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Issues for His Prose Style
The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Vol. I, 1907-22 edited by Sandra Spanier and Robert Trogdon R
Cambridge, 431 pp, £30.00, October 2011, ISBN 978 0 521 89733 4 Good reporters go hunting for nouns. They want the odd verb too, but the main thing is the nouns, especially the proper ones, the who, what and where. The thing British schoolchildren call a ‘naming word’ was, for Hemingway, a chance to reveal what he knew, an opportunity to be experienced, to discriminate, and his style depends on engorged nouns, not absent adjectives. But at times it strikes you that the cult of specificity in Hemingway is a drug you take in a cheap arcade: lights flash on the old machines and a piano plinks overhead. One evening it came to me as a small revelation that he takes too much pride in the nouns. (And pride ruined him.) He never takes nouns for granted. He invests his whole personality in them, because nouns are the part of speech where a person gets to show off. Papa gets busted on the nouns because he can’t place them on the page without ego. Too often they are there to attract attention. To cause a sensation. To make
we’re going to be with him for a while). Frederic Henry (he’d better have his name. In A Farewell to Arms. At the dressing station.a blaze. He has a swallow just as the mortar that will injure him lands in the dugout.’ A page after that. (Rinaldi brings him a bottle of cognac that afternoon. You can have fun with this. a little boy runs out and fetches him a bottle of grappa. ‘He offered me a glass of cognac. there are forty occasions when someone has a drink.’ says the doctor who first treats him. stuck in the dugout with a basin of macaroni. ‘This is a bottle of vermouth. ‘I sent for the porter and when he came I told him in Italian . red wine – he got into with a salesman from Marseille. sits watching the snow falling while he drinks a bottle of Asti with a friend. Later. he explains to a priest his regret at not having gone to Abruzzi. He later tells a group of people about a drinking competition – on this occasion. he sits with one of the medical captains.’ he says. Hemingway will never say someone had a drink when he can say they had a vermouth. where our hero.) And when the priest comes to visit him he brings not any old bottle. ‘Bring him a glass of brandy. he is drinking from a canteen of wine. It begins in Gorizia. The first time he is at the villa housing the British Hospital he is upstairs drinking two glasses of grappa with Rinaldi. ‘You like vermouth?’ When Frederic makes it to Milan. over too much wine and Strega.
’ I said. ‘Have a drink. ‘That was very big. the Gran Italia.to get me a bottle of Cinzano at the wine shop. darling.’ ‘I don’t really want one. where they ‘drank dry white capri iced in a bucket’.’ she said. and many glasses. ‘And I’m very brave when I’ve had a drink.’ Once he’s up and ready to start courting Catherine Barkley in the style she deserves.’ .’ ‘We’re splendid people. Months pass. ‘But you are brave. a fiasco of chianti and the evening papers. ‘You’ve been awfully good.’ ‘Take one.’ Catherine said. ‘I know brandy is for heroes. ‘I guess we’re both conceited. But you shouldn’t exaggerate.’ ‘We’re both brave.’ ‘No. they’re off to their favourite café. But I hope to be.’ I poured the water glass a third full of cognac and drank it off.’ ‘All right. before they go to the races and have ‘a whiskey and soda apiece’.’ I said.’ she said. She went over to the armoire and brought me the cognac and a glass. My love for the book only increases as it gets a little closer to Brief Encounter.
not just bottles. before long. But there’s work to be done. I wondered at the mention of ‘wine’ tout court. two bottles of champagne with Count Greffi while they play billiards. another nurse. The book has named tipples galore.’ Bonello said. ‘On a retreat we drink barbera. we’re only on page 126. sees a lot of empty bottles. then there’s a ‘dark Munich beer’ in Montreux. He drinks vermouth with the barman. he is holed up in a villa eating spaghetti and drinking ‘two bottles of wine that had been left in the cellar of the villa’. once he’s better. so. hold on.Is this a paid advertisement? But.’ There’s more grappa back in Milan and a martini at the Hotel des Iles Borromées (‘the martini felt cool and clean’). ‘I like a retreat better than an advance. capri bottles. Again. after a mention of rain. then there’s lunch with the Scottish nurse Ferguson and ‘a couple of bottles of [their favourite] white capri’. then the inevitable comes. where. He visits Gorizia again. and when Frederic is back in bed with jaundice. our Signor Tenente goes with others to clear the field hospitals in the mountains and take down the wounded. more brandy from the barman who supplies Frederic and Catherine with the boat in which they must escape to Switzerland. some . before going up to the lake with Catherine. not the fanciable one. empty chianti flasks and a few cognac bottles’. but ‘marsala bottles. Here the nouns go mad and Hemingway’s style reveals itself to be an inventory.
