How Ernest Hemingway really responded to the Spanish flu pandemic


Ernest Hemingway, July 1918, American Red Cross Hospital, Milan, Italy.
Buckley, Peter, Ernest, Dial Press, New York, 1978

Eamonn O’Neill, Edinburgh Napier University

Earlier this year, as the world came to terms with the coronavirus pandemic, a letter purporting to have been written by F Scott Fitzgerald in the midst of the 1918 flu pandemic did the rounds on the internet. It was, of course, a parody, but the writing style and notes to his pal Ernest Hemingway meant the letter – unless you’re a Fitzgerald expert – was pretty convincing:

At this time, it seems very poignant to avoid all public spaces. Even the bars, as I told Hemingway, but to that he punched me in the stomach, to which I asked if he had washed his hands. He hadn’t. He is much the denier, that one. Why, he considers the virus to be just influenza. I’m curious of his sources.

Its real author, Nick Farriella, had expertly muddied the tone of Fitzgerald’s language with, some contemporary 21st century concerns, and a dash of the clichéd image of the character we’ve come to know as “Hemingway” – something of a macho bore, brawler and liar.

It’s an unfortunate, but sometimes well-deserved, persona, as I have come to know intimately whilst doing research for a new book examining his often ignored, shadowy time spent in London and Europe before and after D-Day.

This was an arguably defining time in his life and career, when he was possibly the best known living writer in the world and something of a one-man global commercial brand. Even then, I have discovered that when he was in the company of undercover spies and well-known authors (sometimes, like his friend Roald Dahl) he could be, by turns, thoughtful, loving, brilliant, brave, embarrassing, abusive and downright nasty.

For some, the tone of the parody pandemic letter was a brief moment of entertainment because it was the return of the cartoonish wild-eyed and comical version of Hemingway from Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris. For others, who knew a little more about Hemingway, it was yet another simplistic attempt to besmirch his deeply complex legacy – fake news, you might say.

Hemingway and the facts

In fact, Hemingway’s response to the pandemic of 1918-19 – and later waves too – was very different from the parody. The truth is effortlessly stranger and more enigmatic than any fiction. Of course Hemingway was guilty of hyping facts to meet his mantra that fiction could be truer than the truth. But that didn’t change his basic respect for scientific facts and the natural world.

He was, after all, the dutiful son of a doctor from Oak Park, Illinois who’d witnessed first-hand his father’s work and used the experiences in his later fictional works. The Hemingway scholar Susan Beegel has shown how serious illness, disease, sudden and prolonged death were nothing new to him. He was aware, in humans and animals, of the fragility of life.

A formal picture of a family.
An early picture of Ernest Hemingway with his family, 1905. Ernest stands at the far right.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

The GP’s son later had his own appalling experiences in the first world war, when he volunteered for the Red Cross. Bad eyesight meant normal duty was out of the question, but a determined Hemingway used the Red Cross to get to the Italian front line instead.

A man in army uniform stands on crutches.
Ernest Hemingway recuperates from wounds in Milan, 1918.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

Within hours of arriving in Italy, Hemingway was tasked with cleaning up the body parts of victims of shelling, a sight he recounted in his controversial short work “A Natural History of the Dead”, that both fascinated and horrified him. Within weeks he would be pulled off a battlefield himself, a bloodied wreck more dead than alive, with 228 pieces of shrapnel embedded in his legs. Long days and painful nights of touch-and-go recuperation followed.

Yet later, after shadowing Red Cross nurses, Hemingway wrote about the worst death he ever saw. It hadn’t been from a bomb or a bullet: “The only natural death I’ve ever seen […] was death from the Spanish influenza. In this you drown in mucus, choking, and how you know the patient is dead is; at the end he shits the bed.”

This horrendous scene was common amidst a global pandemic which had claimed, by December 1919, 50 million people. There was no coordinated national and international research as we would know it, no effective treatment, and certainly no vaccine on the way. Soldiers and volunteers like Hemingway were literally swimming in the virus.

