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Modern Fiction Studies 46.4 (2000) 868-892

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Hemingway's Debt to Stendhal's Armance in the Sun Also Rises


In the wake of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, Stendhal (Marie-Henri Beyle) wrote Armance; or, Scenes from a Parisian Salon in 1827 (1827), his first major novel. Its protagonist, Octave Vicomte de Malivert, is tormented by a terrible secret, the nature of which he continually promises to reveal to his cousin Armance. Two weeks after their marriage, he writes her a letter and commits suicide. After reading this letter, Armance withdraws into a cloister, leaving Octave's "unspeakable" secret unrevealed to the reader. It is only extratextually, in a letter Stendhal wrote to Prosper Mérimée, that the hero's secret malady is identified as sexual impotence. This curious omission has generated much critical debate, and modern critics tend to hail Armance's cryptic silence as a sign of its prescient modernity (Waller 130).

A century after Stendhal wrote Armance, following World War I, Ernest Hemingway published his first important novel, The Sun Also Rises (1926). Its protagonist, Jake Barnes, suffers from a mysterious war wound that impedes the consummation of his affair with Lady Brett Ashley. During one remarkable scene, Jake examines his mutilated body in a mirror, arouses the reader's curiosity, but obstinately refuses to satisfy the reader's [End Page 868] gaze: "Of all the ways to be wounded. I suppose it was funny" (38). The nature of this mysterious wound, which like Octave's in Armance has become notorious in critical circles, is described by Hemingway in a letter to Thomas Bledsoe: Jake's wound was modeled on that of a young soldier whose "penis had been lost and his testicles and spermatic cord remained intact" (Letters 745).

The objective of this essay is threefold: first, to suggest a deliberate case of influence where Hemingway turned to Stendhal in order to find a way of expressing his own postwar trauma without having to write explicitly about the war; second, to examine how these previously unlinked textual gaps are used as complex metaphors to indicate a range of failures stemming from a misguided ethos of masculinity; and third and most important, to show that by signaling The Sun Also Rises's close kinship with Stendhal's Armance, Hemingway is making a much larger claim about war and the psycho-social scars marking its victims. In other words, while demonstrating the truth of Gertrude Stein's observation which he cites in his first epigraph--"You are all a lost generation"--Hemingway is also suggesting that his generation is only a representative group in a much larger European, or even universal, context. 1 This is made explicit by The Sun Also Rises's second epigraph, taken from Ecclesiastes (1.4-7):

One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh; but the earth abideth forever. . . The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to the place where he arose. . . The wind goeth toward the south, and turneth about unto the north; it whirleth about continually, and the wind returneth again according to his circuits. . . All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.

The Biblical epigraph ironizes the way in which Stein's typically "modernist" statement privileges twentieth-century experience by seeking to interpret it in isolation from former historical events. Hemingway, however, refuses to privilege contemporary experience in this way, and the second epigraph demonstrates that isolation, in this sense, does not exist. Far from illustrating a specifically twentieth-century case, Hemingway deliberately connects his work to that of Stendhal, an author who, in [End Page 869] turn, felt that his circumstances were part of a characteristically nineteenth-century ordeal. This same point is the driving force behind Hemingway's anthology of war stories, Men at War, which, as he explains, is meant to show "how all men from the earliest times we know have fought and died. So when you...


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