please don’t let her die. so they went out. dear God. don’t let her die. It was too soon to go back to the hospital. You took the baby but don’t let her die. I’ll do anything you say if you don’t let her die. some beer with choucroute (it’s a long labour). Please. I ordered another beer. more vermouth. two glasses of wine with a brioche (while Catherine is in labour). Don’t let her die. and then several beers with ham and eggs when he finds the baby is dead. a whiskey and soda in a hotel in Lausanne.Glühwein – ‘hot red wine with spices and lemon in it’ – at an inn at Bains de l’Alliaz. That was all right but don’t let her die. please. In the last line of the book he leaves the hospital and walks back to the hotel in the rain. The men stood around but no one was leaving. please. I drank another beer. more vermouth. hard up against the end of everything. The reader . I was not ready to leave yet. I tried not to think and to be perfectly calm. Please. don’t let her die. more whiskey. Oh. please. Please. don’t let her die. the prose itself gets drunk. please don’t let her die. By this point in the novel. I’ll do anything for you if you don’t let her die. in a modernist fusion of interior monologue and free indirect speech. God please make her not die. dear God. more capri. Dear God. not surprisingly. please. God.
past its lights and tables to the Select. maybe. Please. what you imagined. Damoy’s. and all the little cafés.’ he says in a passage he cut from his story ‘Big Two-Hearted River’: ‘The only writing that was any good was what you made up. to draw nearer to the kind of hero he wished he had been. but. crossed the street to the Rotonde. The Ryanair generation must already have worked out the stag night potential provided by Hemingway’s novels. dear God. Lavigne’s. (Almost at random. please. They thought it all was experience. That was what the family couldn’t understand.’) The experience of writing his books gave Hemingway the chance not merely to draw on what he knew. but Hemingway was puzzled by it. Better things.’ . Fiesta – has enough watering holes (and named drinks) to keep the lads of Dublin and Glasgow engrossed. That made everything come true … Everything good he’d ever written he’d made up. There is a gulf between what he did and what he wrote that for a writer is quite natural. ‘You had to do it from inside yourself. None of it had ever happened. and then on past the Lilas.watches him go and worries for him. perhaps more important. please don’t let the bar at the hotel be shut. page 68: ‘We walked along Port Royal until it became Montparnasse. better. And we’re not only talking northern Italy: The Sun Also Rises – or. we say.
signing himself ‘Old Master’ when he was barely 18. that’s because he set it up that way. Ernie. and how he was inclined to romanticise his wartime feats. of Hemingway braiding himself a style first and then a history to match it. to be .The letters show the moment by moment process of self-enlargement. though the man and his wounds and his appetites are further from Hemingway’s own reality than the author could bear.’ This cartoon character. little more than a stick drawing.’ Linda Patterson Miller writes in her foreword to the present volume. his legs all bandaged up. He made the fiction true. including the fiction of himself. of a man lying in bed. ‘that his wounding as an American Red Cross ambulance driver in World War One scarred him psychologically and led him to create emotionally damaged heroes attempting to live in a troubled world through the code of grace under pressure. the twisted hero who knows his way around a martini and a bottle of Asti. shouting: ‘Gimme a drink!’ ‘Ernie’ has captioned this: ‘Me.’ Hemingway. ‘It has become a critical commonplace. and then struggled to keep up with it. of fiction taking over from reality. There’s a drawing at the end of a letter written while he was in hospital in Italy in 1918. Drawn from Life. If his family mistook so much of what he wrote for experience. Yet Hemingway’s letters underscore how little he saw of actual battle. was the prototype of the man who became Frederic Henry.
