First Hemingway Lecture

The Sun Also Rises is EH's first novel. To me it's also his best novel, & one of the best of all American novels. Its greatness, though, consists largely in what it doesn't say, or leaves unsaid. In the early 1920s, while developing the style that made EH one of the most influential 20th C writers, he developed the aesthetic principle of "cutting out" -- whatever you could leave out could make a story stronger by leaving its presence to be felt. This aesthetic was EH's way of writing about emotion & avoiding sentimentality, and his way (to borrow Stevens' terms) of pressing back against the pressure of reality, of (to use the terms the novel uses for great bullfighting) preserving the purity of line through the maximum of exposure. Jake's wound (itself a result of what reality "cuts out") is a great example of how the novel makes us feel what it never explicitly says. In the war Jake lost his penis. It would have been easy to over- or melo-dramatize that extreme condition, but instead EH uses this starkly conceived fact to bring into relief what his modern characters must struggle with. How can you, for example, be a man without a penis?

The novel is Jake's story. With F.Scott Fitzgerald's advice, however, EH decided to begin it with Cohn, & to structure Jake's story by pairing it with Cohn's. (You can see the opening chapters that Fitzgerald suggested EH omit on the HEMINGWAY PAGE.) Cohn recalls the innocent Americans of Henry James' international tales: The Sun Also Rises begins with what "meant a lot" (p. 11) to him, depicts his experience in the Old World, the way he is willing to fight for what he believes in (to do battle for his lady love, p. 182), the way (like Jake & the others who've already been through the War) he does fight (with Jake & Romero), and (like the Allies in W.W.I) wins the fight, but then loses the ideals he thought he was fighting for. EH's use of Cohn's Jewishness is, to me, dangerous but not anti-semitic. Ironically, Cohn has faith until the end (as Brett says, "he can't believe it didn't mean anything," p. 185), but the last time we see him he tells Jake that "everything's gone" (p. 198). EH wrote about W.W.I in his second novel, A Farewell to Arms. Here he uses the fiesta (rockets, violence, chaos, crowds, death, etc.) as an experiential equivalent to the war. In Pamplona Cohn goes "through hell" and becomes an unwilling member of "the lost generation.

I said, though, that ultimately EH is using Cohn's story (and the way he "behaves badly") to define Jake's, which is the story of "how to behave" well while going through hell. Jake too goes through another series of wounds & losses at Pamplona. EH's laconic style enables him to retell in terms that work in the Modern era the kind of classic tragedy you can see in a figure like Launcelot, who loves both Guinevere & the idea of loyalty to Arthur & knighthood. Jake has two definitive values: he loves Brett, & he has aficion (cf. pp. 136-37). In EH's bleak sense of the modern world, those are precisely the two places where he is still vulnerable. On pp. 186-88, Jake very reluctantly, but without ever "misbehaving," without ever letting Brett see his anguish, agrees to fix her up with Romero (note all the military imagery in this scene -- Jake's being wounded again). Thus he must sacrifice aficion (and the way it's given him a kind of home & a kind of community & even a kind of religion, with Montoya as spiritual leader) to his passion -- you should look at the series of scenes that very laconically set up and bring to a climax Jake's tragedy (see 176, 180-81 and 190-91). We hear Cohn crying, see him lying face down on the bed saying he can't stand it (still p. 198), hear him saying "everything's gone." The same thing happens to Jake, but he expects "everything's gone" to be "understood" or indicated by the details of his descriptions (cf. 190-91). Thus The Sun Also Rises gives us all the pain of tragedy without the catharsis, and requires "us" to stand it with Jake.

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