Dodging disease

Yet Hemingway dodged the peaks of the 1918-19 pandemic waves by weeks, sometimes days, as he convalesced in Italy, and then returned to the US. Once home, he discovered family and friends had perished from it. Despite youthful public insouciance, all these experiences privately scarred him, and that dying soldier in Italy was never far from his mind.

According to as his masterful biographer Michael Reynolds, Hemingway’s superstition about death meant that “the slightest possibility of flu often sent him scurrying for healthier conditions, for he had a particular horror of drowning in his own fluids”. Consequently, by 1926 and now living in Paris, when his son Jack, nicknamed “Bumby”, developed a “hacking cough”, Hemingway immediately sent him and his wife Hadley off to the clean air and sunshine of the Riviera to recover, while he went solo to Spain to work.

A black and white picture of parents and a child.
Ernest, Hadley and Bumby Hemingway, 1926.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

Hadley and Bumby Hemingway arrived at Antibes on May 26 1926, and the child was immediately diagnosed with the infectious – and potentially fatal – whooping cough. Quarantine was called for, so both were summarily housed by their hosts, the ever-generous patrons of the arts Sara and Gerald Murphy, in a small dwelling near their own 14-roomed Villa America.

One week later they were moved again, under quarantine conditions, to a hastily vacated Villa Paquita at Juan les Pins, previously inhabited by Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, who had zipped off to the safety of another coastal retreat. To complicate matters, Hemingway’s mistress Pauline Pfeiffer, a chic Paris-based editor at Vogue magazine, arrived from Paris, and within 48 hours, they were joined fresh from Madrid by the central figure in this peculiar set-up, Hemingway himself.

For a while, quarantining was all very jolly. By day, Hemingway dedicated himself to editing corrections to his soon-to-be bestseller The Sun Also Rises. By evening, everyone gathered for socially-distanced cocktails with the Murphys and Fitzgeralds, who stayed outside the garden fence. Empty bottles, drained and upended, were mounted like heads on the spiked fence. Each one marked another day of quarantine for the Hemingway child.

It worked – to an extent.

Quarantine ended when his son got better, though as a precaution he and his nanny were housed nearby, leaving Hemingway in a nice hotel with the two women. He pretended he was happy but inevitably, the post-lockdown arrangement slid into emotional anarchy. Hadley Hemingway and he argued, while Pfeiffer hung on for the prize she wanted most – Hemingway himself. It stayed that way as everyone decamped from the Riviera to Pamplona, Spain for the annual fiesta.

Within a year of that quarantined summer, the Hemingways were divorced.

A couple.
Ernest and Pauline Hemingway, Paris 1927.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston

In 1937, 11 years later, despite quarantining in Saranac Lake, Upstate New York, the Murphy’s 16-year-old son Patrick died from tuberculosis.

Hemingway rose at dawn on July 2 1961 in Idaho and took his own life.

The child who had the whooping cough in 1926, Jack “Bumby” Hemingway, had a happier outcome than most in his family. He became a decorated second world war veteran who survived capture and imprisonment after parachuting into Nazi Germany, and died peacefully in 2000.The Conversation

Eamonn O’Neill, Associate Professor in Journalism, Edinburgh Napier University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How Hemingway felt about fatherhood



Hemingway and his eldest son, Bumby, pose in Havana harbor in 1933.
Collection of David Meeker, Author provided

Verna Kale, Pennsylvania State University

Ernest Hemingway was affectionately called “Papa,” but what kind of dad was he?

In my role as Associate Editor of the Hemingway Letters Project, I spend my time investigating the approximately 6,000 letters sent by Hemingway, 85% of which are now being published for the first time in a multivolume series. The latest volume – the fifth – spans his letters from January 1932 through May 1934 and gives us an intimate look into Hemingway’s daily life, not only as a writer and a sportsman, but also as a father.

During this period, Hemingway explored the emotional depths of fatherhood in his fiction. But his letters show that parenting could be a distraction from what mattered most to him: his writing.