He was giving out chocolate for the Red Cross when the mortar exploded that damaged his legs. But it puts his ‘war experience’ into perspective. Oak Leaves and the Oak Parker. took to publishing postcards he sent to friends who worked there. A week before those men went over the top. his former employer. That’s how fiction works. Hemingway was submerged in the myth.) But what the novel takes for granted is the young hero’s military status. Not his fault: Americans weren’t involved and he was too young. but the truth is he missed most of the war and made a great deal of the skirmish that cut his legs. put out as much ‘local hero’ stuff as they could drum up. Every other letter through the latter half of 1917 into 1918 is filled with hopes of a secondment. (No bones were broken.fair. and his hometown newspapers. There was a gap between what Ernie wanted to happen and what actually happened to him – a vacuum that could only be occupied by myth. 1 July 1916. was not in control of all the myth-making: the Kansas City Star.) The mass carnage of World War One wasn’t something he experienced: on the first day of the Somme. he wrote to his . (The subjective correlative in A Farewell to Arms is the basin of macaroni and the wine. Hemingway was rejected by the regular army. and didn’t know it: it took the books to know it for him. when twenty thousand British soldiers met their death. our hero was busy hiking in Michigan. Ernie didn’t.
Lawrence caught the whiff of this when he reviewed Hemingway’s book In Our Time and spoke of a prose in which ‘Nothing matters. was to become a writer known for his experience of the world. even if the experience he was talking about was often pretty notional. Hemingway. Murmuring pines and hemlocks – black still pool – roar of rapids around bend of river – devilish solemn still – deuced poetic.H. But the wish for proper war experience would become a hunger the following year – a hunger. The desire for combat is paramount. and he sold that side of himself from early in his career. the letters show how much was going on in the Hemingway universe in 1917-18. Many are simply relieved not to have to fight. Marcelline: ‘Lew and I were fishing all night on a pool of the Rapid River 50 miles from nowhere. he was working on his prose style. above all his contemporaries. a fever. But the real test for someone of Hemingway’s cast of mind is: to serve in war as a soldier under military discipline. ‘Not everyone feels such things so intensely. D. and yet another issue for his prose style.sister.’ James Fenton writes in his introduction to the Everyman edition of the Collected Stories.’ In other words. the time that he would make eternally vivid in A Farewell to Arms. Everything happens. Hemingway in later life did many things .’ Better than anything else.
The struggle was always a solitary one: the fate of one man against nature. people who by association could channel his wish for courage. Indeed. ‘he is a beautiful soldier. Writing to his siblings from his desk at the Kansas City Star on 5 November 1917. having just gained entry to the Missouri Home Guard. old men at sea. and he knew this meant that his courage had not been put to the ultimate test. soldiers under the pines. He carried arms in Spain. that is the way his style works: by never actually mentioning the main anxiety.that approximated to this. but he was a journalist. he already spoke of himself in the third person. supposedly chasing submarines on a yacht equipped with a machine gun. and. and much to be admired. The big Army and Navy Game was played here and there were about 5000 . he engaged in quixotic reconnaissance activities in Cuba. Failing to do well in the war – then allowing too much to be made of the little he did do – was followed by years of admiring the courage of boxers and bullfighters in the ring. one hunter against savage forces. During the Second World War. During the German retreat in France. he was apparently involved in mopping-up operations with a group of French irregulars … But he was never a soldier under a soldier’s discipline. Hemingway founded a style in the space left for heroism.’ And later that month: ‘Today was a Day. with no God to help him.
You can see it here as it forms in his mind. Mae Marsh (she later claimed she never met him). Hem__y.’ It’s Boy’s Own stuff.’ he writes in May 1918.’ There has never been a more self-conscious ‘soldier’ in the history of literature. From New York: It was funny yesterday when we donned our uniforms. He was too blind for the real army but he craved a uniform and jumped at the possibility of the ambulance driving gig when a colleague. ‘and are going to have a wonderful time. clashing by night. and heady hours in the mountains. ‘We have a bunch of dandy fellows in our unit. and soon the tired American backyard with its lakes and its fishing and all those domestic interiors will gain the weight the young writer needs them to gain when seen through the prism of a European war.’ He had written six stories for the previous day’s paper – two on the front page – but that wasn’t the kind of heroism he was looking for. in March 1918: ‘Any way it is a big relief to be enlisted in something … Oh Boy. Ted Brumback. a lonely exile. He dreamed himself in love with a movie star. an awfully big adventure. came back after doing it for five months at the Verdun front. We put them on yest aft and went to supper and then in the evening walked up 5th .soldiers in town. He is growing into himself. and claimed ‘the only hope to remain single is to get in old War.’ And finally. Brumstein and the Great Tubby and the stupendous Hix all envy the gt.
