"Brett Ashley as New Woman in The Sun Also Rises", by Wendy Martin
New Essays on The Sun Also Rises,Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987: 65-82


Reviewed by Bianca Roters


Wendy Martin starts her analysis of Hemingway's novel with the cultural setting in which the novel is embedded, namely the atmosphere of the jazz age, the glamour of expatriates, contrasted by the cultural and psychological disorder after the First World War. She explains the existence of expatriates in cities like Paris with a new wave of capitalism, caused by an easy availability of money and a good dollar value in francs. This instance is accompanied by an exceptional boom in literature, art and music.
The protagonists in Hemingway's novel, Brett and Jake, represent the shift in the perception of gender and redefine masculinity and femininity, striding away from Victorian standards of sexuality and identity. Moreover, the figure of Jake as part of the postwar generation represents loss, not only of tradition and values but also of masculinity, caused by his wound from the war and the resulting impotence. Martin argues that this kind of loss changes the notion of male invincibility and authority profoundly. Consequently, a new kind of man emerges who stoically endures the pressure of life and represses his sexual feelings through willpower and courage, just as a Victorian woman would have done before. Whereas hysteria is seen as a typical female response to emotional repression, shell shock is a similar male reaction which could often be found in members of the postwar generation.
The cultural perception of women is transformed after WWI as well. In contrast to her Victorian predecessors, the modern woman strives for individualism, mobility and activity, especially in the public sphere. Thereby, she rejects traditional feminine ideals of marriage and proper behavior. The period of WWI becomes the testing ground for the new woman who is now allowed to express herself freely and independently, just as Brett in Hemingway's novel. She naturally enters the public sphere, even in traditional male places like a bar or the arena of the bullfight, though she gains far less social acceptance as a woman. Despite her attempts to break free of traditional patriarchal order, Brett still acts ambivalently and anxiously, as her shattered relationships to men demonstrate, being as chaotic as the modern world around her. In this sphere of disorder, the novel portrays Brett as a woman free of sexual repression, inheriting the principle of female eros unbounded by patriarchal control, as Martin describes it. Interestingly, her best friend is Jake whose impotence does not allow him to exercise social control and authority. Every other man's attempt to control Brett is answered by denial and her withdrawal, she even leaves the bullfighter Romero she is very much attracted to. Nevertheless, Brett is still torn between different gender roles, the idealized woman and her modern counterpart. Her dilemma shows itself in her financial and psychological dependence on men like her former husbands or the count who provide her with the necessary setting to explore her attractiveness and sexuality. Only Jake is able to meet Brett as an equal since he sexually cannot possess her anymore.
Due to shifting gender roles, Jake and Brett seem to undergo a role reversal which is followed by a change of behavior: females aggressively express their feelings, men cry. Furthermore, Jake prefers the country, fishing trips and rejects debts and credit, an attitude which signals his need for economic and social stability.
At the end of her article, Martin attempts to redefine the notion of Hemingway as a machismo writer by referring to some of his other, still unpublished stories. She discovers an interest in androgynous sexuality in his writing. The novel does not force Brett to give up her independence and thus, writes against a tradition in American fiction in which the female protagonist is destroyed, just as in The Awakening by Kate Chopin. Instead, Brett and Jake acknowledge each other as equals at the end of the novel and thereby, offer the possibility of new kinds of relationships between men and women.
Martin's attempt to alter a reader's perception of Hemingway with the help of other novels presupposes an identification between text and author I cannot completely agree with. Provocatively speaking, does an identification between Hemingway and Jake, who was called Hem or Earlie in the early drafts, mean that Hemingway himself had "problems" with his sexuality? Another aspect of the article I am thinking of is the dichotomy the article creates around Brett as being both the traditional wife and the prostitute. It serves its purposes of portraying Brett's dilemma as a modern woman (the term "modern" is compared to Victorian standards) but still positions her in traditional boundaries how a woman is defined, in negative and positive terms.
In class, we mainly focused on Jack, his wound and the consequences for the novel in its theme of loss. Wendy Martin's article gives Brett an adequate position within the setting of the novel especially since every men focuses his attention on her in one way or the other.

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