of time, as standard reading in many schools, The Old Man and the Sea has undoubtedly attracted a wider readership than anything else Hemingway wrote. The theme of the novel is a common one in his work. The old fisherman demonstrates tremendous determination and endurance in capturing the marlin, but sharks consume his catch before he can reach shore. Santiago has not won, for in Hemingway's universe it is not possible to conquer the forces working against humankind. But Santiago is undefeated and can go happily to his rest, dreaming of lions on the beach. Hemingway had been telling versions of this story for a long time, but never before had he evoked its primal power so effectively. Something of the potency of The Old Man and the Sea undoubtedly derived from the book's distinct Christian overtones and from the mythic quality of the mentor-disciple relationship between Santiago and his young apprentice, Manolin.
The Old Man and the Sea struck a chord that resounded throughout the world, and it was instrumental in winning Hemingway the Nobel Prize in 1954. Earlier that year, in the course of another journey to Africa, Hemingway barely survived two plane crashes in two days. Accounts of his demise ran in the newspapers, but he was so badly hurt he could take little pleasure in reading these premature obituaries. Among his injuries were a severe concussion, damage to his liver, spleen, and kidney: temporary loss of vision in the left eye and hearing in the left ear: a crushed vertebra; sprains of the right arm and shoulder and left leg, paralysis of the sphincter, and first degree burns on his face, arms, and head. He never entirely recovered from these injuries, and as the decade of the 1950s wore on his physical deterioration was exacerbated by menacing spells of depression and of paranoia. After undergoing a series of shock treatments in the winter and spring of 1961, he persuaded his doctors to send him home to Ketchum, Idaho, where he killed himself with a shotgun blast to the forehead early on the morning of July 2.
Far more than the images of most writers, Hemingway's has undergone drastic reconfiguration in the wake of posthumous publications, it is probably an exaggeration to assert, as did two recent critics, that "the Hemingway you were taught about in high school is dead." Yet it is true that the author of the apparently simple morality tale The Old Man and the Sea is in the process of being supplanted by someone far more complicated and far less clearly defined. The most important of the Hemingway books that have emerged since his death are A Moveable Feast, Islands in the Stream (1970), and The Garden of Eden (1986). In addition, about one-fourth of an as yet unpublished "African book," which draws on Hemingway's safari of 1953-1954. appeared in Sports Illustrated (1971-1972). All of the posthumously published material was written during the last fifteen years of Hemingway's life. Though he was unable to complete any of his final manuscripts to his entire satisfaction, they were put into publishable form, with some alterations, by his widow, Mary Hemingway, and his editors. Considered as a group, Hemingway's last works reveal two preoccupations: first, Hemingway's difficulty in practicing his craft amid the distractions and difficulties that threatened to overwhelm him; second, an obsession with sexual androgyny, lesbianism, and homosexuality.
Of all the final writings, Islands in the Stream was composed earliest. Hemingway worked on it periodically from 1945 to 1952, as his "sea novel" in three parts, with The Old Man and the Sea originally intended to constitute the fourth. Episodic and rambling, Islands in the Stream is disappointing as a work of art, yet highly revealing as documentation of Hemingway's sense of professional conflict. The protagonist is Thomas Hudson, a painter living in the Caribbean who has severed nearly all human ties in order to devote himself completely to his art. During the course of the novel, he loses all three of his sons — two in an automobile accident, one in World War II — bids farewell to his first wife, who is the one true love of his life, and is himself gunned down by a German U-boat. Serving as a kind of artistic double to the ascetic painter is the writer Roger Davis, a far more likable fellow who shows real affection for Hudson's sons. But Davis has let his emotions get the better of him — he is quick to anger and to love — and his cuter has suffered as a result.
The way an artist should conduct his life was obviously very much on Hemingway's mind as he created these two contrasting figures. He pursued the subject further in the unpublished sections of the "African book:' he next embarked upon, unlike Green Hills of Africa, the typescript of this book is no mere report on the quotidian details of a safari. Instead, Hemingway traces the attempt of an aging writer, his creativity in decline, to construct an existence for himself exclusive of the art that has always functioned as a measure of his self-worth.