‘No alibis’ in the writing business

Hemingway had three sons. His oldest, John – nicknamed “Bumby” – was born to Ernest and his first wife, Hadley, when Ernest was 24 years old. He had Patrick and Gregory with his second wife, Pauline.

Hemingway initially approached fatherhood with some ambivalence. In her 1933 memoir “The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas,” Gertrude Stein recalls that one evening Hemingway came to visit and “announced…with great bitterness” that he was “too young to be a father.”

As the fifth volume of letters opens in January 1932, Hemingway is trying to finish “Death in the Afternoon,” his nonfiction account of bullfighting, in a household with a six-week-old baby, a three-year-old who ingests ant poison and nearly dies, a wife still recovering from a C-section, along with all the quotidian problems of home ownership, from a leaky roof to faulty wiring.

Ernest Hemingway and Pauline Pfeiffer Hemingway, with Gregory, Patrick and Bumby in Key West, 1933.
Princeton University Library, Author provided

Hemingway explained to his mother-in-law, Mary Pfeiffer, that if his latest book fell short, he couldn’t simply take readers aside and say, “But you ought to see what a big boy Gregory is…and you ought to see our wonderful water-work system and I go to church every Sunday and am a good father to my family or as good as I can be.”

There are “no alibis” in the writing business, Hemingway continued, and “a man is a fool” to allow anything, even family, to interrupt his work. “Taking refuge in domestic successes,” he added, “is merely a form of quitting.”

For Hemingway, work didn’t simply entail sitting at a desk and writing. It also included the various adventures he was famous for – the fishing, hunting, traveling and socializing with the people he met along the way. Though he would teach the boys to fish and shoot when they were older, when they were very young he didn’t hesitate to leave them with nannies or extended family for long stretches of time.

This separation was particularly hard on the youngest, Gregory, who, from a very young age, was left for months in the care of Ada Stern, a governess who lived up to her last name. Patrick sometimes joined his parents on their travels or stayed with other relatives. Bumby, the oldest, divided his time between his father and his mother in Paris. The children’s lives were so peripatetic that at the Letters Project we maintain a spreadsheet to keep track of their whereabouts at any given time.

‘Papa’ explores fathers and sons in his fiction

However, it would not be accurate to say that Hemingway did not care about his children. In the latest volume of letters, three are addressed to Patrick, two of them decorated with circled dots, a Hemingway family tradition called “toosies,” which represented kisses.

In his letters to his kids, Hemingway would sometimes draw dots called ‘toosies,’ which represented kisses.
Princeton University Library, Author provided

In Hemingway’s fiction, we can see the depth of that paternal feeling, and in his letters, the domestic moments that inspired him.

In November 1932, with his two youngest sons ill with whooping cough and being cared for by their mother at their grandparents’ home in Arkansas, Hemingway postponed a trip to New York to stay in Key West with Bumby.

“He is a good kid and a good companion,” Hemingway wrote his editor, Maxwell Perkins, “but I do not want to drag him around the speakies [bars] too much.”

That same month Hemingway worked on the story of a father and son traveling together that would become “Fathers and Sons” in the collection “Winner Take Nothing.” It’s one of the only stories in which Nick Adams – a semi-autobiographical recurring character – is portrayed as a parent, and the reflective, melancholy piece was written just three years after Hemingway’s own father had died by suicide.

In the story, Nick is driving along a stretch of highway in the countryside with “his son asleep on the seat by his side” when he starts thinking about his father.

Nick recalls many details about him: his eyesight, good; his body odor, bad; his advice on hunting, wise; his advice about sex, unsound. He reflects on viewing his father’s face after the undertaker had made “certain dashingly executed repairs of doubtful artistic merit.”

Clarence Edmonds Hemingway and Ernest Hemingway in Oak Park, Illinois, circa 1917-1918.
Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park/Oak Park Public Library, Oak Park, Illinois., Author provided

Nick is surprised when his son starts to speak to him because he “had felt quite alone” even though “this boy had been with him.” As if reading his father’s thoughts, the boy wonders, “What was it like, Papa, when you were a little boy and used to hunt with the Indians?’”

