Essays

Ernest Hemingway: Middlebrow Revolutionary

By posted at 6:00 am on June 9, 2016 31

ErnestHemingway

In June 1925, Ernest Hemingway turned to a blank page in his notebook and scrawled these five hopeful words:

Along With Youth

A Novel

Hemingway was 25 years old, living in a cramped Paris apartment with his wife Hadley and their two-year-old son, Jack. He had published two chapbooks with tiny presses in Paris, and sold a collection of stories, In Our Time, to a New York publisher. In Our Time is now a classic, its stories taught in high school and college classrooms around the world, but his advance was just $200 and Hemingway understood that if he didn’t follow the collection up with a novel, it would probably sell a few hundred copies and disappear.

covercovercoverAlong With Youth was a sea story, apparently, set on a troop ship in 1918 and featuring Nick Adams, the Hemingway stand-in who stars in many of the stories in In Our Time. In the opening scene, Nick Adams talks with some Polish officers on the deck of the ship while someone strums a mandolin in the background. The book continued in this vein for 27 largely plotless pages until Hemingway gave up and packed his bags for his annual summer pilgrimage to the bullfights in Pamplona, Spain. Just two months later, in September 1925, he had finished a draft of The Sun Also Rises, the novel that would launch his career.

Hemingway’s epic week of partying at Pamplona’s fiesta de San Fermín in July 1925 is the centerpiece of Lesley M. M. Blume’s new book Everybody Behaves Badly, which traces Hemingway’s rise from a promising young proto-hipster sweating out sentences in a Paris garret to one of the 20th century’s most influential prose stylists.

Ninety years on, it can be hard for readers to comprehend the revelatory shock The Sun Also Rises delivered to its original audience. Yes, the sexuality and decadence of Hemingway’s characters raised eyebrows in a country where Prohibition was still in effect and adultery was against the law in most states. But it went deeper than that. The First World War upended a dynastic landed gentry that had patronized the arts for centuries, and new technologies, most notably movies and mass-circulation magazines, were bringing art and literature to a far wider audience than ever before.

Paris was Ground Zero for the artistic response to these social and technological revolutions, and Hemingway’s innovation was to make the formal experiments of the Parisian avant garde accessible to middlebrow readers. “My book will be praised by highbrows and can be read by lowbrows,” he wrote to Horace Liveright, publisher of In Our Time. “There is no writing in it that anybody with a high-school education cannot read.”

Hemingway was ideally suited to this role of middlebrow revolutionary. He was not only an American, but a Midwesterner, raised in the Chicago suburbs far removed from the urban cultural elite. Also, unlike many of his fellow Modernists, who attended the best universities in Europe and the U.S., Hemingway never went to college and served his apprenticeship not at Harvard or University College Dublin, but in the newsrooms of provincial newspapers and in the cafés and salons of Paris.

covercoverThis, the story of how Hemingway became Hemingway, is the subject of Everybody Behaves Badly. It’s a tale that has been told many times, but it bears repeating, in part because the version that most people know, the one told by Hemingway in his posthumous memoir A Moveable Feast, is so deeply disingenuous, and in part because it demystifies the legend and makes Hemingway’s achievement comprehensible in human terms.

The Hemingway of Blume’s book is not especially likeable. In A Moveable Feast, he paints his Paris years as a time of almost sacred poverty (“Hunger is good discipline and you learn from it,” etc., etc.), neatly eliding the fact that for much of his Paris period, he lived off his wife’s trust fund. Like many men who pride themselves on their toughness and self-reliance, Hemingway was almost comically insecure and prone to betray anyone who had the effrontery to do him a favor. In a typically gratuitous move, he repaid Sherwood Anderson, who had given Hemingway crucial letters of introduction to Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound, by writing The Torrents of Spring, a poisonous and unfunny satire of Anderson’s novel Dark Laughter.

But if the young Hemingway was an asshole, and he was, he was a preternaturally talented and savvy one. In Everybody Behaves Badly, he seeks out the high priests of the Parisian avant garde one by one, soaking up what each has to teach him before abruptly casting them aside. Their influence permeates his work, from the stream-of-consciousness riffs in his stories to the famous epigraph to The Sun Also Rises — “You are all a lost generation” — supplied by Stein.

But nothing exerted a more profound influence on Hemingway’s fiction than his work as a reporter. Hemingway wrote for newspapers, principally the Toronto Star, off and on for about four years, filing from war zones and writing travel and feature pieces about expat life in Europe. He never loved the work, and after a disastrous stint at the home office of the Star in Toronto he quit altogether to live off Hadley’s trust fund, but news writing not only gave his prose its signature economy of expression and coolly objective tone, it taught him to see the news value in a story. It’s not for nothing that Hemingway knocked out a draft of The Sun Also Rises in a matter of weeks. He saw in his 1925 trip to Pamplona a perfect vehicle for telling the hot story of the dissipated post-war generation in Europe, and he wanted to get it into print before it went stale.