From the subject of what is to become of a writer past his prime, it was more or less natural that Hemingway's attention should shift back to the Paris years when, as a young man full of energy and ambition, he first mastered his craft. The writing of A Moveable Feast was also provoked by Hemingway's unexpected recovery, sometime in late 1956 or early 1957, of his manuscripts from the 1920s about the people he had known in Paris. Several of those people come off very badly in A Moveable Feast. Hemingway's benefactor, Fitzgerald, is excoriated for wasting his talent and for letting domination by his wife and by alcohol act the better of him. Hemingway's mentor, Gertrude Stein, is cruelly portrayed as a hysterical lesbian, and Ford Madox Ford as a wheezing, foul-smelling egotist. Organized as a series of vignettes, A Moveable Feast is basically a memoir, but in his prefatory remarks Hemingway suggests that it may "be regarded" as a work of fiction. Actually it reads like a parable about how the good artist — a totally dedicated, hardworking, happily married young man named Ernest Hemingway — managed to overcome the sorry examples of such unprofessional artists as, especially, F. Scott Fitzgerald. If Hemingway, struggling with his sharpened pencils at a caf - or in an unheated room, going hungry and learning from the Cézannes in the Luxembourg Museum, is the hero of this parable, the heroine is his wife Hadley, kind and loving and understanding. The villains — in addition to the bad writers, who include the "pilot fish" (a vicious veiled reference to onetime friend John Dos Passos) — are the rich (particularly Gerald and Sara Murphy) and the best friend (Pauline Pfeiffer), who together undermine and drain the vitality of the Hemingways' ideal marriage. Despite its scathing portrayals, the brilliantly written A Moveable Feast manages to cast a glow on those glorious years in the 1920s when Hemingway was making himself into a writer. As he writes in the final paragraph. "This is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy."
Standing in contrast to A Moveable Feast and easily the most startling of Hemingway's posthumous publications is The Garden of Eden, a novel of 250 pages fashioned from an unfinished manuscript three times that length. Just like the memoir, The Garden of Eden has a young writer for a protagonist. Moreover, in each book the writer suffers the trauma of irrevocably losing hard-won work: in A Moveable Feast Hemingway recounts the story of how Hadley left a valise containing all his early stories at a Paris train depot: in The Garden of Eden Hemingway has the wife of the writer David Bourne burn his notebooks, Otherwise, though, and particularly in the area of sexuality, the two books could hardly be more different. Throughout A Moveable Feast, the idealized Hemingway is aggressively heterosexual, deeply scornful of homosexual and lesbian arrangements, and, in that respect, resembles most of his fictional heroes. David Bourne in The Garden of Eden, on the other hand, is drawn into playing cross-sexual roles by his erotically experimental wife, Catherine. In bed, for example, she mounts him and calls herself "Peter" and him "my girl Catherine." Later, both David and Catherine become involved with the bisexual Marita, forming an uneasy ménage àtrois. As the plot unfolds, the dominating and mentally disturbed Catherine becomes jealous of David's absorption in his writing and torches his manuscripts. One of these, the story of how David, on an elephant hunt in Africa, had reluctantly led his father to the kill, is reconstructed as evidence that his talent has survived the destructive (and at the same time oddly invigorating) effects of Catherine's experiments in androgyny. At the end David is working and living with the submissive Marita.
This rather unlikely happy ending was not, in all probability, what Hemingway intended. In fact, he left behind a provisional ending in which David is reunited with Catherine, who has undergone treatment at a clinic in Switzerland; she elicits from David a promise to join her in suicide should her madness recur. Also omitted from the published novel is a long parallel plot involving Nick and Barbara Sheldon. Barbara Sheldon is sexually attracted to Catherine, which prefigures the later Catherine-Marita relationship. Nick, a painter, wears his hair the same length as his wife's, a detail that anticipates the moment when Catherine cuts her hair and David dyes his blond so that they will look the same. A hair fetish had surfaced in several of Hemingway's earlier novels, including A Farewell to Arms, To Have and Have Not, and For Whom the Bell Tolls. In fact, most of the themes explored in The Garden of Eden, including male androgyny, female madness, unconventional sexual behavior, and the relationships between all of these and creative capability, were present in Hemingway's earlier books. But until the 1986 appearance of The Garden of Eden they were largely ignored. The effect of the posthumous novel, where these themes were treated with absolute candor, was to send readers back to Hemingway with a far more open attitude. Here was a writer, it became clear, who was troubled by an almost obsessive concern with issues of sexuality. No longer could he be easily dismissed as a practitioner of machismo, or confidently pigeonholed as a misogynist whose fictional women exist solely for the use and benefit of his male characters. The most interesting, powerful, and complex character in The Garden of Eden is Catherine Bourne.