Hemingway’s letters show that another story in the collection, “A Day’s Wait,” was inspired by Bumby’s bout with influenza in the fall of 1932. It is a seemingly lighthearted story about a young boy’s misunderstanding of the differences between the centigrade and Fahrenheit scales of temperature. Like Bumby, the protagonist, “Schatz” – one of Bumby’s other nicknames, a term of endearment in German – attends school in France but is staying with his father when he becomes ill. Schatz had learned at school that no one can survive a temperature of 44 Celsius, so, unbeknownst to his father, he spends the day waiting to die of his fever of 102 Fahrenheit.

But there is more to this story than the twist. “You don’t have to stay in here with me, Papa, if it bothers you,” the boy tells him. “It doesn’t bother me,” his father replies. He unwittingly leaves his son to believe, for an entire day, not only that the boy is going to die, but that his death is of no importance to his father.

In this slight story – one of those stories he told Perkins was written “absolutely as they happen” – we find an unexpected Hemingway hero in the form of a nine-year-old boy who bravely faces death alone.

Though he once wrote that he wanted “Winner Take Nothing” to make “a picture of the whole world,” Hemingway also seemed to understand that no one ever truly knows the subjective experience of another, not even a father and son.

[Insight, in your inbox each day. You can get it with The Conversation’s email newsletter.]The Conversation

Verna Kale, Associate Editor, The Letters of Ernest Hemingway and Assistant Research Professor of English, Pennsylvania State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Did a censored female writer inspire Hemingway’s famous style?



File 20190327 139374 14kkvab.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A photograph of Ellen N. La Motte soon after completing ‘The Backwash of War’ in 1916.
Courtesy of the National Archives, College Park, Maryland, Author provided

Cynthia Wachtell, Yeshiva University

Virtually everyone has heard of Ernest Hemingway. But you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who knows of Ellen N. La Motte.

People should.

She is the extraordinary World War I nurse who wrote like Hemingway before Hemingway. She was arguably the originator of his famous style – the first to write about World War I using spare, understated, declarative prose.

Long before Hemingway published “A Farewell to Arms” in 1929 – long before he even graduated high school and left home to volunteer as an ambulance driver in Italy – La Motte wrote a collection of interrelated stories titled “The Backwash of War.”

Published in the fall of 1916, as the war advanced into its third year, the book is based upon La Motte’s experience working at a French field hospital on the Western Front.

“There are many people to write you of the noble side, the heroic side, the exalted side of war,” she wrote. “I must write you of what I have seen, the other side, the backwash.”

“The Backwash of War” was immediately banned in England and France for its criticism of the ongoing war. Two years and multiple printings later – after being hailed as “immortal” and America’s greatest work of war writing – it was deemed damaging to morale and also censored in wartime America.

For nearly a century, it languished in obscurity. But now, an expanded version of this lost classic that I’ve edited has just been published. Featuring the first biography of La Motte, it will hopefully give La Motte the attention she deserves.

Horrors, not heroes

In its time, “The Backwash of War” was, simply put, incendiary.

As one admiring reader explained in July 1918, “There is a corner of my book-shelves which I call my ‘T N T’ library. Here are all the literary high explosives I can lay my hands on. So far there are only five of them.” “The Backwash of War” was the only one by a woman and also the only one by an American.

In most of the era’s wartime works, men willingly fought and died for their cause. The characters were brave, the combat romanticized.

Not so in La Motte’s stories. Rather than focus on World War I’s heroes, she emphasized its horrors. And the wounded soldiers and civilians she presents in “The Backwash of War” are fearful of death and fretful in life.

Filling the beds of the field hospital, they are at once grotesque and pathetic. There is a soldier slowly dying from gas gangrene. Another suffers from syphilis, while one patient sobs and sobs because he does not want to die. A 10-year-old Belgian boy is fatally shot through the abdomen by a fragment of German artillery shell and bawls for his mother.

War, to La Motte, is repugnant, repulsive and nonsensical.

