Works of Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

133599My belletrist wife (Sheila Bosworth, author of two published novels) was working on a paper for her literary club on the subject of The Lost Generation, which involved a good deal of Hemingway and his coterie; I had never read much Hemingway, only the Kilimanjaro, the Macomber, and a few other tales but no novels; so I decided to have a look at “The Sun Also Rises,” “A Farewell to Arms,” “Islands in the Stream,” and “The Old Man and the Sea,” which I suppose are representative.

IMHO the Sun is way overrated. It consists of the account of a coterie of deadbeats, no doubt fairly representative of the Lost Generation, drinking and shagging their way from Paris to Pamplona with several barstops in between. Their conversations are mostly trivial, and the chief shaggerette, age 34, breaks all the records. But for literary critics, the first person narrator, impotent from a war injury, is a stand-in for the whole war-torn Lost Generation.

The Farewell I thought a lot better, especially his account of the retreat after the battle of Caporetto; Hemingway was an ambulance driver in WWI and was wounded. The themes are major and tragic, as opposed to the trivialities of the Sun.

41SeKMs271L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Islands, published posthumously, I liked best of all; it’s also the longest. The fictitious hero, Thomas Hudson, is a professional sailor and occasional chaser of wartime German subs in the Caribbean, and the narrative moves along, holding our interest despite occasional lapses into nautical lore leaving a nonspecialist stranded: “David had the rod butt in the gimble and was looking up at the clothespin on the outrigger line.”

“The Old Man and the Sea,” which won the Pulitzer in 1953, is a short piece about a one-day deepsea fishing trip by an ancient fisherman who struggles with a thousand-pound fish and finally prevails, lashes the dead fish to his dinghy, and sets out for home triumphantly though tiredly looking forward to exhibiting his monster victim; but the fates spin otherwise, and his trophy is attacked by sharks on the way back, so that all he has to exhibit at the docks is a skeleton (though a very long one, so he does get some glory). It’s not a bad tale at all, and its most famous quote is “But man is not made for defeat,” he said. “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”

Thomas Lemann

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