Biographers and critics have assisted in producing a radical reassessment of Hemingway. Using psychoanalytic and historical approaches, they have interpreted the author and his work as formed by mixed gender signals he received during his childhood. His mother decided to "twin" Ernest and his older sister Marcelline, dressing and grooming them alike until they were of school age. Ernest's hair was cut in a Dutch bob to resemble his sister's. During most of the year, spent in Oak Park, the two youngsters wore identical dresses, while during the Summers they spent in Michigan both were decked out in boyish outdoor costumes. Ernest was brought up to conform to the model of the Victorian gentleman, as portrayed in the popular fiction most honored in the Hemingway household: a figure at once courteous and forceful, sensitive and manly, a combination — to draw from two best-sellers of the late nineteenth century — of Little Lord Fauntleroy and Huckleberry Finn. This knowledge of Hemingway's childhood has formed the basis for a theory about Hemingway and androgyny that while useful as a guide nonetheless tends to become as reductively inaccurate when sweepingly applied to Hemingway's writing as the earlier wound theory. Hemingway is too complicated to fit into any one niche.
THE WRITER'S CRAFT
Another vital factor in revising the macho image of Hemingway was the opening of nearly twenty thousand pages of his manuscripts in 1975 and their installation at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston in 1980. There scholars from around the world could see the evidence, if any were needed, of a master craftsman. Hemingway's revisions are painstaking in the extreme, and the multiple drafts of his stories and novels reveal an extraordinary sensitivity to language and its nuances. Contrary to what Hemingway's iceberg principle had led scholars to expect. Hemingway's successive drafts show that he typically made significant additions as well as subtractions as he worked toward final copy.
Sometimes overlooked in the emphasis on his understated prose style is the point that Hemingway's characteristic method resembles drama more than narrative. Often there is very little action in his fiction. He is less interested in telling what happened than in revealing what his characters are like, but he does not allow an authorial voice to instruct the reader or point the way. Instead, character is revealed through dialogue and through descriptive passages that either function like stage directions or evoke a mood. "The Killers" (1927), one of Hemingway's most often anthologized stories, provides a case in point. In this underworld tale, the two hit men Al and Max, who, in their double-breasted suits, eight overcoats, and derby hats look like "a vaudeville team," come to a diner in Summit, Illinois, to murder-for-hire a boxer named Ole Andreson. To amuse themselves while they wait, the killers terrorize the counterman George and gag with towels the two others on duty, Nick Adams and Sam the Negro cook. When Ole Andreson does not show up for dinner, the killers leave. It is made clear, however, that they will eventually carry out their contract, and once they are gone Nick goes to the boxer's room to warn him. Andreson thanks Nick, but he is tired of running and certain he cannot escape his fate. Back at the diner, George suggests that Andreson must have double-crossed somebody and tells Nick not to think about it. This is advice Nick cannot take; in the end, he resolves to get out of town.
This bare-bones plot summary does little to convey the strength of the story, which is principally concerned with the shock to Nick's system of encountering, first, two banal murderers who might be comic figures but for their submachine guns, and second, a polite and dispirited victim who has no interest in running to avoid his own death. What he left out of "The Killers," Hemingway observed in 1959, was "all Chicago, which is hard to do in 2,951 words," but he also left out a great deal more. For example, a substantial majority of those 2,951 words are spoken in conversation. Hemingway relies principally on dialogue, moves his dramatis personae around with brief stage directions, and leaves it up to the reader to take the point. Only in a couple of places does he allow himself the luxury of commentary. One comes after Al and Max have gone and George has untied Nick and the cook. Instead of writing that Nick Adams had been frightened or terrified or humiliated by the killers who tied up the cook and himself, Hemingway wryly reduces Nick's abasement to the bare observation that "he had never had a towel in his mouth before." And then he permits himself to gloss a line of dialogue. When Sam says not once but twice, "I don't want any more of that," Nick reacts differently, or so it would seem. "Say," he says. "What the hell?" Then Hemingway adds, "He was trying to swagger it off."