The volume’s first story immediately sets the tone: “When he could stand it no longer,” it begins, “he fired a revolver up through the roof of his mouth, but he made a mess of it.” The soldier is transported, “cursing and screaming,” to the field hospital. There, through surgery, his life is saved but only so that he can later be court-martialed for his suicide attempt and killed by a firing squad.

A postcard of the French field hospital where La Motte worked.
Cynthia Wachtell

After “The Backwash of War” was published, readers quickly recognized that La Motte had invented a bold new way of writing about war and its horrors. The New York Times reported that her stories were “told in sharp, quick sentences” that bore no resemblance to conventional “literary style” and delivered a “stern, strong preachment against war.”

The Detroit Journal noted she was the first to draw “the real portrait of the ravaging beast.” And the Los Angeles Times gushed, “Nothing like [it] has been written: it is the first realistic glimpse behind the battle lines… Miss La Motte has described war – not merely war in France – but war itself.”

La Motte and Gertrude Stein

Together with the famous avant-garde writer Gertrude Stein, La Motte seems to have influenced what we now think of as Hemingway’s signature style – his spare, “masculine” prose.

Gertrude Stein – who would go on to mentor Hemingway – was close friends with La Motte.
Library of Congress

La Motte and Stein – both middle-aged American women, writers and lesbians – were already friends at the start of the war. Their friendship deepened during the first winter of the conflict, when they were both living in Paris.

Despite the fact that they each had a romantic partner, Stein seems to have fallen for La Motte. She even wrote a “little novelette” in early 1915 about La Motte, titled “How Could They Marry Her?” It repeatedly mentions La Motte’s plan to be a war nurse, possibly in Serbia, and includes revealing lines such as “Seeing her makes passion plain.”

Without a doubt Stein read her beloved friend’s book; in fact, her personal copy of “The Backwash of War” is presently archived at Yale University.

Hemingway writes war

Ernest Hemingway wouldn’t meet Stein until after the war. But he, like La Motte, found a way to make it to the front lines.

In 1918, Hemingway volunteered as an ambulance driver and shortly before his 19th birthday was seriously injured by a mortar explosion. He spent five days in a field hospital and then many months in a Red Cross hospital, where he fell in love with an American nurse.

After the war, Hemingway worked as a journalist in Canada and America. Then, determined to become a serious writer, he moved to Paris in late 1921.

In the early 1920s Gertrude Stein’s literary salon attracted many of the emerging postwar writers, whom she famously labeled the “Lost Generation.”

Among those who most eagerly sought Stein’s advice was Hemingway, whose style she significantly influenced.

“Gertrude Stein was always right,” Hemingway once told a friend. She served as his mentor and became godmother to his son.

Much of Hemingway’s early writing focused on the recent war.

“Cut out words. Cut everything out,” Stein counseled him, “except what you saw, what happened.”

Very likely, Stein showed Hemingway her copy of “The Backwash of War” as an example of admirable war writing. At the very least, she passed along what she had learned from reading La Motte’s work.

Whatever the case, the similarity between La Motte’s and Hemingway’s styles is plainly evident. Consider the following passage from the story “Alone,” in which La Motte strings together declarative sentences, neutral in tone, and lets the underlying horror speak for itself.

“They could not operate on Rochard and amputate his leg, as they wanted to do. The infection was so high, into the hip, it could not be done. Moreover, Rochard had a fractured skull as well. Another piece of shell had pierced his ear, and broken into his brain, and lodged there. Either wound would have been fatal, but it was the gas gangrene in his torn-out thigh that would kill him first. The wound stank. It was foul.”

Now consider these opening lines from a chapter of Hemingway’s 1925 collection “In Our Time”:

“Nick sat against the wall of the church where they had dragged him to be clear of machine-gun fire in the street. Both legs stuck out awkwardly. He had been hit in the spine. His face was sweaty and dirty. The sun shone on his face. The day was very hot. Rinaldi, big backed, his equipment sprawling, lay face downward against the wall. Nick looked straight ahead brilliantly…. Two Austrian dead lay in the rubble in the shade of the house. Up the street were other dead.”