The first draft of The Sun Also Rises was so close to reportage that Hemingway didn’t even change the characters’ names. The most famous of these are Lady Duff Twysden and Harold Loeb, whom Hemingway immortalized in the published version as Lady Brett Ashley and her moony former lover Robert Cohn. Along for the ride in Pamplona was Twysden’s fiancé, Pat Guthrie, who like his fictional alter ego Mike Campbell was an alcoholic bankrupt who put up with Twysden’s compulsive promiscuity. In life as in fiction, shortly before the Pamplona trip, Twysden had run off with Loeb for a sex-soaked weekend at a seaside resort — and in life as in fiction, the affair was just as much over for Twysden as it was alive for poor, lovestruck Loeb.

Then there’s Hemingway himself, the model for the novel’s narrator, Jake Barnes. Blume says it’s unclear whether Hemingway had an affair with Twysden, but he was clearly fascinated by her and deeply envious of Loeb, whose first novel, Doodab, was set for publication in New York later that year. Then, too, in the summer of 1925, Hemingway was trapped between his unraveling marriage to Hadley and a nascent affair with his soon-to-be second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer.

In The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway airbrushes Hadley out of the tale and gives his alter ego, Jake Barnes, a war wound that renders him impotent while still allowing him the full range of romantic and sexual desire. As literary strategies go, this is a stroke of genius, transforming his autobiographical narrator from a husband with a wandering eye to poignant, wounded hero. But it’s more than that, too. In the architecture of the novel, Jake’s war injury turns him into that rarest of beasts: a knowing innocent, a man of appetites who is incapable of sin.

coverThis works so well because, like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, published just the year before, The Sun Also Rises is a novel about the tyranny of unbounded appetite. Hemingway’s characters spend the book consuming things: drink, food, bloody spectacle, each other. “It kept up day and night for seven days,” he writes of the fiesta. “The dancing kept up, the drinking kept up, the noise went on. The things that happened could only have happened during a fiesta. Everything became quite unreal finally and it seemed as though nothing could have any consequence. It seemed out of place to think of consequences during the fiesta.”

What is true in Pamplona is true in more subtle ways elsewhere in the novel. None of the characters are tied down by marriage or have children to care for. Except for Jake, they have no visible employment, and thus no jobs to lose. They either have enough money not have to worry about it, or are so perpetually broke that it has ceased to worry them. This, more than the war, which has little practical effect on anyone but Jake, is what makes them “lost.” They lead lives in which their actions have ceased to have meaningful consequences. This is why Robert Cohn is so furious at Lady Brett: He wants their affair to have meant something, if not to her, then at least to the other men who are in love with her, Jake and Mike Campbell.

In a traditional novel, the kind that the Parisian avant garde sought to outmode, this heedlessness would spell the characters’ doom. The temptress Lady Brett would have to be destroyed so bourgeois society could carry on, in the way Jay Gatsby must be destroyed at the end of The Great Gatsby. But nothing like that happens in The Sun Also Rises. In Pamplona, Brett seduces a 19-year-old bullfighter, Pedro Romero, the walking epitome of the Hemingway hero: handsome, self-assured, brave without artifice. “Romero’s bull-fighting gave real emotion,” Hemingway writes, “because he kept the absolute purity of line in his movements and always quietly and calmly let the horns pass him each time.”

Here at last, after hundreds of pages of drinking and eating and fucking, is the act that tears at the social fabric of the novel. Lady Brett seduces the pure young bullfighter, with Jake himself providing the introductions, yet no one in the novel suffers real consequence. After his first night with Brett, Romero performs so well in the ring that he is allowed to cut off a bull’s ear as a trophy, and after their affair has run its course, Brett sends him on his way, and slithers back to her long-suffering fiancé.

This, finally, is the true modernity of Hemingway’s novel. In the fictive world of F. Scott Fitzgerald, a brilliant 20th-century stylist with a 19th-century sensibility, Gatsby must die for the sin of daring to rise above his station and love whomever he wants. In the fictive world of The Sun Also Rises, Lady Brett Ashley, the witty, decadent castoff of Britain’s dying aristocracy, can live however the hell she pleases without it costing her a thing.

Except that it does cost her one thing: Jake Barnes. A central conceit of the novel is that Jake would marry Brett but doesn’t because he can’t physically consummate the relationship, but after her affair with Romero, Jake finally tires of his high-maintenance girlfriend. When Brett tells him, “You know it makes one feel rather good deciding not to be a bitch…It’s sort of what we have instead of God,” Jake replies wryly: “Some people have God.” And a little later when Brett tries to weasel back into his affections, saying, “Oh Jake, we could have had such a damned good time together,” he responds with perhaps the most famous last line in American literature: “Yes. Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

And there it is, the revolution of the middlebrow. With an act of literary sleight of hand only a master could pull off, Hemingway manages to have it both ways: Lady Brett and her ilk live in a modern amoral world without consequences, and yet we his readers, through the eyes of Jake Barnes, the hard-boiled innocent, have judged her and found her wanting.