In addition, there is one short scene that does not seem to fit in with the rest of the story. This comes when Nick encounters Ole Andreson's landlady immediately after the fighter has sent him away with the repeated observation that there isn't "anything to do" about his impending murder. The landlady is good-hearted and chatty and totally ignorant of the situation, while Nick has nothing much to say. She had told "Mr. Andreson" he ought to take a walk on a fine fall day like this one, she says, but he "didn't feel like it." He has been "in the ring, you know," she tells Nick, who knows. But you would never suspect he had been a fighter, she adds, "except from the way his face is....He's just as gentle." Nick responds only, "Well, good-night. Mrs. Hirsch." but it turns out that he is speaking to Mrs. Bell, who is taking care of the rooming house for Mrs. Hirsch. This last confusion is one of several discrepancies in the story. The counterman George is in charge of Henry's lunchroom, for instance, and the clock on the wall is twenty minutes fast. In the universe of "The Killers," things are not what they seem.
But otherwise, what is the purpose of the conversation with Mrs. Bell? Or, as British playwright Tom Stoppard, an admirer of Hemingway, has asked, "What on earth is this about?" Coming from a dramatist of Stoppard's skill, the question may be taken as a rhetorical one that simply calls attention to Hemingway's genius in inventing this scene. But the question may be answered too: what is going on is that Mrs. Bell, in her benign fashion, represents those ordinary folk who do not and will not encounter the absolute evil that has just confronted Nick Adams. Nick will never again feel comfortable in her world, any more than Krebs in "Soldier's Home," after his experience in the war, is able to imagine a place for himself in his mother's placid and predictable way of life. None of this is actually uttered in "The Killers," but the point is there, between the lines.
In much of Hemingway's fiction, as in "The Killers," violence impinges on everyday existence and leaves everything altered. Yet death and danger have nothing to do with those excellent narratives in which Hemingway explores with sensitivity the difficult relationships between men and women, in this fiction it is striking how often Hemingway uses silence or monosyllabic responses to convey emotion. Like all accomplished dramatists, he understood that in dialogue what is not said can be fully as important as what is. Consider for example Jake's uncomfortable near-silence when Brett cannot stop telling him about her affair with Pedro Romero or Frederic's insensitively monosyllabic reaction to Catherine's announcement that she is pregnant or, in "A Canary for One," the husband's quiet concentration on a fallow landscape as he and his wife return to Paris to establish separate residences. In these and similar works, conversational evasions combine with descriptions of landscape to communicate feelings that Hemingway must leave unarticulated in order to avoid the sentimental and superficial.
Hemingway's influence on those who came after him has been pervasive. His supposedly tight-lipped style and ferocious subject matter are highly susceptible to parody, not all of it intentional. Tough-guy heroes who strut across the literary landscape derive from Hemingway, and so does a great deal of not particularly effective writing using a self-consciously limited vocabulary. Another legacy is his famous image, which continues to provoke young dreamers at their word processors into thinking that the writer's life is one of romance rather than drudgery. The talented storyteller Tobias Wolff, for one, grew up worshipping Hemingway for "a lot of the wrong reasons, although," he notes, I loved his work, too." Inaccurate though it may be, the legend of Ernest Hemingway is slow to die and has not lost its capacity to attract admirers. Still it is the work that matters and will last.
By Scott Donaldson, Louise G.T. Cooley Professor English, emeritus, University of Virginia, in American Writers Retrospective Supplement 1 Copyright 1998 by Charles Scribner's Sons. Used by permission of Charles Scribner's Sons, 1633 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
Copyright 1998 by Charles Scribner's Sons.
Used by permission of Charles Scribner's Sons, 1633 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.Campbell Scott directed the film Off The Map, and received the best actor award from the National Board of Review for his performance in Roger Dodger. His other films include The Secret Lives of Dentists, The Dying Gaul, Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle and Big Night, which he also co-directed.
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