Hemingway’s declarative sentences and emotionally uninflected style strikingly resemble La Motte’s.

So why did Hemingway receive all of the accolades, culminating in a Nobel Prize in 1954 for the “influence he exerted on contemporary style,” while La Motte was lost to literary oblivion?

Was it the lasting impact of wartime censorship? Was it the prevalent sexism of the postwar era, which viewed war writing as the purview of men?

Whether due to censorship, sexism or a toxic combination of the two, La Motte was silenced and forgotten. It’s time to return “The Backwash of War” to its proper perch as a seminal example of war writing.

Cynthia Wachtell is the editor of a new edition of:

The Backwash of War: An Extraordinary American Nurse in World War IThe Conversation

Johns Hopkins University Press provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

Cynthia Wachtell, Research Associate Professor of American Studies & Director of the S. Daniel Abrham Honors Program, Yeshiva University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How a young Ernest Hemingway dealt with his first taste of fame



File 20171108 14209 gtd35o.png?ixlib=rb 1.1
Ernest Hemingway with a bull near Pamplona, Spain in 1927, two years before ‘A Farewell to Arms’ would be published.
Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

Verna Kale, Pennsylvania State University

When he published “The Sun Also Rises” in 1926, Ernest Hemingway was well-known among the expatriate literati of Paris and to cosmopolitan literary circles in New York and Chicago. But it was “A Farewell to Arms,” published in October 1929, that made him a celebrity.

With this newfound fame, Hemingway learned, came fan mail. Lots of it. And he wasn’t really sure how to deal with the attention.

At the Hemingway Letters Project, I’ve had the privilege of working with Hemingway’s approximately 6,000 outgoing letters. The latest edition, “The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume 4 (1929-1931)” – edited by Sandra Spanier and Miriam B. Mandel – brings to light 430 annotated letters, 85 percent of which will be published for the first time. They offer a glimpse at how Hemingway handled his growing celebrity, shedding new light on the author’s influences and his relationships with other writers.

Mutual admiration

The success of “A Farewell to Arms” surprised even Hemingway’s own publisher. Robert W. Trogdon, a Hemingway scholar and member of the Letters Project’s editorial team, traces the author’s relationship with Scribner’s and notes that while it ordered an initial printing of over 31,000 copies – six times as many as the first printing of “The Sun Also Rises” – the publisher still underestimated the demand for the book.

Additional print runs brought the total edition to over 101,000 copies before the year was out – and that was after the devastating 1929 stock market crash.

In response to the many fan letters he received, Hemingway was typically gracious. Sometimes he offered writerly advice, and even went so far as to send – upon request and at his own expense – several of his books to a prisoner at St. Quentin.

At the same time, writing to novelist Hugh Walpole in December 1929, Hemingway lamented the amount of effort – and postage – required to answer all those letters:

“When ‘The Sun Also Rises’ came out there were only letters from a few old ladies who wanted to make a home for me and said my disability would be no drawback and drunks who claimed we had met places. ‘Men Without Women’ brought no letters at all. What are you supposed to do when you really start to get letters?”

Among the fan mail he received was a letter from David Garnett, an English novelist from a literary family with connections to the Bloomsbury Group, a network of writers, artists and intellectuals that included Virginia Woolf.

Though we don’t have Garnett’s letter to Hemingway, Garnett appears to have predicted, rightly, that “A Farewell to Arms” would be more than a fleeting success.

“I hope to god what you say about the book will be true,” Hemingway replies, “though how we are to know whether they last I don’t know – But anyway you were fine to say it would.”

He then goes on to praise Garnett’s 1925 novel, “The Sailor’s Return”:

“…all I did was to go around wishing to god I could have written it. It is still the only book I would like to have written of all the books since our father’s and mother’s times.” (Garnett was seven years older than Hemingway; Hemingway greatly admired the translations of Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy by Constance Garnett, David’s mother.)

An overlooked influence

Hemingway’s response to Garnett – written the same day as his letter to Walpole – is notable for several reasons.

First, it complicates the popular portrait of Hemingway as an antagonist to other writers.