Image Credit: Wikipedia.





Share this article

More from the Millions

31 Responses to “Ernest Hemingway: Middlebrow Revolutionary”

  1. Sean H
    at 4:25 pm on June 9, 2016

    Eh, I’m kind of tired of how every genius or revolutionary now gets pilloried with these character assassinations. Especially when they’re those evil, evil white males who guilty liberals love to hate and judge them by the standards of 2016 no matter when and where they lived. You rarely hear Virginia Woolf’s or Toni Morrison’s personalities criticized or statements like the header here – “Like many men who pride themselves…”. I mean, if you wrote a paragraph about Toni that started with “Like many black women who pride themselves on being outspoken…” people would scream racism and sexism from the trees.

    When did we start caring about whether or not someone was an “asshole” anyway? The line “But if the young Hemingway was an asshole, and he was, he was a preternaturally talented and savvy one” is particularly telling. We don’t read Hemingway because of what he was like to his friends or what his OKCupid profile would look like, we read him because of the talent and the savvy. Bourne’s statement gets it inverted, as if he’s saying “Oh, by the way, he changed the face of literature.” This also seems far more prevalent in the arts than in the sciences. You don’t read a lot of essays about Newton that essentially say he was a jerk to his friends or he ate other people’s apples out of the community basket and, oh, by the way, sort of did important research about gravity.

  2. farnley doon
    at 5:35 pm on June 9, 2016

    “When did we start caring about whether or not someone was an “asshole” anyway?”

    I think people have always been interested in what artists are like in real life. Art is a transmutation of real life and experience into an invented simulacrum that both mimics and critiques the thing it’s based on, so there’s something inherently interesting about artist’s lives. We know better than to draw a one to one correlation between the life and the art, and we know not to use the life to judge aspects of the text, but still, there’s a reason great writers usually get a biographer on the case. The comparison with scientists is specious because a scientist’s personal life manifestly has nothing to do with his work on string theory.

  3. Ryan Blacketter
    at 8:53 am on June 10, 2016

    The new editor has transformed a solid literary site into yet another campus rally of Millennial kids long on SJW complaints and short on literary values. The destruction of this singular site in favor of campus conformity is depressing.

  4. Jim Rancid Owl
    at 9:58 am on June 10, 2016

    “The new editor has transformed a solid literary site into yet another campus rally of Millennial kids long on SJW complaints and short on literary values. The destruction of this singular site in favor of campus conformity is depressing.”

    I don’t understand the complaints (yours or first commenter’s) with this article, which is a fairly interesting short take on the genesis of “The Sun Also Rises.” Is it controversial to say Hemingway was an asshole? I thought that was an Accepted Thing, and the article’s detailing of it, including the gratuitous attack on Sherwood Anderson and living off his wife’s trust fund while writing about divine hunger, are funny. They’re also germane to a consideration of TSAR, as the book itself is kind of a work of great assholery, concerning assholes.

    Is it the “Like many men…” bit? Have you not met a lot of men like this (i.e. unbelievably insecure tough guys?) I have, it rings true. Again, what’s the problem, or is this just pro forma internet hostility?

  5. Ryan Blacketter
    at 11:03 am on June 10, 2016

    Rest easy, it’s only profound disappointment. The article offers the same ho hum insights into Hem that we have heard from campus radicals who will never write well because they don’t know that they too share in the failures of humanity. Look inward. Look in the mirror. You are not so fine, and neither am I.

    No, not the usual internet hostility. I actually care about this, and have used my real name.

  6. Michael Bourne
    at 1:46 pm on June 10, 2016

    Just to clear up any misconceptions: I am not only not a Millennial, but am old enough, at least technically, to be the father of one. I also had to Google SJW, which cracked me up. I wasn’t even a Social Justice Warrior when it might have been age-appropriate. Finally, whatever failings this piece may have, they are not the fault of Lydia Kiesling, our new fearless editor. I have been a staff writer for The Millions since 2011.

    As to the more substantive critiques of the piece: I do think Hemingway’s personality is crucial to understanding his work because his work is so nakedly autobiographical.This is especially true in the case of The Sun Also Rises. Jake Barnes is but one missing body part away from his creator, and as I say in the piece, the first draft of Sun Also Rises was written using real names. In today’s market, it might well have stayed that way and been published as memoir.

    What’s interesting, and part of what I tried to get at in the piece, is how slyly Hemingway uses Jake’s physical wound to shape the reader’s opinion of him. In fact, Hemingway went to Pamplona full of guilt about his unraveling marriage, which would end in little more than a year when he left Hadley for Pauline Pfeiffer. In the novel, he removes his own penis. Within the world of the novel, this makes him incapable of sin, and thus our lens for judging the morality of the other characters. It’s a brilliant, and telling, literary sleight of hand.

