Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Sun Also Rises

Reading Hemingway in my youth gave me a lust for adventure and travel. I'm settled with a family now, but I can still dip into Papa's stories on a cool spring night with a thunderstorm building in the background.

Reading The Sun Also Rises for the hundredth time gave me an urge to return to Spain. I noticed for the first time that he mentioned Ronda, a town I had visited . And his Spanish fiesta scenes are so well painted. You fall in with a crowd of happy Spaniards and time and cares fall away. I woke up in a nice couple's house one time, embarrassed and startled on their couch. Perhaps past dirty deeds gave me an attack of conscience, but on this occasion I had done nothing wrong. They and their children laughed at the hung-over American visitor they had sheltered, as if they could see into my soul, and then they served me breakfast.

Good literature can be read and re-read, always providing new insights laid upon your accreted experiences. Hemingway is like that. I read The Sun Also Rises first as a callow teenager, the book pressed into my hands by a wonderful teacher who I hated at the time but have since grown to love. I devoured the book, taking it in superficially as one long party scene from France to Spain. Dining, drinking and carousing on every page. I escaped and did my best to emulate, from Bogota to Sevilla, San Juan to Panama, with some European scenery thrown in as well.

I wonder if Hemingway named the latecomer to the story Edna for Edna St Vincent Millay, a fellow member of the Lost Generation? Even in high school, I enjoyed and appreciated the Lost Generation writers as they transported me back to a strange time long ago. The Sun Also Rises captures the meaninglessness of life many felt in post-war Europe.

Later in life, upon rereadings, I picked up the subtleties, the unstated parallel between Barnes and the steers, etc. It took non-stop carousing of my own to realize just how worn-out, hollow and broke it can make you. Promiscuity and excess always take their toll. I had to live some life first to grasp the deeper meanings. Constant partying and socializing (or shopping, eating, watching TV, whatever) in a vain attempt to make yourself happy can have destructive consequences.

Hemingway, without ever directly commenting on it, captures the moral libertinism that World War I left in its bloody, horrible wake. The old order was gone, with nothing yet taking its place.  Hemingway's novel is about friendships that sting, jealously and selfishness, and loves that cannot be sincerely consummated. It's about people whose souls have been seared by life, finding out too late that seeking the wrong refuge only makes it worse. It's about life.


Always On Watch said...

I've never been an admirer of Hemingway's work.

I prefer Steinbeck.

Silverfiddle said...

I also love Steinbeck. There's a lot of Hemingway I haven't read, but I've read probably almost all of Steinbeck's work. Same generation, very different writers.

I just got done reading "Winter of our Discontent" for the first time. A daughter is reading it in school, so I grabbed my own copy to read it so we could discuss it. I was surprised to find I had never read it before, and I've had the book since high school! It had the school's "property of" stamp in it, so I probably ripped it off...

What a pleasant discovery, like finding a bottle of really old wine.

Anonymous said...

I also read that and it meant a lot to me. As you know I am a dual national and I had many childhood memories living in Chinchón. It is not far from Madrid and now a bit touristic but during my chilhood it was like stepping back into something between Don Quixote and everything you imagine of the Franco's Spain.

The Sun Also Rises represents a great deal for me in that Chinchón is a town with a bullring and festivals but also that damaged mindset of people who suffered from really brutal conflicts which the novel clearly exposed.

I still travel to Chinchón and have my holidays there, most of my mother's family still live there.

Silver if you go again to Spain visit my town and have a drink of the ouzo eqivilant brewed there. Try it in one of the main square bar/resteraunts with the local version of a mixed grill and sit back and think of the novel. That main square is round and in fact the bullring. I remember running around that square aged 6 and 7 pretending to be a matador.

Damien Charles

Ducky's here said...

Scott Fitzgerald for me but I have read authors of this period for a clue to the insanity of my favorite period of history, the Wiemar Republic.

How did the world manage to go completely insane a second time. The Spanish civil war holds some clues but For Whom the Bell Tolls seems too interested in making it the last romantic war.

Silverfiddle said...

Sadly, history is a chain of repeated insanities, punctuated periodically by noble achievement.

I think For Whom The Bell Tolls is a masterpiece. The Spanish Civil War was indeed romanticized by those noble socialists who came from America and Northern Europe to fight the good fight against fascism.

Unfortunately, few beyond Orwell could open their eyes and see that International Communism was the other side of the fascist coin.

Homage to Catalonia is another classic.

Fuzzy Slippers said...

I adore Hemingway, and The Sun Also Rises is a wonderful, complex novel. One of my favorite lines in all fiction (that I've read, anyway, heh) is that novel's last line: "Isn't it pretty to think so." Hard reality meets romantic ideals, crashes, burns. It sums up the post-Great War era pretty well, particularly the experience of the Lost Generation. A good companion read to this is Hemingway's Death in the Afternoon; understanding Hemingway's interest in and "take" on the Spanish bullfight adds yet another layer of complexity re: Romero's role.

For Whom the Bell Tolls is absolutely brilliant, and like SAR is multi-layered and complex. The war is not glorified except in "official dispatches" (i.e. propagandized glorification, not Hemingway's own).

Anyway, I could talk all day about Hemingway and other modern writers, so I'll just leave it there.

Ducky's here said...

Well Silver, try Hugh Thomas The Spanish Civil War .

Might help you recognize shades of gray on your normal black and white palette.

Z said...