It’s a reputation that’s not entirely undeserved – after all, one of Hemingway’s earliest publications was a tribute to Joseph Conrad in which Hemingway expressed a desire to run T.S. Eliot through a sausage grinder. “The Torrents of Spring” (1926), his first published novel, was a parody of his own mentors, Sherwood Anderson and Gertrude Stein and “all the rest of the pretensious [sic] faking bastards,” as he put it in a 1925 letter to Ezra Pound.

But in the letter to Garnett we see another side of Hemingway: an avid reader overcome with boyish excitement.

“You have meant very much to me as a writer,” he declares, “and now that you have written me that letter I should feel very fine – But instead all that happens is I don’t believe it.”

The letter also suggests that Garnett has been overlooked as one of Hemingway’s influences.

It’s easy to see why Hemingway liked “The Sailor’s Return” (so well, it appears, that he checked it out from Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & Co. lending library and never returned it).

A reviewer for the New York Herald Tribune praised Garnett’s “simple but extremely lucid English” and his “power of making fiction appear to be fact,” qualities that are the hallmark of Hemingway’s own distinctive style. The book also has a certain understated wit – as do “The Sun Also Rises” and “A Farewell to Arms.”

Garnett’s book would have appealed to Hemingway on a personal level as well. Though it’s set entirely in England, the portrait of Africa that exists in the background is the same sort of exotic wilderness that captured the imagination of Hemingway the boy and that Hemingway the young man still longed explore.

Imagining Africa

But Hemingway’s praise of Garnett leads to other, unsettling questions.

From its frontispiece to its devastating conclusion, Garnett’s book relies on racial stereotypes of an exoticized, infantilized Other. Its main character, an African woman, brought to England by her white husband, is meant to command the reader’s sympathy – indeed, the choice she makes in the end, to send her mixed-race child back to his African family, hearkens to an earlier era of sentimental literature and decries the parochial prejudices of English society.

However, that message is drowned out by the narrator’s assumptions about inherent differences between the races. Garnett’s biographer Sarah Knights suggests that Garnett was “neither susceptible to casual racism nor prone to imperialist arrogance,” yet Garnett’s 1933 introduction to the Cape edition of Hemingway’s “The Torrents of Spring” claims “it is the privilege of civilized town-dwellers to sentimentalize primitive peoples.” In “The Torrents of Spring,” Hemingway mocked the primitivism of Sherwood Anderson (cringe-worthy even by 1925 standards), but as Garnett’s comment indicates, Hemingway imitated Anderson’s reliance on racial stereotypes as much as he criticized it.

What, then, can we glean about Hemingway’s views on race from his exuberant praise of “The Sailor’s Return”? Hemingway had a lifelong fascination with Africa, and his letters show that in 1929 he was already making plans for an African safari. He would take the trip in 1933 and publish his nonfiction memoir, “Green Hills of Africa,” in 1935. The work is experimental and modernistic, but the local people are secondary to Hemingway’s descriptions of “country.”

Late in life, however, Hemingway’s views on Africa would shift, and his second safari, in 1953-4, brought what scholar of American literature and African diaspora studies Nghana tamu Lewis describes as “a crisis of consciousness” that “engendered a new commitment to understanding African peoples’ struggles against oppression as part, rather than in isolation, of changing ecological conditions.”

Hemingway went to Africa in 1934.
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston.

But back in 1929, when Hemingway was wondering what to do with an ever-growing pile of mail, that trip – along with another world war, a Nobel Prize and the debilitating effects of his strenuous life – were part of an unknowable future.

The ConversationIn “The Letters 1929-1931” we see a younger Hemingway, his social conscience yet to mature, trying to figure out his new role as professional author and celebrity.

Verna Kale, Associate Editor, The Letters of Ernest Hemingway and Assistant Research Professor of English, Pennsylvania State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Not My Review: The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway


The link below is to a book review of ‘The Sun Also Rises,’ by Ernest Hemingway.

For more visit:
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/22/100-best-novels-sun-also-rises-ernest-hemingway-robert-mccrum