  7. Esoth
    at 4:56 pm on June 10, 2016

    Again, with the living off Hadley’s Trust Fund? It’s a dead give away, to mention it twice in such a short, idiotic essay, that it is intended as still another attempt to explain away or dismiss Hemingway. Bourne also assesses the impact of the War by its lack of “practical effect” as if that were what the novel was about. What were they all fleeing from then, Bourne? And Jake Barnes judges himself and was found wanting, apart from any anatomical deficit. More was lost to that generation in that war than the opportunity to have had a damned good time together.

  8. Jim Rancid Owl
    at 5:19 pm on June 10, 2016

    TIL that there’s a coterie of Hemingway defenders who come out spoiling for a fight when Papa is criticized (while also being called a genius and master). About one out of ten articles on The Millions draws a contentious comment field, but I would not have predicted it would be this one!

  9. priskill
    at 6:02 pm on June 10, 2016

    “Jake Barnes is but one body part away from his creator” — laughing laughing laughing.

    I enjoyed this piece which repeatedly admits of EH’s genius while acknowledging flaws. And more importantly, examines how various attributes feed the art –and no pun intended since there’s a bit of a kerfuffle on the starving artist vs trust fundee dichotomy. It’s a little primer on how the artist might redefine and configure various autobiographical elements into something new and strange. It is kind of fascinating to know the real story versus the fictional, and I enjoyed the evenhandedness of this piece.

  10. Ryan Blacketter
    at 8:02 am on June 11, 2016

    SJW is not as romantic as it sounds. It suggests a person who is tormented by hanging sombreros at a Mexican restaurant due to their cultural appropriation.

    Assuming that a novel is memoir and making neat claims about Hem’s Penis is plain silly, and completely unserious.

    Yes, Millennial victim ideology abounds in this site of late.

  11. Jim Rancid Owl
    at 12:16 pm on June 11, 2016

    “SJW is not as romantic as it sounds. It suggests a person who is tormented by hanging sombreros at a Mexican restaurant due to their cultural appropriation.

    Assuming that a novel is memoir and making neat claims about Hem’s Penis is plain silly, and completely unserious.

    Yes, Millennial victim ideology abounds in this site of late.”

    Or, maybe it’s possible this is some kind of bugbear of yours, and you see it everywhere you look? Because there’s honestly very little SJW about identifying memoirish aspects of TSAR and its genesis, and making a point about Jake Barnes’ impotence as a narrative device, a point that I’ve never seen made before and found pretty interesting. Even if you reject this approach as an overly biographical means of understanding the novel, I still fail to see what’s SJW or “millennial victim,” or whatever it is you’re going on about, about it.

  12. Dena
    at 12:07 pm on June 12, 2016

    This is sort of a timing thing because came across this article via Lithub and I thought it was interesting. Via a recent book rescue via my local public library — I’ve been reading a lot about Hemingway and reconsidering some things about him as a person and a writer. Sylvia Beach in her memoir about Shakespeare and Co., notes he had some conflicts with people, but generally he was the guy in the circle of expats that gave other struggling writers rent money and got them out of other trouble because their French was bad. Lillian Hellman in her memoir an Unfinished Woman, noted he wasn’t her favorite person, and she sort of called him out on a proof of a novel, she said it was missing pages, only to be told later by Dorothy Parker — Hemingway had to cut the pages via order of the publisher. And Parker added that he was a terrible self-editor, and then Hellman realized she inadvertently embarrassed him by hitting that on the head. Reading now Hemingway and Jake–memoir by Vernon (Jake) Klimo assisted by Will Oursler, about his friendship with Hemingway’s younger brother Hank, working on his boat, and about his relationship with Hemingway himself — good/bad. From all these different points of view I’m getting such a different picture of the man both as a complicated individual and a writer from a lot of sources–the eyes of other people who knew him in different ways and times of his life.

  13. George Balanchine
    at 10:31 pm on June 12, 2016

    Interesting article. Interestingly, none of the aggrieved commentators address the most interesting thing about it, whether Hemingway could be seen as a middlebrow.
    This reminds me of Dwight Macdonald, who discussed this thoroughly in Mass-cult and Mid-cult in the 1950s.
    Anyway…for once an interesting link from Arts and Letters Daily.

    Sincerely,
    George Balanchine

  14. Scott Edmiston
    at 11:13 am on June 13, 2016

    G.B.: “This reminds me of Dwight Macdonald, who discussed this thoroughly in Mass-cult and Mid-cult in the 1950s. . . middlebrow.”

    Ummm.. No.

    I might have been interested in taking up the author’s challenge, wrestling with the article’s content had he not polluted his work with hit and run snarky aspersions against Hemingway such as “asshole” and “proto-hipster”. These kinds of acrid cheap shots encourage a reader not to take seriously the ideas of one who has clearly written an article that he wants to be taken seriously. If Hemingway was ‘middlebrow’, then I dare say the world needs more middlebrows. He wasn’t a saint and I’m up for a healthy dose of provocative critique and/or literary to and fro, but alas not of the sort that the author offers.

