Sunday, November 15, 2009

Ernest Hemingway | The Sun Also Rises

Before I start my review I thought I’d take a journey back to see what other Hemingway works I have read:

A Farewell to Arms (1929)

To Have and Have Not (1937)

The Complete Short Stories (The First Forty-Nine: 1938)

For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940)

The Old Man and the Sea (1952)

True at First Light [posthumously 1999]

This list seems like a pretty good one, but it’s very evident that I missed the start of it all with “The Sun Also Rises”, which was written in 1926.

The meat of the novel was written utilizing one of Hemingway’s favourite backdrops, the bull fighting in Pamplona, Spain (Note: The first half of the novel is set in Paris, a common haven for writers at the time). In particular, this novel is set during a week-long fiesta some time after World War I ends. The book is narrated by Jake Barnes, a war veteran and writer who copes with life, like a majority of Hemingway characters, through excessive partying and alcohol.

The object of his fancy is a woman named Brett Ashley, but war wounds have left Jake sexually incapacitated, making him unable to physically be with her. Brett is engaged to Mike Campbell but is being pursued by uninteresting Jewish boxer Robert Cohn, who was involved with Brett for a weekend during her engagement. When Brett runs off with a young, Spanish bull fighter named Pedro Romero, Cohn shows his jealousy which takes us to the climax of the novel. Brett seduces every man to fall in love with her, and is somehow a tragic character despite being dislikeable and having the incapacity of staying faithful to anyone.

“The Sun Also Rises” is a portrayal of a beautiful woman’s effect on men and friendships and is my least favourite Hemingway work thus far. While the author does an amazing job of painting the landscape and shows us subtlety’s that only the vision of Hemingway could portray, the lack of sympathy and compassion he gives us for his Jake is uncharacteristic of his other protagonists. While his love and kinship with nature is expressed, the emotions of the main character are only briefly touched on, as are the deeper emotions of his other characters.

There’s just one more thing I wanted to document: the utilization of a beautiful metaphor. Robert Cohn was emotionally isolated from group of friends [Mike, Bill, Jake & Brett] and was being heavily ridiculed and chastised by Mike Campbell - he swooped in to deliver some painful blows. After the brutalization occurred, the group went to witness a bull fight where all the bulls isolated a particular steer while one bull went in for the kill and gorged the poor animal. Both events were painful to witness, and showed a piece of just how disgusting humanity can be.
"You paid some way for everything that was any good.  I paid my way into enough things that I liked, so that I had a good time.  Either you paid by learning about them, or by experience, or by taking chances, or by money.  Enjoying living was learning to get your money's worth and knowing when you had it.  You could get your money's worth.  The world was a good place to buy in.  It seemed like a fine philosophy.  In five years, I thought, it will seem just as silly as all the other fine philosophies I've had.

Perhaps that wasn't true, though.  Perhaps as you went along you did learn something.  I did not care what it was all about.  All I wanted to know was how to live in it.  Maybe if you found out how to live in it you learned from that what it was all about." 153


granville w. ghost, esq. said...

Now this one is gonna make me sound like an ignoramus. I've never been a fan of Hemingway, but the one work I did like is *in our time*, the collection of short stories that he originally published when he was living in Paris (and, I believe, his first book-length work). I found the compressed language, the sparseness of emotion just carried over so much better to a brief work than something as long as a novel. Even in A Farewell to Arms, I never really got the impression that the main character gave much of a damn about his love interested (or, rather, why he did). It was almost a 14 year old's idea of love: you know someone and things are magical and you can't live without each other even while the relationship is maintained on the most shallow level, at least as far as surface appearances are concerned.

I'm still delving into non-fiction these days: simultaneously Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror and the Diary of Count Galeazzo Ciano. The later is, really, one of the most fascinating books I've ever read, regardless of genre. Not terribly "exciting" and very hard to stick with as the day-to-day life of a foreign minister in a dictatorship is, well, boring. But Ciano is one of the most compelling characters of the 20th century -- something out of Shakespeare.

I'm really hoping that I can find a translation of Ciano's son's book someday, The title translates to "When Grandpa Had Daddy Shot". Choice!

Eclectic Indulgence said...

I'm glad you liked the short stories, and would recommend "The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway".

I read them a while ago, and I'm not sure if they included the stories from "In Our Time;" I will have to check into that. Nick Adams is involved in quite a few from this group as well, and the character is done very well. The themes are varied within similar settings [Florida, Africa, Spain, etc], and the stories are simplistically beautiful.

I don't really agree with the "sparseness of emotion" comment; there are some really great moments like this one from "To Have and Have Not":

"He went to sleep with the stump of his arm out wide on the pillow, and she lay for a long time looking at him. She could see his face in the street light through the window. I'm lucky, she was thinking. Those girls. They don't know what they'll get. I know what I've got and what I've had. I've been a lucky woman. Him saying like a loggerhead. I'm glad it was a arm and not a leg. I wouldn't like him to have lost a leg. Why'd he have to lose that arm? It's funny though, I don't mind it. Anything about him I don't mind. I've been a lucky woman. There ain't no other men like that. People ain't never tried them don't know. I've had plenty of them. I've been lucky to have him. Do you suppose those turtles feel like we do? Do you supposed all the time they feel like that? Or do you suppose it hurts the she? I think of the damndest things. Look at him, sleeping just like a baby. I better stay awake so as to call him. Christ, I could do that all night if a man was built that way. I'd like to do it and never sleep. Never, never, no, never. No, Never, never, never. Well, think of that, will you. Me at my age. I ain't old. He said I was still good. Forty-five ain't old. I'm two years older than him. Look at him sleep. Look at him asleep there like a kid."

I get the opposite impression about the main characters... I think they are so full of emotions that they shine through their actions, even when the dialogue is simplistic. The characters seem 'full' and not like cardboard cutouts like so many novelists.

The 'idea of love' is romantisized [especially in Farewell to Arms]... and the '14 year old' perspective is held by many critics. I wonder how much of this is tied to the fact that anything looks beautiful when comparing it to war, and if the relationship in that novel was his mental escape. In other novels, Hemingway's love for characters is much more understated.