About 75. (You can hear him speaking to himself between the lines of his letters.) Give me weather. I felt lonesome. And once he’s in Italy you can see how the Old Brute. But by the time we had returned about 200 salutes it had lost all its fun. as he liked to be called in his youth.000 were in line and we were ye star attraction. is always boyish when confronted by the real costs and tragedies of war.Avenue to Broadway and then over. We thought at first it would be fun because all privates and non commissioned officers have to salute us. He almost had something to write about. the novelist who would become the most famous of combat scribes. I was made a sergeant in ye squadron and led the 2nd Platoon out in the middle of the avenue all by myself and saluted Ye Great Woodrow. Before his troop ship had even left dock: We paraded 85 blocks down 5th ave today and were reviewed by President Wilson. Give me landscape. A postcard to a friend at the Kansas City Star in June 1918: Having a wonderful time!!! Had my baptism of fire . It was a Red Cross march but Hemingway scarcely mentions that. other men snapping a salute. the loneliness. having got to where he wanted: the uniform.
He now finds in style what he fears he lacks himself. Thirty-five people were killed when the Sutter and Thevenot plant blew up.my first day here. falls in love with his nurse. I bet they did. Kansas City. We carried them in like at the General Hospital. the wonder would have turned into a memory of slaughter. He got a silver medal for valour in the conflict and later the Nobel Prize. injuring his legs. in Death in the Afternoon. and these letters show what Paris did to make him a modernist. prepares a list of drinks. experience and tact. when an entire munition plant exploded. They love us down here in the mountains. Yet for ‘Hem’ it earns three exclamation marks and he had a ‘wonderful time’. shrapnel and gas. and embarks on the mental perambulations that would result in A Farewell to Arms. Boy!!! I’m glad I’m in it. The bridge between the two was Paris. I go to the front tomorrow. He repairs to a hospital to recover. control. Oh. Shot . But it was during that early stage in Italy that he got what mattered most: Well I can now hold up my hand and say I’ve been shelled by high explosive. years later. discipline. It’s when he is first in Italy that the young Hemingway is caught in a dugout when a mortar lands. a dozen miles from Milan. and the resulting carnage was apparently less Boy’s Own than Hell’s Backyard.
who would get it in the neck in A Moveable Feast for being worried about the size of his cock. and a desperate wish to be seen to have a code of courage and a degree of honesty to match the monumental character of the prose. Maybe I’ll get a hand grenade later. snipers and machine guns. who would be castigated in Death in the Afternoon for writing too much and being unedited. They are those of Sherwood Anderson. And as an added attraction an aeroplane machine gunning the lines. The epigraph to The Torrents of Spring is from Fielding: ‘The only source of the true Ridiculous (as it appears to me) is affectation. perhaps missed the thing that bound them all together: mobilisation anxiety. making much of their differences and generally vying for supremacy. Joseph Fruscione’s Faulkner and Hemingway: Biography of a Literary Rivalry shows the two writers dancing round each other for several decades. Or Fitzgerald. I’ve never had a hand grenade thrown at me. He could never laugh at the young man he had been. but a rifle grenade struck rather close. who influenced his style and sent him to Paris with a pocketful of introductions.’ Yet the affectations Hemingway satirises in the book are never his own.at by trench mortars. Or Faulkner. But these American modernists. Fitzgerald too. . He laughed instead at the writers the young man had read and who were kind to him.
sending a good-luck charm to a young relative who was training with the RAF. Faulkner returned from his air force training in full military regalia and with convincing war fictions.Fruscione compares Hemingway’s biographer Michael Reynolds’s story of Ernie returning in 1919 to his high school in Oak Park to show off his blood-stained uniform to the children. This was steep. Having passed himself off to the RAF as a Briton in the late 1910s.”’ Who can blame them? They were what they were: fiction-makers. often affecting a limp in the mid-1920s when in Oxford. ‘is the raving George IV on his deathbed.’ Sutherland writes. Hemingway liked to consider himself above the mental fatigue of reputationbuilding and social mountaineering. convinced he had fought gallantly at the Battle of Waterloo … In 1943. Faulkner probably never took to the air. even by Hemingway standards of myth-making: Faulkner ‘claimed to be an officer and lied about his wartime life. But he tied . ‘What comes to mind. Faulkner said he would have liked to have sent his dog tags: “but I lost them in Europe in Germany … I never found them again after my crack-up in ’18.’ One of his pleasures was ‘taking the salute of other soldiers’. with a ‘similar act of masculine self-aggrandisement’ on Faulkner’s part. New Orleans and New York. According to the entry for Faulkner in John Sutherland’s brilliantly entertaining Lives of the Novelists.