  15. Myyyygod
    at 11:24 am on June 13, 2016

    Speaking of bourgeois middlebrow morals, Sean H and others are right to pick up on the sneering contempt at Hemingway due to his white maleness.

    “Like many men who pride themselves on their toughness and self-reliance, Hemingway was almost comically insecure and prone to betray anyone who had the effrontery to do him a favor. ”

    Replace that sentence with “woman” and see how insanely over the top it become, along with numerous others in this review.

  16. Jonathan Clarke
    at 12:10 pm on June 13, 2016

    I think this piece has a strong argument that has gotten lost (perhaps partly the author’s part) in the discussion of the relevance of Hemingway’s personal qualities:

    “The Sun Also Rises is a novel about the tyranny of unbounded appetite. Hemingway’s characters spend the book consuming things: drink, food, bloody spectacle, each other. “It kept up day and night for seven days,” he writes of the fiesta. “The dancing kept up, the drinking kept up, the noise went on. The things that happened could only have happened during a fiesta. Everything became quite unreal finally and it seemed as though nothing could have any consequence. It seemed out of place to think of consequences during the fiesta.”

    What is true in Pamplona is true in more subtle ways elsewhere in the novel. None of the characters are tied down by marriage or have children to care for. Except for Jake, they have no visible employment, and thus no jobs to lose. They either have enough money not have to worry about it, or are so perpetually broke that it has ceased to worry them. This, more than the war, which has little practical effect on anyone but Jake, is what makes them “lost.” They lead lives in which their actions have ceased to have meaningful consequences. This is why Robert Cohn is so furious at Lady Brett: He wants their affair to have meant something, if not to her, then at least to the other men who are in love with her, Jake and Mike Campbell.

    In a traditional novel, the kind that the Parisian avant garde sought to outmode, this heedlessness would spell the characters’ doom. The temptress Lady Brett would have to be destroyed so bourgeois society could carry on, in the way Jay Gatsby must be destroyed at the end of The Great Gatsby. But nothing like that happens in The Sun Also Rises. In Pamplona, Brett seduces a 19-year-old bullfighter, Pedro Romero, the walking epitome of the Hemingway hero: handsome, self-assured, brave without artifice. “Romero’s bull-fighting gave real emotion,” Hemingway writes, “because he kept the absolute purity of line in his movements and always quietly and calmly let the horns pass him each time.”

    Here at last, after hundreds of pages of drinking and eating and fucking, is the act that tears at the social fabric of the novel. Lady Brett seduces the pure young bullfighter, with Jake himself providing the introductions, yet no one in the novel suffers real consequence. After his first night with Brett, Romero performs so well in the ring that he is allowed to cut off a bull’s ear as a trophy, and after their affair has run its course, Brett sends him on his way, and slithers back to her long-suffering fiancé.

    This, finally, is the true modernity of Hemingway’s novel. In the fictive world of F. Scott Fitzgerald, a brilliant 20th-century stylist with a 19th-century sensibility, Gatsby must die for the sin of daring to rise above his station and love whomever he wants. In the fictive world of The Sun Also Rises, Lady Brett Ashley, the witty, decadent castoff of Britain’s dying aristocracy, can live however the hell she pleases without it costing her a thing.

    Except that it does cost her one thing: Jake Barnes. A central conceit of the novel is that Jake would marry Brett but doesn’t because he can’t physically consummate the relationship, but after her affair with Romero, Jake finally tires of his high-maintenance girlfriend. When Brett tells him, “You know it makes one feel rather good deciding not to be a bitch…It’s sort of what we have instead of God,” Jake replies wryly: “Some people have God.” And a little later when Brett tries to weasel back into his affections, saying, “Oh Jake, we could have had such a damned good time together,” he responds with perhaps the most famous last line in American literature: “Yes. Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

    And there it is, the revolution of the middlebrow. With an act of literary sleight of hand only a master could pull off, Hemingway manages to have it both ways: Lady Brett and her ilk live in a modern amoral world without consequences, and yet we his readers, through the eyes of Jake Barnes, the hard-boiled innocent, have judged her and found her wanting.”

    This idea that the “tyranny of the unbounded appetite” is the unseen theme of TSAR is provocative and interesting, I think. Michael Bourne–I’d love to see you develop this idea further. It certainly feels true to my experience of the novel, and I haven’t see it put quite this way before, despite the enormous volume of scholarship on EH. H.R. Stoneback’s book about TSAR might be a good place to start.

  17. Jim Rancid Owl
    at 8:32 pm on June 13, 2016

    “Speaking of bourgeois middlebrow morals, Sean H and others are right to pick up on the sneering contempt at Hemingway due to his white maleness.
    “Like many men who pride themselves on their toughness and self-reliance, Hemingway was almost comically insecure and prone to betray anyone who had the effrontery to do him a favor. ”
    Replace that sentence with “woman” and see how insanely over the top it become, along with numerous others in this review.”