SF...any man who can make a dry desert and a snake slithering across it sound interesting to me (the opening of GRAPES OF WRATH) has got to be a good writer! And, of course, the book just 'kept on giving'...that story is so touching, and the film was so faithful to it.
Not a huge fan of Hemingway here, but living in Paris woke up a curiosity. I'd read books about Paris and hear that Hemingway loved a restaurant we frequented, or lived on a certain street, etc...
I remember wondering where Gertrude Stein (a friend of his) lived and, two weeks into my "Alliance Francaise" class, we were told to go to the building around the corner for classes...RIGHT THERE, was a plaque "HOME OF GERTRUDE STEIN"...est voila.
fascinating. there I was. where they'd been.
Then I did a walking tour with a friend which ended at the front door of his first apartment, which was FOR SALE>
3 weeks or so later, I had dinner with a wealthy artist girlfriend who said "Guess what I did today!? I BOUGHT the Hemingway apartment!" She still owns it and even bought the one next to it (small apartments) and knocked through to make one large studio....

I love what you said about having had to live a little more to truly get Hemingway's motivations, etc....
kind of like "you've got to live a little blues before you can sing the blues"

Silverfiddle said...

Ducky: I just went and looked up the book. Looks like an excellent treatment. Thanks for the suggestion. I am going to get that book.

I don't know why you would think my palette is black and white on this. I am far from "righties good, lefties bad" on the subject of the Spanish Civil War. It's a complex tragedy.

I have spoken at length to a couple of older men who's fathers fought in that war on the Republican side.

Have you read Orwell's Homage to Catalonia?

It has always amazed me how little Americans know about that war, and how little the American left talks about it. Franco's Spain is one of the few pure exemplars of Right Wing Fascism, Pinochet's Chile being another good one, and for those students of the subject, Trujillo, Rios Montt and Stroessner provide further examples.

But as one conservative wag put it, it's no wonder this isn't taught on college campuses today; the kids wouldn't understand it. You can't root for the rebels and the Republicans are the good guys.

Anonymous said...

Another fine piece of writing in your part, Kurt. One of those "vignettes" I was telling you about that put together would make a good book.

So much of the twentieth century was repugnant and horrifying -- especially looking back. I'm afraid I have always avoided confronting the grubby, grim and violent aspects of our recent past, which is why my head has lived largely in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries -- and even before -- when it comes to art, literature and music.

I can see, however, from the affection and rich appreciation with which you write that I have undoubtedly missed a great deal.

Something to look forward to. Thanks.

The French have a saying -- maybe from La Rouchefoucauld? -- "Toujous plaisir, n'est-pas plaisir."

It means "Having fun all the time is not fun."

Yes, indeed! How could we ever yearn for or appreciate the joy and freedom of Salvation, if we had not experienced the pain -- and the oppressive burdens -- of Sin?

~ FreeThinke

Jersey McJones said...

I like Hemingway's work - not love, but like. I'm not so sure how I feel about him, but that's also to say that I would probably have personally liked the man.

I tend to read older literature, being a history buff, and most of history being before him, but Hemingway certainly is a necessary read for anyone interested in his period.

Far from a "Lost Generation," it shaped our modern Western society perhaps more than any other since, especially here in the States. We Americans came of age in those times, while Europeans wildly veered, insanely, toward, eventually, the same end. Hemingway shows the point of the pointlessness that seems to separate our varied journeys, but in the end brings us to the same destination.

Great post, Silver. Thank you.


KP said...

I enjoyed your thoughts, SF. As well, the other thoughtful posts. One of the best blog post threads I have read recently.

KP said...

The man is in a well stocked bar and pouring the Gordon's with a heavy hand.

Silverfiddle said...

Yes he is, KP...

Thanks for the kind words!

Anonymous said...

FYI: Wiki on Steinbeck:

'Steinbeck's New Deal political views, negative portrayal of aspects of capitalism, and sympathy for the plight of workers, led to a backlash against the author, especially close to home.

'Claiming the book was both obscene and misrepresented conditions in the county, the Kern County Board of Supervisors banned the book from the county's publicly funded schools and libraries in August 1939. This ban lasted until January 1941.

'Of the controversy, Steinbeck wrote, "The vilification of me out here from the large landowners and bankers is pretty bad. The latest is a rumor started by them that the Okies hate me and have threatened to kill me for lying about them. I'm frightened at the rolling might of this damned thing. It is completely out of hand; I mean a kind of hysteria about the book is growing that is not healthy."

'The film versions of The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men (by two different movie studios) were in production simultaneously, allowing Steinbeck to spend a full day on the set of The Grapes of Wrath and the next day on the set of Of Mice and Men.'

Submitted by FreeThinke

Ducky's here said...

We have come out of the time when obedience, the acceptance of discipline, intelligent courage and resolution were most important, into that more difficult time when it is a man's duty to understand his world rather than simply fight for it.

----- Ernest Hemingway

Silverfiddle said...

Excellent quote, Ducky.

Unquestioning faith in authority is a bad thing and we all need to drop it.

Anonymous said...

"Unquestioning faith in authority is a bad thing and we all need to drop it"

It all depends on WHOSE authority, SilverFiddle.

That quotation you applauded could very well be read as an invitation to chaos and madness.

About the time of my coming of age Hemingway shot himself to death rather than face a battle with cancer. At the time I took that to mean the macho idealism for which he was famous had been a mere facade -- a pose.

If we stop believing that our authority comes from Jesus Christ (not His "church" but from His words, His life and i example) we will soon be placed on the scrap heap of history along with all the other fools who fell into patterns of decadence born of devotion to fabricated philosophies favoring ease and self-indulgence.

~ FreeThinke