and it was never going to be the one who had .’ Yet feet apart.) But like many simple writers. E would say “two” and he would argue his case and never give up until he believed it himself and we all believed it. eventually. The world wasn’t big enough for his style and Fitzgerald’s: one of them had to be a faker. Edmund Wilson wrote. the big man in every town. such men are made for solitude: that was the fantasy of personal integrity he sold to the world. ‘a barometer of his times’. and. cigar snug in the corner of the mouth. too. (He was always a ‘gauge of morale’. eyes sparkling with experience. among them being married to ‘E’ and never talking about it. every adjective deleted. shoulders square. He wanted to be the big man in town. in my presence. Yet he had in abundance the quality novelists must have if they are to be any good at all: the determination to see it as only they can. Hemingway grew to be ideological and defensive. he knew. He’d insist. Hemingway is the bullshit-detector of modern literature: every verb earned by toil. she pointed at a candle and said: ‘If E was here he would say there were two candles. Even though we can all see there is one candle on the table. every noun inhabited. they say.himself into both at a very young age and never got over it. but once. the better to tell you how it was. His letters prove that he would have failed his own test at the first post. Martha Gellhorn was famous for several things.
and so was the America that loved him and forgot him.61 to the paper one. his best teachers. Good Pinard. but because he felt their way of writing might serve above all to question his own. The letters quickly lead us to his famous sojourn in Paris. But the wonderful fact that emerges from his letters is that Hemingway was the greatest faker of them all. his wife Hadley. Asti Spumante and Cinzano Vermouth fill one shelf. Living is very cheap. before discovering him again. But Hemingway couldn’t buy that: he needed reality to be a series of reliable turmoils that only good prose could entertain. Our room likes [sic] like a fine Grog shop – Rhum. People who want to know an imaginative writer – . I brew a rum punch that’d gaol you. using light and perspective. Hemingway grew to dislike other writers not because he feared they might be better than he was. much in the manner of his hero Cézanne. as opposed to running with the bullshit in Hollywood. A meal for two hits a male about 12-14 francs – about 50 cents apiece. Hotel room is 12 francs and there are 12. Fitzgerald was half in love with delusion. and a habit of nouns. but in the dark he knew he was maimed by his own need to shine. Wine is 60 centimes.run with the bulls in Pamplona. He may have prided himself on never being dazzled by diamonds as big as the Ritz.
baseball. II for a real sense of . C. was kept at the Finca Vigía in Cuba. His biographers seem to have missed an accompanying volume. skiing. birds.  Paul Hendrickson’s Hemingway’s Boat: Everything He Loved in Life. the sea. and Lost. January. 1926).  We have to wait until Vol. 534 pp. £20.. Chinese cooking. fishing. drama. The First World War. bullfighters. the Civil War. rocks. Wine and the Wine Lands of the World. and is now held at the JFK Library in Boston. A Dictionary of Military Terms by Edward Samuel Farrow (New York. 1920). And among these. which included volumes from childhood on. boxing. à Court Repington (London. 978 1 84792 193 2) gives an excellent account of that part of Hemingway’s life.especially a novelist known for his exploits in the real world – should look at his reference books. a sort of coda: Hope and Help for the Alcoholic by Harold Lovell. Nazis. Hiding among all the works by his rivals are volumes on guns. With Some Account of Places Visited by Frank Hedges Butler (New York. submarines. cats and the weather. published in New York in 1952. the male hormone. 1914-18: Personal Experiences of Lieut-Col. interior decoration. flowers. 1918). the wild west. ballet. crime. The major part of Hemingway’s library. the French language. wars. 1934-61 (Bodley Head. painting.
978 0 8142 1174 8.what Paris life would do for him. 818 pp. October 2011. £30. 304 pp.95..  Ohio. January.  Profile. $49. 978 1 84668 157 8. and Ezra Pound showing him round. In the present volume we have him meeting Gertrude Stein earlier than previously advertised.. .
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