    1) It isn’t white maleness he’s making a generalization about, it’s maleness. It’s male insecurity. As perfectly dramatized in this comments section by the the men comically affronted by this apparently accurate generalization.

    2) It’s strange to me that the anti-PC/anti-thought police/anti-SJW brigade here would so assiduously police the author’s rather innocuous remarks re: Hem’s masculinity and character, on the basis of some perceived or hypothetical unfairness in arguing the same about other genders or races. This seems like the very essence of what these commenters are arguing against. Be the change you wish to see in the world, boys!

  18. VnB
    at 6:06 am on June 14, 2016

    “This seems like the very essence of what these commenters are arguing against. Be the change you wish to see in the world, boys!”

    Absolutely. Don’t criticise something you don’t like boys! You don’t want to take a stand against your betters! That might undermine their smug sense of self-satisfaction!

  19. Stan Tontas
    at 7:55 am on June 14, 2016

    I enjoyed this essay. I wasn’t aware quite how autobiographical TSAR was and the author’s central point about the distancing device around the narration is thought provoking and frankly, a funny image. (What _would_ Papa have been without little Papa…?)

    For more base reasons, I also enjoyed the comments from Hemingway fans aping the master’s brittle machismo.

  20. Dirty Shanks
    at 11:24 am on June 14, 2016

    “Absolutely. Don’t criticise something you don’t like boys! You don’t want to take a stand against your betters! That might undermine their smug sense of self-satisfaction!”

    Or, you know, don’t get all offended and sensitive about other people’s hypothetical sensitivity and offense-taking. In general, the Embattled White Male is one of the most odious species in the internet taxonomy of odiousness, and the spectacle of EWMs rushing to Papa’s aid in this comment section is pretty funny.

  21. Gart
    at 3:26 pm on June 14, 2016

    Can someone explain to me what Hemingway’s skin color has to do with anything? It’s not mentioned in the piece.

  22. Dirty Shanks
    at 8:32 pm on June 14, 2016

    Gart,

    It doesn’t. But he is, in fact, a white male, and people are getting tangentially mad about the perceived license granted to criticize white males as a group, by way of conjuring an impossible counterfactual in which, say, a black woman was similarly criticized. This may or may not be impossible, although as a white man, I will say that if the worst thing white men have to endure to maintain their seemingly eternal position at the top of the privilege heap is the occasional stereotyping barb, I’m all for it!

  23. The Charlottesville Shoat
    at 5:58 pm on June 15, 2016

    So much going on in these comments! So many people talking past each other!

    Hemingway has been a whipping boy of the “ism”/ theory departments from their inception sometime in the late 60’s, which punishment took the form of ignoring his contributions to modernist style. In fact, they denied, at their crudest, that he made any contribution to literature at all, because the accusation of chauvinism (now white male privilege) trumped all argument, if I remember correctly the early days of such criticism. “Hemingway was bad to his wives, therefore he should be shunned as a non-person and his name stricken.”

    The problem embattled white males have with this attack is its patent absurdity. Make the argument against Picasso, against Brahms and Schumann’s wife, whomever you choose. It doesn’t hold water, unless you’re selling something other than the study and understanding of literature, art, or music. WHICH THEY ARE, namely a brand of Maoism in the Academy, seeking intimidation and power. (Sorry, no italics available.) See: Melissa Click.

    This has all morphed into a scornful, condescending presumption that all white males are oafish, despicable rapists, incapable of creating art in any of its forms. It’s an attitude that’s trickled so successfully down the decades that now even dim adjunct professors at community colleges give their students no choice in the matter, on pain of banishment, based on my interviews with some of these folks.

    A complaint I see in comments here, and a flaw I also see, is that the author couldn’t advance his very interesting critical thesis without multiple throwaway references to EH’s semi-bad behavior or character, a form of struggle session, a kowtowing to the prevailing orthodoxy. Without even knowing it, perhaps, he hedges his short review with a sort of, “As we all know, all white males like Hemingway are beneath contempt [multiple citations], but indulge me in my little conceit of actually discussing the book.”

  24. Steve "Gravy" Garvy
    at 6:32 pm on June 15, 2016

    @ TCS

    Whew. Overstate much? Look, I get that there are aspects of campus progressivism and PCness that are odious and annoying. But come on, mate.

    Point by point:

    1) You make it sound like there was some concerted effort to strike Papa from the modernist canon, as if such a thing were possible, even if desirable. Anyway, there wasn’t. Did he fall out of favor/fashion because of his often risible machismo and occasional misogyny? Yes, although having spend quite a few years teaching at a larger MFA program, I will attest that his influence and value have been resurrected and are accepted, even if the strenuous manliness still rubs people the wrong way. Same with Updike at present. Writers go in and out of fashion all the time, for lots of different reasons, without there being a Grand PC Conspiracy behind it. And actually, being something of a tone-deaf dick about half the population is really not the worst reason for posthumous career reappraisals, as these things go.

    In a larger sense, if you think there’s a concerted effort by the Academy to destroy white male hegemony and credibility, you must also think that it is an effort that has failed and is failing, considering the average college syllabus is still mostly white guys, and considering that white guys continue to dominate the workforce and publishing lists.

    2) “The problem embattled white males have with this attack is its patent absurdity. Make the argument against Picasso, against Brahms and Schumann’s wife, whomever you choose. It doesn’t hold water, unless you’re selling something other than the study and understanding of literature, art, or music. WHICH THEY ARE, namely a brand of Maoism in the Academy, seeking intimidation and power. (Sorry, no italics available.) See: Melissa Click.”

    What is absurd? What doesn’t hold water? Maoism in the Academy, what? Wtf are you talking about? And are you mistaking this 1000 word bio-essay about the genesis of TSAR for a doctoral thesis?

    3) “This has all morphed into a scornful, condescending presumption that all white males are oafish, despicable rapists, incapable of creating art in any of its forms.”

    I mean, just come on with this shit. Do you really think this? I am a white male who creates art for a semi-living, and I have not encountered this anywhere, ever. This statement is of a piece with several others in the comments, just hysterical and untethered to reality. For instance, did you even read the article? It’s mostly about how TSAR is great and masterly/genius, and that Jake Barnes’ impotence is a narrative masterstroke (pun int.). I feel like I read a different essay than you and others here.

    4) “A complaint I see in comments here, and a flaw I also see, is that the author couldn’t advance his very interesting critical thesis without multiple throwaway references to EH’s semi-bad behavior or character, a form of struggle session, a kowtowing to the prevailing orthodoxy. Without even knowing it, perhaps, he hedges his short review with a sort of, “As we all know, all white males like Hemingway are beneath contempt [multiple citations], but indulge me in my little conceit of actually discussing the book.”

    The author couldn’t advance his interesting critical thesis without referring to EH’s semi-bad behavior and character, because his thesis is directly about EH’s bad behavior and character. The whole point of this essay is about the memoirish nature of TSAR, which is about people (that he knew) behaving badly, and how he ingeniously circumvented some of these problems by removing Jake Barnes’ dick. I mean, how does this essay exist if he doesn’t refer to this stuff? I’m at a loss.

  25. Sean H
    at 3:39 pm on June 16, 2016

    I think Charlottesville Stoat is pretty right but I also think Garvy’s argument would have been right fifteen years ago. The last couple of decades have seen a very serious shift int he academy where “cultural studies” have replaced literary rigor. Kids get English majors without having read Shakespeare but having read a lot of Junot Diaz and Sandra Cisneros and various other flavors of the week for two and a half years, then as juniors and seniors they might have to actually read Heart of Darkness but then only through the prism of postcolonialism, or if they do read Shakespeare it’s so a prof can speak about The Tempest as if it’s a play about the woes of Caliban. I agree with Gravy that writers go in and out of fashion for a lot of reasons, but do you really think Edwidge Dandicat’s prose is any good, or does a lot of the attention she gets have to do with what she writes about and her race/gender?
    Of course there’s maoism in the academy. If you’re anywhere to the right of Mao you can’t get tenure. Republicans and conservatives are treated like lepers in academia. Check out Nicholas Kristof’s piece in the NY Times (5/7/16) about liberal intolerance.
    Stoat’s point about “a scornful, condescending presumption that all white males are oafish, despicable rapists, incapable of creating art in any of its forms” is not ovrestatement. The prevalent belief is that James Baldwin was a god and anyone else not black or gay or radical or victimized or what have you is not worthy of being taught. Even if they teach David Foster Wallace they spend about two second talking about his literary inventiveness and then digress to the issues that fit their political POV of celebrating victimization (DFW was a victim of Depression – which to them is a medical malady as opposed to deep and profound human sadness).
    The larger issue is the lack of objectivity. Plenty of professors brag about hating jocks, or treating students who are religious or conservative badly because they are “evil” and de facto sexist and racist. These are people who were bred of identity politics and regurgitate it themselves. Bourne may not be a millennial, but he’s old enough to be a product of (and maybe is one himself) what we now call SJWs — guilty white liberals.

  26. Steve "Gravy" Garvy
    at 9:41 am on June 17, 2016

    Sean H,

    I’m curious what your and TCS’s personal experience is with this. I’ve been in academia the last ~10 years, in the English department of three different large universities–one Ivy and two public institutions. What you and TCS describe has some basis in truth, but in the same way that conservative depictions of, say, Obamacare, have basis in truth–potentially reasonable complaints are exaggerated and distorted to the point that it’s difficult to take them seriously or engage with them. Your depiction of academia reads more like a Weekly Standard cartoon caricature of academia than the real thing, i.e. Maoist professors openly ridiculing jocks, burning Shakespeare, and foisting a syllabus of exclusively queer Dominican poetry on an unsuspecting Intro to Literature class.

    To be sure, nowadays (and for the last two decades) English critical theory is as much or in some places more about queer/gender/racial theory than it is about Shakespeare. This is partly a political corrective, I suppose, and partly just because there may not be a lot of dissertations left to be written about Shakespeare. I have at times lamented this very thing, but at the same time, I understand that some of the stridency and rhetoric comes from long underrepresented folks wanting a seat at the table, and at times, forcibly taking one. Does this make me a Guilty White Liberal? Maybe. I like to think it also makes me Not Entirely an Asshole.

    You mock the teaching of writers like Diaz and Cisneros, as though a multicultural syllabus is a bad thing or would damage a student. And yeah, actually, I think Danticat’s The Dewbreaker (all I’ve read by her, admittedly) is quite good. Your flip dismissal of writers like this is troubling on its face, but it also sets up a false dichotomy, of either teaching The Towering White Giants of the Western Canon, or Those New Brown People. I like some writers of both categories more than others, but I do think an ideal modern liberal arts education would include some of both. And part of the reason I’d include postcolonial/multicultural readings is because of the political value–because these authors have something to say about where literature is moving in a connected 21st Century. Ironically, the writers you’re presumably lamenting not being taught, Conrad or whoever, were at one point the political writers of their day, who were seen by some as ephemeral or fashionable, and a distraction from the real thing like Pope or Donne.

    Ironically in a broader sense, you’re just wrong about Shakespeare not being taught. Maybe this is true in certain schools, or departments, but I feel my work experience has been broad and representative enough to, with some confidence, flatly disagree with this idea. Old White Guys are still getting taught, they’re just not the only thing getting taught. Also, English and creative writing departments are full of white men, as are publishing lists, as are new hire lists on various job sites–check out some of the academic job wiki lists if you doubt this. My experience as a white man in these departments has almost exclusively been collegial–not once was I accused of being an oaf or rapist, despicable or otherwise! Though, again, I am Not Entirely an Asshole, so YMMV.

    In general, I find your and TCS’s complaints and tone a bit reminiscent of the tone of many Trump supporters–there seems to be a type of white guy that feels like losing any power or prestige is tantamount to losing all of it. The degree of persecution and unfairness you seem to feel simply does not square with a reality in which a plurality and probably a majority of teaching jobs are held by white men, in which white men continue to dominate syllabi, in which white men’s manuscripts are not immediately set on fire when they cross a publisher’s desk.

  27. Gart
    at 11:20 am on June 17, 2016

    I long for the day that literature once again belongs not to fucking academia but to people who actually read and enjoy books. A professor’s ability to absolutely suck the life and fun out of literature, never more apparent than right here in this comment section, is really, really sad.

  28. Moe Murph
    at 12:36 pm on June 17, 2016

    MAKE THE WESTERN CANON GREAT AGAIN!

    Moe Murph
    Temporarily Inhabited by Bilious Spirit of Drumph Spokesmodel Sam Clovis

  29. Ellen
    at 5:29 pm on June 21, 2016

    Michael Bourne, curiosity about the comments on your funny channeling of Trump drove me to this &, ignoring all the comments after all, I was reminded of this very interesting review of Hemingway’s posthumously published “True at First Light,” in which (the review) James Wood does one of the best analyses of the author’s style I’ve ever read. It does have a weird throwaway that would drive some of these commenters to madness, so I’ll reproduce it here to save anyone at risk from the perils that reading such a thing presents:

    “The book’s preoccupation with the traffic of machismo — sex, drinking, hunting — is tiresome not because it is a preoccupation, something that all books have, after all, but because it is an unexplained preoccupation.”

    “Something that all books have?” Anyway, that paragraph is actually where the smart part starts.

    https://www.nytimes.com/books/99/07/11/reviews/990711.11woodlt.html

  30. Elliott
    at 5:10 pm on June 24, 2016

    Really well written and loved the literary criticism of Hemingway, probably more than the “dig up decades old dirt on author-celebrity” book which are pretty much all the same at this point. Author was imperfect human. Author maybe was skanky. Author exaggerated achievements/poverty. Author author author

  31. Ken
    at 5:19 pm on August 17, 2016

    I’m a Hemingway aficionado and have read a dozen or so books about his life but it only occurred to me reading this article that he married Hadley, lived off of her trust fund, divorced her, then married Pauline and lived off of her trust fund. His first African safari was funded by Pauline’s uncle and the house in cuba was largely financed by her. His third wife Martha was also wealthy by the time they married; but so was he by then.

    There are so many contradictions in his life. His persona is ‘man’s man’ but there are a lot of photos of him in his younger years in which his posture can be described as effeminate. I think he was living in a self-made movie of the self he wanted to be but really wasn’t.

Post a Response

Comments with unrelated links will be deleted. If you'd like to reach our readers, consider buying an advertisement instead.

Anonymous and pseudonymous comments that do not add to the conversation will be deleted at our discretion.